Living Water Ranch in Fairbanks, Alaska
By Teddy Franke
The last frontier, a place many come to visit but few call home. This is the setting for an equestrian program called Living Water Ranch. Cold dark winters and warm summers with endless sunlight provide some unique challenges to this year round facility. The ranch is home to twenty horses of mixed breeds. The mission of the ranch is to use these horses and programs to bring people together and encourage them in a relationship with a loving God. Each year the ranch hosts camps, events, clinics, IRD, riding lessons, pack trips, and programs for the military. Having a wide range of available activities, as well as a location central to Alaska means the ranch is constantly bustling with activity.
Camp Li-Wa (Living Water) has been in existence for over 50 years. It is the northernmost facility of an organization called Victory ministries. The horse program at camp Li-Wa began humbly with the arrival of the first horse in 1987. An Arabian named Shady Lane showed up in the back of someone’s pickup truck. A quick shelter and corral were thrown together so he had a place to stay. Later, several ponies joined the developing herd. For the first few years there were trail and pony rides for the summer campers. Bruce Walter was the first certified instructor to run the horse program. He was responsible for construction of a small tack room, hitching rails and an arena. Over the years the program has grown considerably, offering all that you might expect at a year round multi-discipline facility.
Construction on the barn began in 1995 when a local businessman donated the first half of a wood framed indoor arena. Prior to this, the camp had operated as a summer only trail riding facility. True to Alaskan tradition, the program moved into the partially completed structure and set up operations. The final phase didn’t come until 2005 when grants and generous donations from individuals facilitated the completion. As the program grew and developed, there was need to set our sights on a standard. CHA site accreditation came in 2005. Recognizing the need for a separate identity, this growing horse program was christened Living Water Ranch. Now the barn is the focal point of the ranch. It is well equipped with a 60 x 170 foot heated arena, classrooms, bathrooms, laundry facilities, an infirmary, a saddle shop, and offices, as well as a full complement of box and feed stalls. There is even an audio visual room for video and audio production. In an effort to provide an affordable heat source for the cold Alaskan winters waste oil furnaces were installed, which recycle used motor oil and turn it into heat. Free waste oil has been obtained from several local businesses. The barn is located on 80 acres of forested land that was once a potato farm. There is a convenient trail system, round pens, and a 240 x 120 foot outdoor arena. With Alaska as the backdrop, clients can ride into some of the most rugged and beautiful country in the world. A horse is still one of the best ways to access many of the more remote parts of the state.
It takes many people to staff the program at Living Water Ranch. Volunteers come for each program that runs during the winter. They are trained to the specific program in which they decide to participate. Beyond that, there are others who come to help in many different areas such as cleaning tack, mowing lawns, and providing vet services. Summertime volunteers come for nine weeks and live on-site. This rewarding experience is often a springboard for people who wish to pursue a career in horsemanship. Over the past five years the ranch has been directed by Teddy Franke. Teddy has been working with horses all of his life. He has been a riding instructor pack guide and teamster at various places since he was young. He maintains CHA certification in Standard, IRD, EFM and pack and trail. He is also currently serving Alaska and the Yukon as the CHA Region 11 Director. His loves to develop the people who come by giving them opportunities to try things out within the camp environment. “I want people to follow their passion. If that’s horsemanship, then we might be able to provide some opportunities.” Many people with a mixture of skill, talent and heart combined with loving hospitality are what make LWR so special.
Summers at the ranch consist of horse camps, and leadership development for the seasonal staff. Campers can expect to learn everything they need to ride a horse safely. As they advance, there are opportunities to try their hand at gaming, ranch and cow work, jumping, packing, or even cross-country jumping. The camp selects quality summer personnel to run the summer programs. They are mentored as leaders, and developed as horse men and women. Together, they work each day as a team to teach spiritual truth. They show riders what it means to let Jesus take the reins in their lives. As the summers fade into fall, there are typically pack trips that take place for families and individuals. There are special opportunities for soldiers and their families to take part in these trips. They provide an adventurous yet relaxing way to dispel war-time stress. As the cold starts to limit the pack trips, the focus shifts to the winter riding programs. Each day of the week is full with riding lessons, instruction for riders with disabilities, and a leadership development program called WIT (Wrangler in Training). The ranch also hosts a number of local groups who use the facility. Tanana Valley Kennel club uses the barn in the evenings for dog agility. The ranch has been home to the farthest north agility trial for the last several years. Helping Hooves is an organization that provides instruction for riders with disabilities. They make use of the barn and horses all winter. We occasionally facilitate for other groups like Horse Masters, 4-H, The Interior Horseman’s Association, The Alaska State Quarter Horse Association, local schools, and the US Army. It’s a wonderful way for people to enjoy winter recreation in a warm place.
People are always calling the ranch with horses that they would like to donate. Often they are older or have some issues. Many people don’t realize that, in order to work in this program, a horse needs to have very specific qualities. They should be gentle to a fault, versatile, confident, young, willing, and, a bit stubborn. You may ask why. A stubborn horse can be hard to train and frustrating at times. But, what many call stubborn we call “heart.” A horse with heart will stick to what they know with great integrity, regardless of the drumming legs or unsteady, yanking, pulling hands. A good horse will correctly interpret these inconsistent aids and respond as they should. It’s best when the herd age averages around 12. The situation can be very mentally and physically demanding. Good horses are worth their weight in hay. Everyone who volunteers in the summer at the ranch learns to train. For some that means simple principles of ask, tell and command. Others who show the aptitude may learn to fine-tune a horse in a specific discipline, or start one of the colts. Each horse has a specific primary job. The goal is to train them to be versatile enough that they have four or five jobs. It’s not uncommon to sort cows with the same horse you were jumping earlier that morning, or to pack a horse in the back country that might handle disabled riders over the winter. A good horse can jump, pack, be shot from, roped off, staked out, high-lined, trail ridden, driven in harness, ponied, vaulted on, and ridden by rank beginners all with a good attitude. Perfection isn’t a must, just a well-rounded jack-of-all-trades type. With the cost of hay in Alaska at $320 per ton, it’s crucial to maximize the horses on site. The horses are considered to be a valued part of the staff. Many people ask how they handle the cold. Surprisingly, the cold is a big ally. It kills the majority of parasites or bacteria that might otherwise be a problem. There is very little wind and no moisture in the Fairbanks area. The horses stay warm as long as there is good access to quality forage. They live in a herd environment, and do quite well during the winter months.
The keeping of horses in Alaska can provide some special challenges. LWR has met those challenges and is providing a special service to those who make this vast and beautiful state their home. The unique versatility in its horses and staff would make this a riding program of note anywhere. If your plans include spending some time in Alaska, plan to stop by for a visit. You’re always welcome!
Visit www.living-water-ranch.com. Contact Teddy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 907-457-6059
Camp Hebron in Halifax, Pennsylvania
By Susan Berger
Just 20 miles north of Pennsylvania’s capital city, Harrisburg, lies a year round Christian Camp and retreat center located on the side of Peters Mountain in Powell’s Valley. Camp Hebron covers 340 acres, including large tracts of undeveloped woodland with hiking, nature, and riding trails, offering guests an escape from city life. Scenery ranges from peaceful woodland scenes to beautiful mountain vistas on the famous Appalachian Trail which borders the camp. This sanctuary allows people of all ages and walks of life the opportunity to connect with God, nature, and each other.
Meadowview Stables, a CHA accredited site, has been an integral part of Camp Hebron, providing a year-round riding and horsemanship program that includes: clinics, including CHA Standard Certification Clinics, summer and weekend horsemanship camps, riding lessons, guided trail rides, girl scouts, boy scouts, cub scouts badges, YMCA groups, at-risk youth programs, children and adult specialty groups, “Horse Connection” Riding Club, and “WIT” (Wrangler in Training) Program for 14- 17-year-old volunteers.
Dean and Susan Berger have been living and working at Camp Hebron since 1998, and have had the privilege and opportunity to see participants grow up through the program. Dean is the Horsemanship Director, and Susan, a CHA Instructor and Clinician, is the Horsemanship Education Specialist. Four summer wranglers, “WIT’s,” adult volunteers, a handful of local part-time staff, and a working intern (currently Luann Ulrich who is a CHA Instructor and a graduate from Oklahoma State University) share in the barn management, trail riding, instruction and ministry.
“I was looking for a place to connect to in my retirement…and I found it!” says Nancy Herbst, an adult volunteer. Camp Hebron has a very special herd of 20-25 geldings of various ages, sizes, levels and disciplines. Many of them come from rough and difficult backgrounds, and need to be brought back to health. By coming to Camp Hebron, these horses get a second chance at life. They are well-cared for, and then allowed to bless the lives of so many people. They are wonderful teachers of patience, forgiveness, trust and courage.
Summer resident camps are a large part of Camp Hebron. Meadowview Stables provides 6 different weeks and levels of horse camps with quality instruction by CHA certified instructors/wranglers in ground, theory, and mounted lessons. Campers also enjoy other fun activities like hiking, lake games, swimming, arts and crafts, field games, and a nature center. Spiritual growth is emphasized through morning worship, cabin devotions, and evening vespers, and is led by hand-picked quality staff.
Local children and adults enjoy a very organized riding lesson program that offers English and Western lessons to individuals and groups of all ages. Lessons include grooming, tacking, groundwork, round pen work, and riding in the 100x200 outdoor lighted arena and on well-maintained trails. Students use the horses here at camp and some also trailer in their own horses.
“I never thought I would be riding a real horse at my age; I thought I would never get any closer than seeing them beside the road,” says Amber Schell a riding student who is seven years old. Guided trail rides are offered to weekend guests and local enthusiasts on a pre-registration basis. Church groups, birthday parties, family reunions, scout groups, and dating couples are just a few of the types of groups that ride. Often guests see deer, turkey, and other wildlife while on the wooded trails. It’s a great way to experience nature from a different perspective. “The rides are beautiful, the horses are so well-behaved, and the wild-life is up close and personal,” says a Yellow Breeches group leader.
Camp Hebron is currently in a fund-raising campaign to replace an existing barn and outdoor corral with a new 25 stall barn and an indoor arena. This would give a year-round program a year-round facility and enhance the program and allow for so much more ministry. Camp Hebron Meadowview Stables is a safe place where people and horses can connect in extraordinary ways. Please visit us at http://camphebron.org/horselovers.htm
SJ Riding Camp in Ellington, CT
For girls who love horses, SJ Ranch, a riding camp for girls ages 8-15, is a great place to be. From girls whose only experience with horses is loving them from afar, to girls who have been riding their whole life, SJ Ranch is an ideal place to improve their riding skills, learn more about horses, take on the responsibilities of horse care, and have fun! It’s also a great place to make new friends, because everyone at SJ Ranch shares an enthusiasm for horses.
SJ Ranch was started in 1956 by Mary Haines for her own horse-loving children. She had 5 children in 3 years (that’s averaging 1 every 7 months!) by having two sets of twin girls with a boy in the middle. The camp is now directed by Pat Haines (one of the younger set of twins). The summer of 2012 will be Pat’s 57th summer at camp. Pat first became involved with CHA when she took a CHA clinic at Marmon Valley Farm in Ohio in 1971. Pat is a CHA life member and former board member. The co-director is Julie Morton, who grew up in New York City and spent her 1st summer at SJ Ranch in 1973. This summer will be her 30th year at camp. Julie is a CHA life member and a clinic instructor.
SJ campers are scheduled to ride for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. Each morning at breakfast they choose two other activities to fill their morning and right before lunch they choose two other activities to fill their afternoon schedule. There is always the option of a barn program, where girls are learning about horses or taking care of them, and we also offer regular camp activities.
There are 48 girls per session and riders are put into one of eight groups. Since they are grouped according to their ability, lessons can be focused on appropriate riding skills. Whether campers are just working on improving their seat and position at the walk and trot, learning diagonals or leads, or working on advanced courses, our CHA certified instructors design lessons and exercises to help their students increase the skills that they have. SJ Ranch has been holding CHA clinics for our instructors and for other New England horse facilities since 1989. Besides becoming CHA accredited in 2000, SJ Ranch has been accredited by the American Camping Association since 1968.
Instead of assigning one horse to campers for the whole time they’re here, we feel that they will learn to ride better by riding lots of different horses. Each group has about 8-10 horses that will be appropriate for that level. As the group improves, they are challenged by trying more advanced horses. Usually, the girls settle on one or two (or three) favorites, and we try and assign one of their favorites for the horseshow at the end of the session. Most everyone rides English but once in a while someone will try Western and sometimes riding bareback is a popular way for girls to practice their seat and balance. There are 42-44 camp-owned horses that will meet about 200 campers each summer and over the 9 weeks give over 1,000 lessons.
Riders that are pretty skilled at jumping in the arena are sometimes taken out to the practice field to practice some cross country jumps. We have various log jumps and the bank jump that enable advanced riders to experience obstacles found on a real cross-country course while an instructor is there to provide guidance and coaching. Advanced riders will also start to work on beginning dressage, and each session eligible riders are able to compete in an Event. We also offer a horse trials video clinic where girls get a lesson in dressage, x-country and show jumping and then go over their videotaped lesson with the instructor.
Most of the time, both riding times will be a group lesson in the ring but if it’s really hot the girls might go on a trail ride instead. All riding groups also go out on a supper ride where they pack food onto the horses, ride out to a campsite, cook supper, and ride back. Taking the horses in our specially designated horse pond is an SJ summer tradition. Mostly the horses are walking but if they are good at communicating with their horse they can get him go into a short swimming section.. Taking a dip is an ideal way to cool off on a hot day, but it can be hard work for the horses, so the girls really appreciate their horse for letting them share this special activity.
Besides riding, the girls are taught the skills and value necessary to become a good horse person. In barn classes the most important thing to we teach is how to be safe around horses. Right from the start, campers are taught the proper way to groom and tack up so they can get ready on their own for each lesson. In later barn classes they might learn how to bandage or how to put polo wraps on, how to braid or lunge a horse, or in some barn classes they might just spend time taking care of horses. Everyone does what they can to help. And everyone takes turns cleaning up!
Riding lessons are the only parts of the day that are scheduled in for campers. The rest of the time is set aside for campers to pick activities that they are interested in, whether at the barn or at other areas of camp. An optional free swim and boating period, directed by red cross certified lifeguards is offered at the waterfront each afternoon. Campers can enjoy swimming, kayaking, paddle boating or standup paddle boarding.
At arts and crafts the girls might make friendship bracelets, tie dye shirts, draw horses, or make sculpted horses. Sometimes they even take a little time to write a letter home! Archery is always taught by a certified instructor, and there are certain range commands that the girls always follow. At camp crafts, girls learn how to build a fire, and fire safety, which comes in handy when the girls go on their cabin cookouts. The girls might also choose parachute games, tennis, basketball, stilts, juggling or acting games.
The girls live in cabins with girls their own age. Inside the cabins are bunk beds and room enough for about six campers. There is no running water or electricity in the cabins so it’s really like camping. But modern bathrooms with regular flush toilets and hot showers are nearby.
To paraphrase a famous saying, “There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a girl.” We’re pretty sure that the girls enjoy their time here at SJ Ranch. But we also hope that they will get a sense of pride and accomplishment from experiencing new things, whether it’s learning to ride better, to take care of horses, to be away from home and to be independent, to make friends and to get along with others. There’s something about horses that fosters a sense of responsibility and cooperation and it’s nice being in a place where everyone appreciates what horses can do for us.
For more information you can find us at www.sjridingcamp.com
Wears Valley Ranch, Wears Valley, Tennessee
By Ryan McCaffrey
Twenty years ago, Wears Valley Ranch (WVR) was started with the gift of 104 acres of pasture and woodlands in the unincorporated area of Wears Valley, Tennessee, outside Sevierville. We are a children’s home and private boarding school for kids, ages 6-18, from crisis family situations who have a problem in the home that is not of their own making. Our mission is to “promote the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social and physical development of children in need of a stronger family support system, through Christ-centered home settings.” We opened our doors in 1992, but the vision for the Ranch started many years earlier.
Our founder director, Pr. Jim Wood, was just a teenager in North Carolina volunteering at the juvenile facility near his home. He met two boys there who were roommates. One was a murderer. The other was orphaned and abandoned with no real record of wrong. His only problem was that no one wanted him. Bothered by the disparity between the two boys’ reasons for being there, young Jim prayed that God would do something to remedy the situation. The Lord answered his prayer clearly, allowing Jim to be part of the solution.
Jim eventually met Susan (to whom he has now been married for many years) and was pleased to find out on their first date that she had a similar vision for starting a children’s home. Both Jim and Susan were certain that the home had to have a horse program. While neither of them grew up with horses, they both knew of the powerful therapeutic, educational, and recreational benefits that horses provided. They knew that multi-dimensional tools would be an asset as they sought to minister holistically to hurting children.
Based off of a home-school model that employs a tutorial approach, tailored curriculum, and a wide variety of subjects, St. Andrew’s School (SAS) is the accredited, on-site school that serves the students at the Ranch. There are up to 8 students in each of two boys’ and two girls’ houses for a capacity of 32 students. Each home has a married couple for house-parents and two, college/post-college age mentors. Knowing that all of life is a classroom, the house-staff are the primary educators in the school program under the supervision of the teaching faculty at SAS. We know that, because of the backgrounds of the kids we serve, if we only produce smart, bright kids, then we have failed. However, if we produce young men and women who are responsible parents and caring spouses who stay humble and teachable, then we’ve been successful. Those kinds of graduates are less likely to send their own children to Wears Valley Ranch as future students. We would love
to work ourselves out of a job!
Students at the Ranch are on a level system with the entry level having the fewest privileges, and always needing adult supervision and permission. As the students demonstrate the ability to regularly accomplish simple tasks, they are rewarded with more privileges and greater responsibility. Horseback riding is one of those privileges. They start out receiving hour-long ground lessons. Once they are promoted, they qualify for 2-hr. lessons that include mounted activities. Many of the students can catch, lead, groom, and saddle their own horses. Riding lessons can include work at the walk, trot, or canter in the arena, time on some of our trails in the Smoky Mountains foothills, or even a game of Horse Soccer. Having been the Equestrian Director here since late 2007, I find that CHA’s progressive, user-friendly Composite Manual is a great tool that fits well into the vision and application of WVR and SAS. The levels format of the manual allows for a solid foundation of ground and mounted skills to be established for each student as they progress in a way that meets their individual needs.
The Composite Manual isn’t the only useful tool CHA has to offer. One of the first things I did when I arrived at the Ranch was refer to the Standards for Group Riding Programs. This helped to outline a plan to objectively evaluate and build on the work of previous Equestrian Directors at the Ranch, and to identify areas for improvement. In addition, it serves to hold us accountable to make sure we’ve done and are doing what we set out to do. That evaluation process and the to-do list that resulted created many projects for our army of volunteers. From trail maintenance to fencing and shelter construction, the fingerprints of volunteers are all over the horse program, never mind the rest of the Ranch!
While volunteers give time, they’re not the only ones who give to the Ranch. The Ranch is funded almost entirely by donations, operating without debt and without government assistance. That generosity directly affects the horse program as well. Our small herd of 10 or less has been donated or purchased through the sale of donated horses. From a Percheron to a Paso Fino and a pony, we’ve seen a little bit of everything over the years. Our current herd of mostly Quarter Horses has also benefited from CHA’s Standards. Among other things, it has taught me the value of having things in writing. I’ve admittedly made my share of mistakes, like taking a horse just because it looked good or wanting a horse to be something other than it was. Now I have a written profile for the kind of horse we’re looking for that helps me screen potential donations. It holds me accountable, and I don’t have to feel bad for turning a horse away. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad horse; it just means that we’re not the best home for them. It’s the same way with the students we serve. We serve a very specific population. If we accept kids who don’t fit that profile, it makes it difficult for everyone involved and creates unnecessary chaos in the lives of our students when we seek to create stability.
The final facet of Wears Valley Ranch is Camp Arrowwood, a 5-night, residential, open-enrollment, summer camp for 8-14-year-old kids. Besides offering horseback riding, activities also include archery and riflery, adventure recreation, wilderness skills, energy craze, cabin and group devotions, camp-wide games, and of course, silly songs. Kids from all over the country can come experience a great week of fun in the Smokies!
Like many of the kids who come to the Ranch, I did not grow up around horses. Were we not CHA program members, and I not a CHA-certified instructor, I don’t know where we would be! The teaching resources, professional networking, and technical support that CHA offers has been instrumental in helping Wears Valley Ranch, St. Andrew’s School, and Camp Arrowwood offer a high-caliber program for many years, and we’re looking forward to many more!
For more information on our programs, visit www.wvr.org and www.camparrowwood.org.