Aug 11, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterA group of goats assisted hikers during a 14.5-mile trip on Washakie Falls trail
A pack of goats accompanied a group of community members and staff from Central Wyoming College for a 14.5-mile hike on the Washakie Falls trail Aug. 3. The pack was led by Robert Whitehair, a recent graduate of the Parent Training Leadership Initiative -- a 20-week program that helped 10 participants from the reservation form and execute projects for the benefit of their communities.
Whitehair's original idea was for children ages 10 to 18, but a longer hike with adults was planned as practice for a future trek with children.
Sergio Maldonado Sr., CWC course facilitator and diversity coordinator, joined the group and said roughly 13 people made the hike, including two younger adults who had to sit on the goats at some point during the trip.
At the ring of a bell, the pack of five goats turned their heads to search for the treat they've learned to associate with the sound.
While a pack of horses would be tied together, goats know to stay together without the aid of a rope. Whitehair said they also keep the hikers together.
"They consider us a part of the herd," he said. "They look to see who's ahead and who's behind."
He added that the goats panic if someone in the group walks a different direction. If someone is walking too slow, a goat will walk behind the person, or if a person is walking too fast, a goat will get in front of them, all while following a herder.
If another group of hikers is seen nearby, the goats think those people are part of their group and they go after them. To prevent confusion, the group with the goats has to yield to the passing party, Whitehair said.
He added that each goat has its own personality, and during breaks they will stand near the people they like best.
"They're pretty easy-going goats," Whitehair said.
Before the hike began early Saturday, Whitehair gave the group a quick lesson on the goats and the trip up the trail. He explained that the horns of the goats should never be touched because it will disturb them. And like a horse, an even amount of weight has to be distributed on each side of the panniers, a pair of bags that is slung across the back of an animal. The goats, standing at about 3 feet tall, can carry up to 50 pounds, Whitehair said.
"Any time any group of people can get away from society and labor within the confines of nature -- there's a peace there," he said, adding that people realize they can do these activities more often and that it is physically possible.
Whitehair commended both the participants and goats on the trip Aug. 3 for crossing the creeks and going under and over fences or tree trunks. He said the goats helped lead an easier path for the hikers.
Whitehair has another weekend goat packing trip planned for PLTI group members later in August. That group will go farther along the trail.
They hope to plan another trip, Maldonado said, in the second week of October and provide a certificate of completion for those who finish that hike.
"We wanted to see how the goats react and people never saw that It was really amazing," Whitehair said.