Inside the horseback training for U.S. Special Forces

BRIDGEPORT, Calif. -- High in the Sierra Nevadas, U.S. forces are being trained in the art of mountain warfare on horseback. Yes, the original all-terrain vehicle is making a comeback.

Staff Sergeant Levi Stuart has been saddling up since he was a child. Now he's an instructor at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center.

"The advantage of using horses and mules, they can maneuver across the battle space very quickly and unnoticed," explained Stuart. "They don't have to rely on roads or technology or vehicles to go wherever they need to go."

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Staff Sergeant Levi Stuart
CBS News

The students here are all U.S. Special Forces undergoing a 15-day course led by Anthony Parkhurst, a retired Marine and director of the horsemanship course.

"If we can take 100 pounds off a Marine's back or a soldier's back and put it on the back of a mule, by the time they get to their objective they're better prepared to bring the fight to the enemy," said Parkhurst.

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Anthony Parkhurst, director of the horsemanship and mule packing course
CBS News

Parkhurst instructs his students how to find good horses in foreign countries. He teaches them how to age a horse by its teeth and how to listen for a heart murmur. Parkhurst thinks horses and mules will play a pivotal role in the military's future.

"For our program, we're going to continue to grow because I think some of the enemy we have to fight today, the terrorist enemy, they're going to continue to fade back into the mountains and we're going to need some form of transportation and what better form of transportation than something that's been walking around the mountains all of its life," Parkhurst said.

Seven decades after the U.S. Cavalry was put out to pasture, the Special Forces are getting back in the saddle again.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.