Loving horses and making friends at Camp Gray Print
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jul. 12, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
Camp Gray Ranch Camp
Camp Gray Ranch Camp counselor Madeline Halbur gets her horse ready for a ride. To view or purchase photos, go to www.madisoncatholicherald.smugmug.com (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

REEDSBURG -- Whether you're visiting the 225 acres of faith and fun just outside of Reedsburg or checking out its website, you'll learn something very unique about Camp Gray -- "Camp Gray has horses!"

That's right, along with the campfires, "CTF on the AF" (Capture the Flag on the Athletic Field), Cassidy Games, devotions, and Masses, campers at the Catholic summer camp and year-round retreat center of the Diocese of Madison are making four-legged friends, along with two-legged ones.

Now in its 20th year, Ranch Camp at Camp Gray offers campers, going into grades seven to 11, a chance to learn how to ride horses and take care of them.

At the ranch

Near the southern edge of the camp is the Wagons West Riding Stables, run by Nicole and Jim West, a staple of the camp for two decades.

A camper gets there through a walk in the woods, going over wooden walkways and Harrison Creek.

While the ranchers participate in typical camp activities in the afternoon, the morning is for them and the horses.

They eat their breakfast before the other campers and then head to the stables.

Before they get on the horses, they help to feed the equines, brush their hair, and put on the horses' saddles and the rest of their tack.

During the camp's two-week Ranch Camp this year, there were six girl campers, two counselors, and other staffers who helped out.

By day three, the group was split into two where half of the group practiced their riding skills while the other half watched and later vice versa.

Each horse had two campers assigned to it, and the ranchers rode that same horse during the whole session.

Laney Evans from Barneveld, a second-time Ranch Camper, said she likes "getting to ride the horses and making friends."

Her horse for the session was named "Tuff," which she described as "he doesn't always like to listen, but you figure it out. He kind of likes to make me listen to him instead of me making him listen to me."

Long-time camper and now counselor Madeline Halbur from Milwaukee is also making the most of her experience.

She said she likes "the small community we have out here and the fact that we're always together out here and growing with each other and growing with the horses" and added, "it's really cool to be away from everything."

The campers slept in the recently-built yurt -- a round tent-like permanent structure on camp. This adds to the community building as well as growth in faith, since the campers pray together every day.

Learning to ride

The words "walk," "trot," "two point," and "three point" became part of the campers' vocabulary as they learned to ride the horses.

Most of the campers' lone experience with horses came from the year's previous ranch camp, since they don't have horses of their own.

Some campers were getting in the saddle for the first time.

Two point, or riding while standing in the stirrups, was a challenge for some.

"It worked really well when we were walking," said camper Izzy Meier from Madison, "but when we started trotting, Cole [her horse] decided that would be a great time to try and pull the reigns out of my hand."

Meier was able to safely handle her horse during said trot.

Opportunities like those were a chance for Jim Riggs, who runs the stables, to remind the campers that "it's when things go wrong, that's when you really need to know how to ride a horse."

Riggs has been the glue that holds Ranch Camp together, and in addition to giving instructions and tips on riding, he didn't hesitate to share his wisdom with the campers, ranging from the insistence coffee needs to be hot to the musical genius of Garth Brooks.

As far as riding goes, camper Christine Geiger from Waunakee said, "it's easy to learn, just follow the directions," and added, "you get to learn from [other campers], also, and you get to ride with them -- it's really fun."

In addition to learning how to ride and take the horses out on the trails, the two-week Ranch Campers went camping for a few nights off-site and attended a rodeo.

The other Ranch Camp sessions are one week long, and there are separate ones for boys and girls.

For more information on Ranch Camp and Camp Gray, go to https://campgray.com


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