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USDA Conservation Plan Helps Florida Ranchers Afford to Protect and Serve a County

John Bushell with one of the horses on his ranch west of Dade City, Fla. NRCS photo.

John Bushell with one of the horses on his ranch west of Dade City, Fla. NRCS photo.

John and Margaret Bushell planned to retire 11 years ago after a long career in law enforcement. But when they were about to settle down on their 50-acre ranch near Dade City, Fla. to tend cattle and ride horses, they got offered a deal from the nearby sheriff that they couldn’t pass up.

The sheriff asked them to work part time from their ranch, heading up the Pasco Sheriff’s Mounted Posse. John was a former deputy chief of police for the Tampa Police Department, where he worked for 30 years. Margaret also retired from the department, where she worked 17 years as a detective.

The couple is passionate about horses, and raising cattle on their ranch helps pay for that passion. So when the land’s pastures were looking bare and eroded in 2009, they became concerned.

John and Margaret called the local office of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for help. NRCS District Conservationist Dan Oliver developed a conservation plan with the couple that recommended reducing the number of cattle, installing fencing, building a watering trough and rotating cattle among pastures.

They followed the plan, and NRCS provided technical and financial assistance to help carry it out. Now the pastures are greener and the operation is financially sustainable.

Their new job blended their law enforcement expertise with their love for horses as they train horses, teach volunteers and conduct monthly patrol details throughout the county.

Mounted units were not new to the Bushells, as John successfully started a unit in Tampa and Margaret had built a reputation as an exceptional certified horse trainer.

Margaret grew up riding horses. John became interested soon after they got married when she sold his motorcycle and bought him a horse.

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 posse helps the sheriff’s office in areas where horses are advantageous, such as ranch patrols and crowded events. Also, the posse is called to do search-and-rescue operations and give health and safety presentations in schools.

The Bushells don’t know when they will retire, but they know what they will do when the time comes – spend even more time with the horses!

Bushell’s conservation plan for his 50 acre spread calls for fencing and rotational grazing. NRCS photo.

Bushell’s conservation plan for his 50 acre spread calls for fencing and rotational grazing. NRCS photo.

One Response to “USDA Conservation Plan Helps Florida Ranchers Afford to Protect and Serve a County”

  1. Sheila Williams says:

    What a fabulous story. Well worth sharing as it can serve as a model for others. I think an arrangement like this could also work as a possible placement for rescue horses.
    Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Bushnell, for providing inspiration!

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