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Blue River Horse Center finds new home north of Silverthorne thanks to Peak Materials

Nonprofit: Year lease — maybe more — at 80-acre site is better than previous home

Craig Robelen, president of the Blue River Horse Center, assesses the stables at the center's new home at the former 80-acre Hillyard Ranch property at 35405 Colorado Highway 9, 15 minutes north of Silverthorne, on Friday, April 9, 2021. The horse center is able to use the property this summer for equestrian-based emotional awareness and leadership training programs through a lease from Kilgore Cos., owner of Peak Materials.
Photo by Joel Wexler

The Blue River Horse Center has found a new home after all thanks to a generous lease agreement from Peak Materials and Kilgore Cos.

Horse center president Craig Robelen described the Hillyard property as sensational.

“It’s like a gift from God,” Robelen said.



The 80-acre site is at 35404 Colorado Highway 9, 15 minutes north of Silverthorne. The auxiliary property of Peak Materials was known previously as the Hillyard Ranch before the company purchased the property from Julie Hillyard. The one-year lease agreement — with the potential for more years — at the Hillyard Ranch property will allow the nonprofit organization to continue its equestrian-based emotional awareness and leadership training programs this summer, beginning May 1.

In recent months it was uncertain if and where the horse center could continue programming after their lease at a former ranch, further north on Highway 9, expired last fall. Last summer, the center served more guests than ever at that location, including 350 local children with the help of more than 1,000 volunteers. Late last year and early this year, the center pushed for an agreement with the county to use the old rodeo and fair grounds by Dillon Dam. The center ultimately withdrew their request after feedback from county agencies, including the animal rescue, who said their access to the grounds was integral to county operations.



After the fairgrounds option was withdrawn, Robelen said he called back 10-15 property owners before officials from Glenwood Springs-based Kilgore Cos. said they were aware of the plight of the organization and felt the Hillyard property could be perfect for the organization. The offer from Peak to lease the property to the horse center from April 15 through October 31 is for a price similar to their previous lease. Before the Peak offer, the center was looking at vacant 3- to 5-acre plots.

Rather than the horse center bringing in its own water and hay and putting up its own fencing and paddocks — like they would have done on a vacant lot — the Hilyard property is move-in ready. After a group of volunteers cleaned the site over two days this weekend, it’ll require minimal work for the center to move horses into a ranch that features multiple barns, ample stalls, plenty of paddocks and fencing specific for horses that Robelen said “is in beautiful shape.”

“(Julie Hillyard) did a beautiful job of creating a horse ranch,” Robelen said. “For us to use this — it’s better than the last ranch where we were for 12 years.”

The center was only able to use 5 acres for its horse operations at the previous ranch, with the rest of the ranch’s 300 acres used for hay operation. Once the hay was cut late in summer, horses could graze on the rest of the property. Horse programming and exercises were limited to just a couple of arenas, round pens and barns.

At the new Peak site, the center will both be able to let the horses graze on all 80 acres thanks to a hay barn chock-full of last summer’s harvest. Facilities for the horses at the new ranch include “top-of-the-line stalls.” The previous site didn’t have any stalls, but Robelen said the center will likely mostly let the horses graze freely similar to how they would have previously. The new site’s paddock is also bigger and the center will have more round pens and ability to fence-in padding for nighttime grazing.

Russ Larsen, chief operating officer for Peak Materials, said the company hasn’t used the barns or any of the other horse facilities since the Hillyard purchase. Larsen said the lease agreement with the horse center is for the summer, with conversations for potentially additional summers, as the property is currently in the permitting process for sand and gravel extraction with the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“Permitting takes a fair amount of time to get through, and we are open to options as we continue forward (with the horse center),” Larsen said. “Hopefully this continues to work for them, and there may be some long-term options. But really at this point, we are taking it one step at a time. We’re glad to help them. … It seems like it’s going to be a good fit for the both of us.”


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