Local Ranchers Protect and Serve
John and Margaret Bushell thought they were retiring 11 years ago from the Tampa Police Department. She was leaving a 17-year career as a detective and he 30 years as deputy chief of police. They love to ride their horses and now they could do it whenever they wanted. They could attend to their small herd of cattle on their 50-acre ranch about 10 miles west of Dade City, Fla.
Then Sheriff White offered a deal: work part time from your home and head up the Pasco Sheriff’s Mounted Posse. Train the horses, teach the volunteers at your ranch and conduct patrol details monthly throughout Pasco County. He asked because John had successfully started a mounted unit in Tampa and Margaret had built a reputation as an exceptional certified trainer.
Margaret has always been around horses and grew up riding. John became interested soon after they got married when she sold his motorcycle and bought him a horse. Currently they own five. Every month they train 50 volunteers and their horses to be part of the mounted posse. In a football field-sized iron fenced arena, horses and their riders learn to tolerate sudden movements and sounds. Horses walk up and down teeter-totters and negotiate narrow spaces and complex obstacle courses to replicate conditions they will find in a city.
The Pasco Sheriff’s Mounted Posse are called to do search and rescue operations and give health and safety presentations in schools. Six years ago the Bushells’ began Ride for Hospice to raise money. Last year more than 150 riders participated in the ride that raised $28,000, totally $85,000 over a five-year period for patient care at the Gulfside Regional Hospice.
The job is perfect for the Bushells’, combining their passion for horses and law enforcement. But raising cattle on their ranch pays for those passions. So when his pastures became bare and eroded in 2009, John became concerned. He called District Conservationist Dan Oliver,who works for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helping agricultural producers conserve their resources.
Oliver developed a conservation plan with John and Margaret that reduced the number of cattle, installed fencing, built a watering trough and rotated grazing. John hauled in topsoil, re-seeded and fertilized the bare areas. Oliver helped with the application process that helped pay for the conservation practices. Now the pastures are green and his operation is sustainable.
John’s goal this year is to bring in more topsoil and re-seed one last area. When he is done, he wants to turn his attention to restoring the wildlife habitat on 63 acres in north Florida they bought eight years ago. “My first step will be to visit the NRCS field office and get their help,” he said.
Right now the Bushells don’t know when they will retire, but they know what they will do when the time comes. “We are going to travel more on our horses,” Margaret said.
Do you want help conserving resources on your farm or ranch? The first step is to develop a conservation plan with a NRCS specialist. Contact your local field office in Florida.