Being in the Westernaires isn’t just about learning the art of horsemanship. Westernaires learn life lessons that they take with them as they age to adults and beyond — discipline, teamwork, …
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Being in the Westernaires isn’t just about learning the art of horsemanship.
Westernaires learn life lessons that they take with them as they age to adults and beyond — discipline, teamwork, responsibility, self-confidence, leadership.
“They’re challenged, but there’s lots of benefits,” said Jerry Bauer, an alumnus who has been involved with the group as an adult volunteer for more than 20 years. “They get the chance to be kids and have fun in a structured environment.”
The Westernaires, a nonprofit volunteer-run youth equestrian organization, is accepting applications for its annual new member registration for youth ages 9-14. Deadline to apply is Aug. 24 in order to attend the kickoff meeting that evening.
Previous experience with horses is not necessary — all youth enter as a Tenderfoot, no matter his or her competence level with horses — and receive progressive training throughout their time with the Westernaires. As a Tenderfoot, youth learn safety and other horse care skills. As they as advance through the years, they will learn to ride and eventually, specialty acts such as trick riding, mounted precision drills, vaulting and/or roman riding, for example.
Tenderfoot is the hardest year, said Morgan Young, 15, of Littleton who has been involved with Westernaires for six years.
“It’s the learning curve,” she said. “But eventually you get hooked and all the years after that become more and more fun.”
Westernaires has about 300-400 volunteers and instructors. Along with the mounted riding, other special talents the youth can learn include trick roping, chariot-driving or bullwhip-cracking. The Westernaires celebrates Western heritage, and this training is unique in that the specialty skills the youth can participate in may not be easily found elsewhere, said alumna and current adult volunteer Karen Kronauge.
“Some of these skills are dying arts,” she said. “This is one of those rare places where we have lots of experts who are willing to share their knowledge.”
All youth graduate from Westernaires when they graduate from high school.
Megan Kirstein, 18, of Littleton has been with Westernaires for five years and will graduate this October.
“It’s helped me grow as a person,” Kirstein said, adding one makes a lot of friends through the organization.
Kirstein will start college soon but will stay local and hopes to continue riding horses and stay involved with the Westernaires.
“It’s always cute seeing the younger kids as they enter in their first year,” Kirstein said, “and watch them grow. By the end, they love it.”
Currently, there are about 1,000 youth involved with the Westernaires. The organization accepts about 250 new members each year.
Annual dues are $30 for the year, which goes toward maintenance and utilities for the facilities, located adjacent to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, 15200 W. Sixth Ave., in Golden.
Additional fees include purchasing the Westernaire practice uniform, and for some, may include costume purchases and horse rental. Because most of the youth riders in the program do not own a horse, the organization has about 200 horses that are available for rental for $15 per class.
Lucas Cook of Evergreen has been in Westernaires for five years and his favorite horse to work with is one owned by the Westernaires named Nugget.
“You know how with animals, you can just form a connection with them?” Cook, 11, said. “Nugget knows when I’m sad or happy. Actually, any mood you can think of. And I know his moods. We have history together.”
Westernaires offers youth a learning environment where they are supported to stretch and expand their skill sets, Bauer said. The end result, he added, is that the youths’ performances are just as good, if not better, than any professional out there.
“They will literally blow your mind,” Bauer said.
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