In our digital age, there can still be a place for the traditional camp experiences. Each summer we like to ask the kids about their favorite activities at Echo Ranch. One of the top responses is the horses. This is especially true for the 7- to 11-year-old crowd and among a majority of girls who attend Echo Ranch.
As the campers walk around Echo Cove, they are already thinking of their favorite horse and when they might be able to take a trail ride. The horses have names like Comet, Blaze, Echo, Buddy, Lightning and Gloria. And I have been told by more than one camper that their particular horse knows the camper's name just as well.
The horses have been apart of Echo Ranch since the days when there were cattle grazing on the property. As the need for cattle decreased the horses became less of a utility and more of an attraction. Our wrangling staff is all volunteers from around the country and is led by a head wrangler who is typically an Echo Ranch staff member.
Over the years, the herd has numbered between 15-20 heads and is still growing. Currently, we have 18 horses with a few babies expected early this summer, making the total 21. The oldest horse at Echo Ranch is 29, with the rest averaging 11 to 21 years old. Most of the horses are a cross between Morgan and Quarter horse breeds attributing to their mild mannered dispositions. Shadow, our new stud horse, is adding some Friesian qualities to the mix.
One of our objectives is to give the horses the most natural lifestyle possible. When not in use, they are set free to graze on the Echo Ranch property and parts of the neighboring Bridget Point State Park. The park service has given the camp permission to have up to 30 horses at any given time. In the winter each horse eats about one ton of hay which has to be shipped up from Washington. We also try to grow hay at camp to help keep costs down. The veterinarian makes periodic visits to camp and the horses have their hooves trimmed to keep them healthy. A benefit to having horses wander camp is they produce an excellent source of natural fertilizer, which is evident the moment you walk into Echo Ranch.
The horses are used to give kiddie rides during the younger aged camps and trail rides for various other camps. Retreat groups also have the ability to purchase trail rides. As part of the 10- to 11-year-olds' camp, we offer a horsemanship skills class where kids get a basic overview of horse care.
The sign-up for this skills class is done when the kids arrive at the camp on a first come first serve basis. A more in-depth experience is Horse Camp, which currently takes place in the month of June. Horse Camp operates on a unique location on Echo Ranch property that is designed to look like an old west town.
In April 2006, a fire destroyed the one level horse barn that had been used since the '70s. A new addition had just been completed and all the tack (horse gear) had been brought inside. Sadly, everything was lost. However, the public response to the fire was overwhelming. It wasn't long before donations of new tack and financial support were pouring in from Juneau and all over the country. If there was any indicator to how much the horse program meant to people, the fire proved to be the test. Today the camp has a wonderful two story barn with room for all the tack and loading dock to saddle the horses.
People love horses. Kids love horses. Some kids choose to spend their entire free time at the horse barn brushing the horses and getting to know the wranglers. Horses are an excellent way to tour God's creation and learn about taking care of the creatures he has given us.
For some kids, the horses are the only reason they come to Echo Ranch. We take every precaution to make sure that all of our visitors have a fun and safe time while riding. In the future we hope to offer more horse camps and riding experiences. Thank you to everyone who has helped to make our horse program possible.
Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.