How to Pack a Stock Clinic preserves a way of life

Bill Van (left), Rick Austin (center) and Mike Long (right) have been a part of the How to Pack a Stock Clinic since it began in 2010. Van started it and Austin is now running it. (Photo by Lauren Mueller)

For Bill Van, packing stock is more than a hobby, it’s a way of life. Starting a pack stocking clinic was a way to share that way of life with his community and get more people involved.

Van started his “How to Pack Stock Clinic” in 2010 after a church friend approached him and suggested he do something to help raise funds for the church. The first year, 18 people participated in the event. Last year, that number was 75.

“The most important thing to me was to involve kids,” Van said. “It [the clinic] is open to high school age and older. We had an exception once for a 10-year-old.”

Van’s clinic has hosted Minarets High School in the past, and the packing team of that school won the state championship in packing in 2013.

For Van, this clinic is about more than a fun day working with horses and mules. It is about a “dying way of life” that he hopes to see continue in the future. It was not long ago that pack animals were used to aid fire crews during the Rough Fire in the Sierras, and Van hopes there will still be packers around in the future should they be needed again.

The How to Pack Stock Clinic has thus far always taken place on the last Saturday of March, which this year will be March 26. The last day to RSVP is March 24.

The Clinic is taught by volunteers and all the funds raised go to the Church of Tollhouse. This year, there will be four former world champion packers present to teach the clinics, and Van says they all know how to teach.

Rick Austin has stepped up in the last year to run the Clinic in Van’s place. This year, he is expanding the Clinic to include a competition, vendors and a tack swap.

“We’re growing year by year,” Austin said. “We’re a service-oriented educational experience, teaching the technical of why and how.”

The pack clinic has been used as more than a way for those interested to learn how to pack. It has hosted students in the FFA program and College Packing teams as well.

Mike Long also helps to run the clinic and he hopes the competition will continue to grow in the future.

“It’s a friendly rivalry,” Long said. “Everyone comes and has a good time. We make it so nobody is intimidated.”

Safety is a priority for Van, Austin and Long. In the six years the clinic has been running, there has never been an accident. The horses and mules they use are mostly retired from the pack or forest service, and they match the people with the animal to ensure the best experience for everyone.

Recently, Austin started using barrels in place of horses and mules for those who are not comfortable around the animals. Once the participant has mastered the knot they are learning to tie on the barrel, they can choose to try it on one of the animals if they feel comfortable.

The clinic offers five types of packing knots – “hitches” – that participants can learn to tie, or “throw.” Those hitches include the diamond, double diamond, decker, box and squaw.

To participate, the cost is $30 and lunch is included. For those who just want to watch, lunch costs $10. To RSVP for this clinic, contact Mike Long at (559) 917 – 4472 or Rick Austin at (707) 695 – 3311.