One Spade Youth Packers


The One Spade Youth Packers is a program started in 1995 by Reid and Eileen Hopkins to develop both character and leadership skills in boys and girls ages 9-17. Many of the participants are "at risk" or from a disadvantaged home life. The program seeks to give the kids an outdoor experience with horses and mules that may otherwise be unattainable to them to instill discipline and respect for themselves, others and nature.

The team begins training each January at the Hopkin's ranch in Kernville. In May they compete at the world famous Bishop Mule Days against other kids and adults from all over the country.

The program uses a "hands-on" approach with a "team" focus to teach wilderness ethics, mule anatomy/physiology, shoeing, feeds and feeding, equine nutrition and first aide. Various different packing techniques including the Decker, Sawbuck and Aparejo are taught.

The entire program is provided at no cost to the kids or their families. The primary sponsor is the Rotary of Kern River Valley, but many others provide critical donations.

The team's success over the years has earned them international renown. Their hard work has earned many an opportunity to work in commercial packing outfits, and has provided valuable experience to assist in college and career placement.



One Spade offers unique education


Amber Woolwine,14, left, Wyatt Sheckells, 16, and Max Reynolds, 16, spend some quality time with their equine compadres.

Will Rogers once said that "The best thing for the inside of a kid is the outside of a horse." That phrase serves as the foundation for One Spade Youth Packers, a program that is available to Kern Valley kids that offers outdoor activities not taught in any classroom.

Started in 1995 by Kernville residents Reid and Eileen Hopkins, One Spade is a hands-on program that teaches the value of team work, self-discipline and genuine mule power.

Hopkins, who has handled his share of mule pack trains in and around the Valley for decades, said that at one time, it was not uncommon to see kids on the pack trains. "One day I realized that kids were no longer on pack trips. So we started One Spade to give kids outdoor experience that they would not have."


One Spade pack mules patiently line up, ready to go.

The program is available to boys and girls between the ages of 10 to 17 and teaches how to saddle, lead, walk, ride and care for a mule. The program also teaches different packing techniques, as well as how to work with and drive mule-drawn farming equipment.

Participants say it is more fun than work.

This will be Max Reynolds sixth year with the youth packers program, which gives the 16 year old the distinction of being with the program longer than any of his team mates. "I like everything this group does. I've been around horses most of my life, but here, I've learned a lot about team work and helping one another."

Amber Woolwine, 14, has been with One Spade for five years and despite her recent move to Ridgecrest, will continue to participate in the program. "It's a lot of fun. I like it all, the riding and packing, but my favorite is Mule Days," she said.

The annual Mule Days event held in Bishop is a favorite activity for the group. And it is the reason they practice every other weekend in Kernville. Mule Days is the largest show of its kind in the world, as all parade entries must be horse or mule drawn. Events include barrel racing, obstacle courses, chariot races and farm equipment courses – all with mules.

The Kern Valley team has been successful at Mule Days earning world titles and first place ribbons. Hopkins said what makes the winnings even sweeter is the fact that there is no age classification in the racing events. "You have 13-year olds competing against adults." This year, the group had 93 entries, more than any other group. And they returned home with an armload of ribbons.

Wyatt Sheckells, 16, is in his second year with the packers and said he has learned a lot about handling mules. "This is a great opportunity to be outdoors riding mules and taking pack trips, stuff that some kids don't get a chance to do." Sheckells said the program also teaches important life lessons in ethics and team work.

"This program teaches personal honesty, integrity and responsibility," Hopkins said. "Success comes from hard work. We don't care if they win, lose or draw, as long as they give 100% effort. And life is that way, good things happen with good behavior, and bad things come from bad behavior."

Mauri Meadors, who volunteers with One Spade, said the participants learn to rely on one another and share their successes and struggles with team mates. "It doesn't matter where they come from or what is going on in their lives, here, the common denominator is the mule and when they are all together and talking, everything just works out."

The One Spade Youth Packers program is offered at no charge. Money for the program is raised through donations and fundraisers. The Rotary Club of Kern Valley is the primary sponsor; however, the Exchange Club, Masons and Kern County Mounted Posse all support the program.

The program is run by volunteers and Hopkins notes that Mauri and his wife Sandy are vital to the program. "It is a huge undertaking to get 23 kids to Bishop and get them to all their competitions. And we couldn't do it without the help of Mauri and Sandy and the other parents who volunteer."



Website Sponsors