The horses of Aspen Meadow Pack Station have moved generations of wide-eyed flat-landers through the High Sierras since the station opened in 1929. Owner Seth Diemel cheerfully shrugs off the challenges his team faces in running an Old West business in 21st century California.
Photos by Lori Eanes and interview by Maryann Jones Thompson
“It’s just like any career. You want to be a vet because you love working with animals, but you have to be a people person first.”
“Our customers are always easy because they’re on vacation. They’re going on a horseback ride, right? They see us working to make it fun, so they never have a bad day.”
“We run about 100 head of horses. It’s not hard work, but it’s constant work, seven days a week. On any given day, we’ve got four or five guys saddling 50-plus animals.”
“My guys spend more time on horseback than they do in their cars. They’re on horseback 10-plus hours a day. They’re up at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. and don’t get done until 6:00 p.m. They typically ride about 30 miles a day, seven days a week. They keep four or five horses because they ride so much. One horse can’t go seven days a week, but one human can.”
“We do everything in-house. We build all our own equipment and gear. We even do all our own vet work, unless it’s serious.”
“A horse can’t take care of itself. It’s just like the work it takes to manage your dog, but multiply that by 100. They’re all different in terms of their health, weight, feeding—just like people. It’s constant maintenance.
Keeping their feet in shape is number one. Without a foot, you don’t have a horse. Walking through the mountains and across granite rock all summer, they can wear a shoe in half, quick. A horse might go through four sets of shoes in the summer.”
“We move the horses to the mountains at the beginning of June and they work for four months. By early October, we turn them out on the ranch near Sonora and they hang out for the winter. It’s a pretty good gig.”
“There’s nothing more ‘Western’ than a horseback pack trip through the Sierras. It’s a history most people only see in cowboy movies.”
“The scenery never gets old. What’s crazy about the Emigrant Wilderness where we ride is that it’s almost identical to Yosemite. Everyone goes to Yosemite, but we don’t have any of the crowds. You get the same High Sierra feel without the craziness. We have the same granite structures and bowls, but our area just isn’t touched as much because it is harder to get to.”
“We do everything from hour-long trail rides to a two-week long, all-inclusive camping trip. All the overnight trips are customized to the group. We might do a ‘drop trip’ where we just pack the gear in and out for a group of buddies who are hiking in for a weekend of fishing. Or we might take a whole family into the mountains for a week of camping around different lakes and supply the whole experience, the horses, each piece of gear, the cooking, everything.”
“I don’t take a trip without poles these days. The fishing is really good in a lot of places, so if you’re with kids, you can just sling it out there and do pretty good most of the time. We do trips to lots of high country lakes, like Gem Lake, Buck Lake, and Wood Lake (pictured). Fly fishing is most popular, but folks pack spincast reels, too. Most catch rainbows or brook trout—not trophy fish but good 8–16 inchers.”
“Kids love horses. We say they have to be 7 or older in case they get scared, but the kids usually do better than the adults. They don’t mind sitting on a horse for four hours. These days, lots of kids have never seen a horse or pet one, so it’s pretty neat to watch that happen.”
“One of the coolest things is taking generation after generation into the mountains. Not everyone can hike 15 miles, but pretty much everyone can ride a horse for 15 miles. You can get them to a place in the wilderness that they’d never have been able to hike. We have guys in their 30s whose kids can’t hike that far yet, or maybe grandpa wants to go on a trip—he can’t hike in anymore—but he can ride.”
“Lots of families come back every year—some I’ve known since I was a little kid. It’s a hell of an experience—especially for families.”
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