By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold
Behind the Moses Bathroom (We call the bathroom “Moses” because he said, “Let my people go!”), you’ll find a winding trail that leads you through Camp’s piney woods, over Harrison Creek, to the far side of our property. We call the trail the purple trail because the diamond trail-markers along the path are purple in color. It’s a muddy expanse of trail – several years ago gentlemen from Endres Mnfg. donated their time to build a boardwalk, helping travelers get from one side of our property to the other with clean shoes.
At the end of the trail, you arrive at a pasture, and there, typically eating piles of hay, are the Camp Gray horses.
Yes, real live HORSES!
When I tell people about Camp Gray, for many, what stands out most are the horses.
“You have horses at Camp Gray?!”
Yes indeed, we do.
Jim and Nicole Riggs run the Wagons West Riding Stables, a staple at Camp Gray since 1999.
Both Jim and Nicole have been around horses their entire lives. Nicole grew up showing Morgan horses and Jim was riding horses before he could walk.
Their expertise and passion for horses is a blessing to Camp Gray – it’s a great comfort knowing that our campers are in highly skilled hands while they’re at the stables.
These days, several times a day during Summer Camp, groups of campers – led by a Camp Gray staffer – walk the purple trail to take part in a trail-ride or riding lessons. More than half of our campers each summer take the trek to the far side of camp. The Riggs’ find great joy in witnessing campers become more experienced riders. Many campers arrive at the stables as first-time riders, while some have moderate experience. All are welcome, and all return from the stables with new skills.
The success of that first summer of lessons and trail-rides led to the creation of a new program at Camp: Ranch Camp!
Since 2000, Ranch Camp has been an exciting and unique opportunity for campers. Ranch Camp is unlike any other program at Camp Gray. Each day, Ranchers spend their entire morning with the horses, becoming skilled riders, and learning the finer points of horse care. Typically, campers are paired up, and then they’re assigned a horse for the week. Many hours are spent with the same horse each week, so campers develop a bond and a consistency with their horse.
Ranch campers stay in a special area of Camp, called La Hacienda. Up until Summer Camp 2014, two small cabins in La Hacienda housed the Ranch Campers. We’re thrilled and grateful to announce that a grant from the Caritas Foundation in Madison was received in December to build a Yurt to replace the cabins. Ranch Campers henceforth will be living in style in a comfortable, stylish, and unique home (electricity included!).
During my first summer on staff at Camp Gray, I was privileged to counsel a session of Ranch Camp, and it’s still one of my fondest Camp experiences. The uniqueness, the beauty, and the simplicity of mornings at the stables are cherished, as is getting to know Jim and Nicole – they’re great with horses, they’re even greater with people!
When asked recently about their time as counselors of Ranch Camp in 2014, staffers Meghan and Paige had nothing but phenomenal things to say. They loved seeing their campers improve their horse-riding skills, they loved the uniqueness of Ranch Camp, and they loved getting to know Jim and Nicole.
“Spending time with the Riggs’ was truly a great experience. We felt so welcomed and loved. Jim and Nicole are funny and kind people!”
This summer, we invite you to take the journey down the purple trail to the Wagon’s West Riding Stables. Jim and Nicole are excited to meet you, as is their great team of horses!
Ranch Camp is filling fast! Visit our Session Chart for availability! Please note, that our two-week Advanced Ranch is back, after a 4-year hiatus. Do you have riding experience? Have you been a Ranch Camper in the past? Check out Advanced Ranch!