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Summer memories for horse-crazy kids

Ron Strader thinks it’s a shame that any horse-crazy kid can’t get a chance to ride. Having been one himself, he wants to share that excitement with as many kids as possible.Strader’s love of horses began at an early age and eventually led him to Falcon. But the road was a long one, leading from the panhandle of Texas through New Mexico and the San Luis Valley to Curtis Road and the Rockin’ R Ranch.Strader started riding when he was 4 years old at his grandmother’s ranch in eastern Oklahoma. “My mother said I was born with boots and spurs on,” said Strader. “That was my passion, according to my mom, for as long as she could remember.” He got his first horse at age 11. “I lived on that horse,” he said.He attended college in Abeline, where he majored in speech and drama and briefly taught high school following graduation. But he decided against teaching as a career and started selling insurance. He moved to Dallas and lived on the outskirts of town, near horse stables where he could continue to ride and train.After raising five children, he decided it was time to pursue his dream of working with horses. He looked for land in Santa Fe, N.M., and the San Luis Valley of Colorado, but couldn’t find the perfect place. So he took a job as a consultant for an insurance company that would require him to travel. “While I took care of their business, I looked for land,” Strader said, and he eventually ended up buying 12 acres near Marksheffel Road. There he started boarding and training horses and giving riding lessons, but he soon began looking for a larger place and entered into a lease-purchase arrangement on 40 acres on Curtis Road in Falcon.”We started doing individual lessons and then came up with the idea of doing week-long riding camps,” he said. With the help of ranch manager Tami Flores, the Rockin’ R summer camps began in 2003. That first year, they had four week-long camps. In 2004, they had seven. “Every one of them was full,” said Strader, “and we constantly had people calling us trying to get in.”Eventually, Strader and Flores realized that upkeep on the older buildings would be too difficult and started looking for another ranch. They looked for five months but couldn’t find anything suitable. The day after they gave up the search, a 40-acre parcel next to their old ranch went up for sale. They bought the property and are now in the process of building a barn, an indoor arena, loafing sheds and living quarters, as well as putting up an outdoor arena and cross fencing.This summer they will have eight camps with 13 to14 kids in each camp. They will have four instructors (including Strader and Flores) and an intern. “We have a good crew this year,” said Strader.Strader and Flores begin working with the instructors two weeks before the camps start, and they meet each day of the camp to discuss the students’ progress and any special needs. Each weeklong camp begins with an evaluation of the skill level of each child.Rockin’ R has 18 of their own horses, so they can be assured they can pair each child with the right horse. They have adopted six of their horses from Front Range Equine Rescue. These horses have proven to be ideal for the summer camp riders.The camp day runs from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. and includes a midday break for a box lunch, provided by Rockin’ R. On Friday, the last day of camp, the kids stage a performance for their parents. Parents are often amazed to see their child’s progress. “We’ve had some of the most amazing stories,” said Strader. “One girl we had, about 7 years old, was scared to death of horses. I put her on our most bombproof horse – he was 29 years old. He raised a foot to get a fly and she broke into tears. At the end of the week when her parents came, she was loping through the barrels and poles. Once she realized she could control the horse and we got her through the fear, the progression came naturally.”We’ve had about a 70 percent repeat rate the first two years.” In one camp of 13 students held last year, six had attended camp the week before and asked their parents if they could come back.Since starting the summer camp, Strader and Flores have added several new programs, including a horse lease program for kids who are truly horse-crazy. For a monthly fee, the child can come to Rockin’ R on a regular basis, work around the barn for an hour or two and ride for the rest of the day. “It gives them a chance to learn what it takes to own a horse,” said Strader. Rockin’ R gives the parents a quarterly report on expenses related to caring for that horse – farrier and vet charges, feeding, worming – so they can get an idea of the actual expense involved. If the family decides to buy a horse, Rockin’ R often works with Front Range Equine Rescue to find a suitable rescue horse.Plans for the future include hosting team penning and ranch horse versatility events and using the Rockin’ R indoor arena to hold open gymkhanas during the winter months.Rockin’ R’s summer riding camps will start on May 30 and run through August 19. Camps are for beginning and intermediate riders ages 8 to18. Cost for the weeklong camp is $175.For more information, call Rockin’ R at 719-660-8066.

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