My very first truly influential experience with anything “country” was a camp I attended down toward San Diego. If anything can be credited with planting that initial seed of fascination with horseback riding and ranch work, it would be my sixth-grade trip out to Rawhide Ranch.
Rawhide Ranch is a youth camp down in Bonsall, CA, that centers around trying to make a positive difference in kids’ lives through the experience of life working on a ranch. I attended their week-long summer camp, but Rawhide Ranch offers a ton of different opportunities throughout the year. This place gave a little suburban beach-city kid a chance to ride horses, feed and water animals and, among other things, learn about roping, archery and country dancing… and I fell in love with it all.
My favorite part of visiting Rawhide Ranch, and one of the main focuses of our time there, was the horseback riding. I couldn’t get enough of it. While we weren’t exactly taking the horses off on our own free-range trail ride, after learning the basics, we were allowed quite a bit of latitude when riding. It wasn’t your typical nose-to-tail ride that you’re stuck with other places. Any chance I got, you would find me angling to get a bit of extra time on those horses. As part of the horseback riding, we were also taught vaulting. As a somewhat timid kid growing up, the thought of doing gymnastics on the back of a horse absolutely terrified me. However, by the end of the trip, I was dancing around on the back of that horse like a pro (okay… slight exaggeration). On our last day at camp, we put on a small rodeo to show off what we’d learned to our parents. I’m not sure I was ever as proud about anything in my life as when I was selected to perform in the riding category.
Aside from the horseback riding, there were countless options to keep me busy during the day. Every morning we had to be up early for breakfast and chores. I was lucky enough that there were already enough guys mucking out stables, so I got the chance to care for the young calves. It was my job to wrangle the calves out of their stalls and outside to where we would feed them. It was always a challenge as there was no door, and these calves were full of energy. I’ll tell you one thing… those calves may have been incredibly cute, but getting trampled by about five of them still leaves you pretty sore the next day. I learned about cattle roping, horse-cart driving and animal showmanship… and while I may not remember everything about displaying a prize-winning chicken, I definitely DO remember that you’re not supposed to stare at its little chicken butt.
On that note, it’s really funny what odd tidbits you recall when looking back. I remember there was an old hound dog that was a fixture around Rawhide Ranch. We were warned to avoid him during morning and afternoon announcements, as any time he’d hear that voice come over the speakers, he’d start howling like a maniac. At one point or another, you were guaranteed to be caught next to him, and you’d miss out on whatever was being announced due to the non-stop howling.
I also remember the time we went on a night hike. I’m sure it wasn’t all that far, but as a young kid, I remember it seemed like a good ten miles uphill. We ended up in a high rocky area where we built a fire to sit around and tell stories. I vividly remember the sights and sounds as one of the camp staff told a ghost story. For the life of me, I can’t recall the exact story. But, boy, do I remember how I felt when that scary story reached its climax, and I fell out of my chair from the shock and surprise. It was a fantastic night.
Then there was all the unsanctioned fun we made for ourselves. The boys and girls were split up into different groups for camping. The girls stayed in cabins while the boys camped out in covered wagons. It was all very exciting, and we managed to get into all sorts of trouble. When we weren’t too busy playing pranks on the other wagons, we managed to organize all the boys for a big trip over to toilet paper the girls’ cabins. And when our wagon didn’t get first place and win the ice cream party at the end of the week? Well, we just cleaned out every vending machine on the ranch and threw our own party… which was much better, in my opinion.
It’s impossible in a simple blog entry to detail all the amazing things that Rawhide Ranch has to offer. I’d encourage you to check out their website or give them a call to find out more. If you’ve got a young ranch hand who needs to get his boots a bit dusty, I can’t recommend this place enough. If they’re anything like I was, Rawhide Ranch is somewhere they’ll develop memories and passions to last a lifetime.