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Trails Found: Tactical Horses?

Horses, mules, and donkeys were the original all terrain vehicles. While they’ve largely gone out of style as a mode of transport or drayage in many parts of the world, they remain extremely important in others (and we’re not just talking about pulling beer wagons). Law enforcement and search & rescue units use them in places as varied as Times Square and rugged, remote stretches of the US-Mexican border. Military units use them as well, if only in very specific locations and usually for SOF (Special Operations Force) missions — as they did when ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) 595 and their attached Combat Controllers mounted up in October of 2001 to hunt down the Taliban.

There only a handful of places the skills needed to successfully, tactically, employ horses can be learned. On of those is (or was) the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California, where horsehandling is the purview of Marine NCOs with a background in riding. Another place, is Trails Found.

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Trails Found is the training organization of Jim Grasky, a man who has spent a lifetime in the saddle. Laconic, lean, and weathered man,Jim Grasky is old enough to be the great grandparent of nearly everyone he teaches. He’s a former Vietnam Green Beret who became a smokejumper (and then a smokejumper squadleader) after the war, spending some time working abroad in unfriendly areas on behalf of some unique governmental agencies. He is a retired US Border Patrol agent, one of the founding members of the USBP’s BORTAC, was one of the USMC Combat Hunter – based Border Hunter SMEs and one of just a handful of old school mantrackers left in the world.

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Tracks, spoor, sign — they tell a tale. Jim Grasky is a master interpreter. Photo by Matt Stagliano/Firelance Media.

When specialized military or OGA personnel need to learn horsehandling before deploying to some faraway land, many of them quietly visit Jim in the backcountry of Arizona.

So, we figured we needed to do the same.

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Grasky has tracked humans from a number of platforms, but he’s best known in SOF and “Border Breed “circles for doing so from horseback.

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Grasky trailing students near downtown Tucson. Photo courtesy of Matt Stagliano/Firelance Media.

In mid-September several RECOIL contributors will be flying into Tucson to meet up with writers and photographers from a handful of other publications to spend a few days with Grasky. The event was organized by the tracking obsessed training whores at Breach-Bang-Clear, and it looks like it will be interesting indeed.

There’s more to SOF horseback basics than just riding and tracking, though we’ll be doing some of both. There’s proper care of the animal and its tack, packing and loading gear, water crossings and climbing, tactical movements (including improvised Escape and Evasion issues), and other things we haven’t probably thought of. In addition to the mounted training, we’ll be doing some modified “Weaponize the Senses” work, including night tracking and BTAC (Battlefield Tactical Acuity), lessons learned from Tom Jeffords, Cochise and the Apache Scouts during General Crook’s and later campaigns. Some of that we’ll actually be doing in Cochise’s Stronghold, the Dragoon Mountains some parts of the Coronado National Forest and at least one remote stretch of the the US-Mexico border.

We’ll also, of course, be taking the opportunity to see how the weapons and equipment of various manufacturers whold up to hard use in rugged terrain.

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Grasky is widely recognized as a master tracker and a superlative horseman who remains well dialed in on the state of the border, frequently speaking to local organizations about border issues. Although now into his 8th decade, he continues to instruct students from all walks of life. Some of the latter are kids from local youth organizations; others are personnel from USSOCOM (United States Special Operations Command) and the Dept. of State’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program and ICITAP (International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program).

Soon it’ll be some of us.

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Grasky explaining what he read on the rocks near the railroad tracks. Photo by Matt Stagliano/Firelance Media.

We’re confident much learning shall occur.

Watch RECOILweb, RECOILtv and our assorted social media outlets for more details in the coming weeks. Oh, and if you get the chance check out the Dead Bird Society (@deadbird_society) and SOC-F (@soc_f) would ya?

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Picture courtesy of the Nogales International.

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