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home : business : business May 26, 2018

5/8/2018 1:28:00 PM
Wrangler is a 'good traveler'
Jason Mitchell with his horse, Red, and his blue heeler named Dog. photo by Kathryn Godsiff
+ click to enlarge
Jason Mitchell with his horse, Red, and his blue heeler named Dog. photo by Kathryn Godsiff

Black Butte Stables offers folks a taste of the trail
Black Butte Stables, tucked behind the store and across the road from the Welcome Center, has been a fixture of Black Butte Ranch for many years. Hundreds of visitors to the Ranch and Sisters Country have experienced the scent of pine trees and the grandeur of the mountain view from the backs of the sturdy mounts at the stables.

Cody Koch began working at the stables in 2001 and bought the business in 2010. For many years the stables sourced most of the horses from big ranches in Canada that supplied pregnant mare's urine, used in hormone replacement therapy. That industry has been significantly downsized in recent years and young horses are no longer as available.

Koch obtained several broodmares and a stallion from one of the farms and began breeding his own replacement horses. Those youngsters, now nearly 5 years old, are ready to join the 85 horses currently at work for the stables.

On any given day in the busy summer season, around 50 horses are wrangled from the pasture at Black Butte Ranch into the corral at the stables, a morning sight that thrills visitors to the Ranch. The horses spend the winter months on pastures at the Lazy Z Ranch outside Sisters.

The stables are open year-round. Koch especially enjoys tailoring rides for locals and their guests in the off-season.

For more information call 541-595-2061.

By Kathryn Godsiff

Jason Mitchell has packed an awful lot of adventure into the last year. Shortly after graduating from high school in 2017, the 18-year-old hit the road, determined to be what he calls a "good traveler." One who gets to a town, finds work, makes friends, and develops a good reputation and a cadre of friends watching his back. This is in contrast to a "bad traveler," who burns bridges as he goes and ends up with no friends and likely no memory of the experience.

Listening to Mitchell tell stories of arriving in some small town, heading to the local diner and asking, "Does anybody around here need some work done?" and then hearing about the people who responded, it's easy to imagine that he is indeed a good traveler. His travels brought him to Sisters, to work at the Black Butte Stables. He'll be leading trail rides and working with owner Cody Koch, preparing upcoming young horses to work the dude string.

Mitchell grew up east of Seattle in Redmond, Washington, and had a pretty normal childhood with his mom, dad and two siblings. He remembers having many things and nice vacations, until his father lost his job in the recession. Then he learned what it is like to do without.

His grandpa is an old rodeo cowboy who taught his grandson about horses. Mitchell learned to ride bareback on an untrained Welsh Cob pony who regularly dumped him in the dirt. "I learned to not mind falling off because it happened so often," he said. "Still does..."

He played sports, had a girlfriend who also loved horses and in the last couple years of high school, focused more on learning the intricacies of natural horsmanship. He also developed a sense of adventure, influenced by the book "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer. The book chronicles the story of Christopher McCandless and his wandering journey. (Mitchell's story deviates from that of McCandless in that Mitchell survived his quest. McCandless died in the bus in which he was living in the wilds of Alaska.)

Feeling hemmed in by Seattle's suburbia, Mitchell went to Leavenworth, Washington to be a trail guide at a resort stable. The wanderlust didn't diminish and he headed east, working at, well, whatever came up. Construction, harvesting, cattle work on ranches, anything that made a stop in a town worthwhile.

"There are no bad days," he said. "It's never been hard to find a job."

Most of those jobs satisfied their purpose - to allow Mitchell to eat, sleep and experience life on a scale not known by many. One does stand out as unsatisfactory. He said if he had done some research on the guy, he'd have found out he was a convicted felon, for fraud. When no pay appeared, Mitchell decided to move on.

"Sometimes it's better to cut your losses than create conflict," he said.

He once was held up at gunpoint. When he handed over his only money, a $5 bill, the robber looked at him in disgust and went away - with the money. Mitchell just shrugs, saying that he's not that big about dollars and doesn't want to be in debt.

At a stop in Arizona he was befriended by a Nez Perce who showed him how to survive in the wild. This new friend also shared some age-old wisdom on horses, giving Mitchell the mental tools he needed to take care of himself and his animals with minimal inputs.

"I'm very appreciative. I can survive now." He admits to carrying a shotgun and a .22, using them to hunt and also using every bit of the animals he hunts.

After trekking around the country for a year, Mitchell realized that the Pacific Northwest was where he needed and wanted to settle. While in Tennessee, an acquaintance told him about a possible job with Koch at Black Butte Stables.

It turned out that Mitchell and Koch had attended the same high school in Redmond, Washington and both knew the acquaintance who alerted Mitchell to the job prospect in Sisters.

Mitchell's arrival in Central Oregon wasn't without its challenges. His truck, towing a well-used trailer and his horse, Red, broke down near Tumalo State Park. He was parked in a lay-by, head under the hood of the truck, with Red tied on a highline nearby when a Deschutes County sheriff's deputy stopped to see what was going on. When Mitchell's story checked out, the deputy went on his way, returning later on with food for a grateful Mitchell. He was down to his last can of beans and wondering if dog food was edible.

The next day, in the Sisters Bi-Mart parking lot, seven miles from his destination, the truck broke down again. With 30 minutes to spare before Mitchell was due to meet Koch, Good Samaritan Dave Swisher noticed the trouble and offered to tow Mitchell's horse trailer up to Black Butte Ranch.

Koch is pleased with Mitchell's work ethic. "He's an extremely hard worker, which is hard to find in many young people these days," he said. He added that Mitchell's engaging personality and stories are already making an impression on the guests he takes out for rides.

Both men are hoping that this latest adventure of Mitchell's lasts for a good long time.

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