Advanced “Backcountry” Horsemanship at its Finest by Andy Lightbody
Colorado Outdoor Adventure Guide School teaches ways of the trail
Get to the mountains of Colorado to learn to be a guide.
For many, attending college and getting a degree is a big step toward launching a career.
However, if you want to become a professional guide or outfitter, where do you go to learn all the necessary outdoor skills?
One answer is found in the high mountains of central
Colorado, near the town of Cripple Creek.
That's where the headquarters and training area of the Colorado Outdoor Adventure Guide School is located.
Men and women come here to learn outdoor skills that are vital to becoming an accredited guide or outfitter for a host of outdoor opportunities. "We started COAGS back
in 1994 because we knew that there is a major shortage of well-trained guides in just about all facets of the industry," said Jeff Miner, COAGS head
instructor. COAGS instruction includes learning the correct way to pack horses.
"We also soon discovered that not only are there a lot of people that have
always wanted to become a Professional Guide, or were looking for a career change, but a lot of people, even if they didn't want to become a
Professional Guide or Outfitter, wanted to improve their outdoor skills."
COAGS caters to people from around the country and the world, and to
all abilities, whether you're a greenhorn or a seasoned outdoorsman. Their basic course is a two-week program that runs throughout the summer.
COAGS is certified through the State of Colorado Department of Private Occupation Schools, Department of Higher Education, and the Veterans Affairs.
And if you're a college student with a major in wildlife management, biology and others, you can even pick up college credits as part of an intern program!
School's in session
Outdoors lectures are a big part of the education. Students show up for guide school lugging in gear, clothes, sleeping bags and stuff from the
recommended packing list. They then settle into rustic cabins on the property where for the next two weeks, they'll go through an extensive
120 hours of instruction, exercises and tests — both on paper and in the field — on a wide variety of outdoor skills. Wake-up calls and breakfast
come early, and classes run Monday through Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to around 6:30 in the evening. Meals are hearty, buffet style and all you can
eat. Classes are usually limited to about 20 students at a time, with the idea being to provide a lot of one-on-one instruction. "The instructors are
top of their fields and enjoy what they teach," said Stephanie Samuels of Minnesota. Instruction includes learning to build a fire from scratch.
"The atmosphere and scenery are, by my perspective,
a great learning environment for all."
After the COAGS school introduction — which covers what everyone is going to experience in the coming
weeks, school standards, outdoor recreation industry opportunities, qualifications and skills needed — the real instruction and fun begins. "In this basic two-week
course, students are going to be real busy," said Miner.
We have a lot on horsemanship, trail riding and
packing, courses on big game hunting and fly fishing, (learning) orienteering with a map, compass and GPS, wilderness survival, camp cooking, outdoor photography, first aid, CPR and much more.
Needless to say, students don't have a hard time falling asleep at the end of each day!
The course even covers how to take trophy photos.
At the end of the two-week basic program, some students pack up and head back home with an experience that will stay with them for a lifetime.
Others who are are looking for even more instruction will stay on for the advanced programs that are offered.
For those wanting to be big game guides, there's the Professional
Guide/Outfitter Program. It's also a two-week course with 120 additional hours of training. Classes include guide responsibilities, professional big
game guiding techniques, horsemanship and packing, setting up a pack trip, professional guide equipment, field judging and scoring big game
trophies, trophy and field care of game, advanced leadership skills and how to start your own business.
"Upon graduating, I felt ready to begin work as a big game guide at a wilderness spike camp, using horses and mules," said Nate Dwyer of Illinois.
"In fact, myself and some of my newfound friends were offered jobs before we left — another
great plus." Graduate Ryan Sturgis put his knowledge to good use after downing his big bull.
He now runs a shop called the Horse & Hunter in his home state, selling hunting, fishing and horse packing equipment.
Another course offering is designed for those who want to become professional fly fishing guides.
Students clock another 120 hours of training with emphasis on more advanced outdoor skills such
as horsemanship, packing, camps and equipment. But the bonus is the classes on flyfishing, stream and river basics.
And finally, if you are real horse lover,
you'll be interested in their Advanced Back Country Horseman Program.
"I hoped to come away with an overall education about guiding and packing in the West," said
Ryan Sturgis of Pennsylvania. He works for his father in the construction business, and saved his own money to go to the COAGS program. On a recent archery elk hunt, skills the 19-year-old
young man learned paid off big time! "After not having any luck with the outfitter, I was on my own again. The ultimate goal for some COAGS students is to lead hunters into the wilderness.
With the help of Jeff's teaching, I was able to coax an awesome bull to within archery range.
I had never felt the extraordinary feeling of a bull bugling within a stones throw away. I have to
admit, without the school's teaching, I wouldn't have had the advantage of taking this bull."
At the end of each two-week course comes graduation.
Here's where students get their diplomas to hang on the wall, but more than anything the tired but
happy grads take home with them a host of newly learned outdoor skills that many of us will likely never learn. And they are likely never to forget.
Interested in becoming a guide or taking a few courses at COAGS? Here's how to get more info:
To get a full calendar of courses for the 2004 season, along with a complete breakdown on the various programs and details on all the classes, go to the COAGS Web site (guideschool.com), write to PO Box 60248, Colorado Springs, CO 80960 or call (800) 714-4864.
: Gary Jordan
P.O. Box 60248
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80960
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