Lessons from an 'Old West cowgirl'

Brownies from troop 633 raised their hands to ask questions as they waited to take their turns riding horseback. Their instructor Julia King answered as she demonstrated how to brush a horse - teaching them how to read the horse's moods - then she saddled Pecos Bill, a black gelding.

It's the outdoor classroom King, 53, has always dreamed of.

"This has been something I've really wanted to do for about 30 years," said King, who taught at Scarselli Elementary School for about 12 years before retiring.

"I'm a horse nut and I really like kids. I like teaching kids, so I just put them all together."

King knelt as she told the seven or so girls who were there to earn their horse care/riding badges the rules of the ranch.

"It takes a lifetime to learn about them," she said. "I'm just going to show you a couple of things."

"She's like an Old West cowgirl," said Brownie leader Julie Grey.

Safety around the horse was the first lesson, and King talked about how "not" to walk around a horse.

"Their eyes are not like people's eyes," she said. "Right in front of him is sort of a blind spot. He can't see too well. Don't ever come up right in front of a horse because he can't see you."

She walked behind Pecos Bill, who stretched his neck to see her in back of him. King asked if anyone knew why you shouldn't walk behind a horse.

"He might kick you if you get too close," said Kayleigh Carlson, raising her hand.

"The way to approach a horse is come up to his shoulder and pet him like this," King said.

Just by judging Pecos Bill's reaction to her hand near his head - he jerked away - she said she could tell he had been hit in the face before. Yet when she touched his head while bridling him, he was not "head shy.

"Somebody did not hurt him when they were bridling him," she said. "They hurt him when they were brushing him."

King told the girls to watch horses' ears to see how they're feeling. When the ears are back, it means they're not happy.

"He's not trying to be mean, it's just his way of talking," she said.

King has had her business Lil' Dudes Ranch for about six years and has owned her ranch in Fish Springs for about a year. She offers private lessons and week-long summer camps. Each camp session consists of six or seven children and ends in a horse show on the last day.

"The kids always have a really fun time," said King. "We all do. The day just flies by and they go home exhausted."

Lil' Dudes Ranch has also started working with the Angwin Family Foundation which offers free clinics for children whose parents cannot afford to send them to riding lessons.

"It's not just learning about horses, but for their own personal development - to grow as people," said King. "And it's also just for fun. Kids need fun memories. It's a real win-win situation."

Teaching in the classroom, at YMCA camps and working at a dude ranch have all prepared King, who's ridden horses since she was 9, for running a ranch with programs for children. As she looks ahead, King imagines continuing her work in a larger setting.

"I envisioned a huge camp in the mountains," she said. "You never know. It could happen in the future."

For information on summer camps, call Douglas County Parks & Recreation at 782-9828 or Lil' Dudes Ranch at 782-1228. For information on private lessons, call King at 782-1228.


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