Blue River Horse Center rears up for another season

Amy Young leads an Animal Communication Class, which pairs miniature horses with young children, at the Blue River Horse Center. The horses mirror the children’s feelings and behavior back to them in real time, said the nonprofit's founder and executive director John Longhill, who’s been watching the power horses have to influence people’s lives for the better for three decades now.
Special to the Daily


The Blue River Horse Center will introduce the public to its newest batch of equines with a Welcome the Horses Day on May 5 at the ranch.

The day will come with riding lessons, a chance for children to interact with miniature horses, a barbecue cookout and High Country musician Randall McKinnon offering his unique blend of folk, country and rock.

One highlight of the day will certainly be the “Meet the Minis” event, in which the center welcomes children to get aquatinted with a heard of about 15 miniature horses with opportunities for the youngsters to groom, lead or just pet the ponies.

“They’re precious, and they love to get rubbed,” executive director John Longhill said of the minis.

At the same time, a round-pen demonstration with full-size horses will help show off how the center’s trainers interact with the horses at the Welcome the Horses Day event, and children will get riding lessons on full-sized horses.

Outside of the welcoming event, the Blue River Horse Center offers two primary programs, including its Animal Communication Class, a two-hour class for children ages 5-8 to work with miniature horses, and its Leadership Awareness with Horses Camps, the center’s signature program that promotes self-awareness and constructive decision-making skills in children ages 7-17.

The Blue River Horse Center also offers regular riding lessons, service-learning opportunities, a volunteer-training program and corporate team-building and leadership workshops with horses.

The first volunteer-training classes of the season will begin May 12. For more about the Blue River Horse Center, Welcome the Horses Day or its many programs, go to, email Longhill at or call 970-389-8496.

The Blue River Horse Center is saddling up for another busy summer season on its 300-acre ranch along the Lower Blue River, north of Silverthorne.

Start to finish, the nonprofit’s primary season — in which the horses are in town — runs from the beginning of May to the end of October, said John Longhill, its founder and executive director.

Over the years, Longhill has been deeply impressed by the power horses have to positively affect people’s lives.

For him, there’s just something “magical” about the way horses can help humans better understand their feelings, the actions that come from those feelings and how those actions translate into leading a happier and more fulfilling life.

“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years,” he said. “I’ve probably had 10,000 kids go through the programs, and it really is transformative.”

Working with horses for just a few hours a day, he said, children can get immediate feedback about how they’re projecting themselves onto others. However subconscious those projections may be, a horse mirrors their actions.

“A lot of times our behavior is unconscious, but a horse will react to it in a certain way,” Longhill explained, adding that successfully leading a horse means, above all else, making that animal feel safe.

In turn, making a horse feel safe requires someone to display positive feelings of kindness, love and compassion. Likewise, if that person exhibits negative emotions like fear, frustration or anger that will show through in his or her body language.

“I learned that different horses require you to be different with your energy,” said 10-year-old program participant Sara Kato in a news release. “Some you have to be calm with, and some you have to be patient with, but with all you have to have a positive energy. I learned how to use my energy correctly with the horses and people.”

Horses are deeply in tune to all of this, noted Longhill, who believes that “energy is a function of our thoughts,” and the immediate feedback from horses helps children see what works and what doesn’t in real time.

It’s really no different than everyday life, he continued, explaining that skills learned from working with horses can be “a pretty powerful thing for a child who’s 8, 9 or 10 years old,” especially when that child realizes the horse is directly responding to his or her thoughts.

What’s more is many of the children who come to the center have faced tough life situations, and some are admittedly hurtling down “a bad track,” Longhill said.

But perhaps the most rewarding part of the work they do at the Blue River Horse Center is receiving a letter 10 years after the fact, like one Longhill got not too long ago from a boy — now a young man — who came to the center many years ago and wonders where he might be had it not been for his time there.

In the letter, Longhill recalled, the young man wrote that he’d “probably be in prison” if not for the center and its horses, but now has a steady job, a wife and a child on the way.

“If you can take a kid who’s on a bad track and redirect him just two degrees,” Longhill said, “in 10 years, that kid will be in a whole different place.”

The center also works with businesses, adults and other nonprofit groups, like local schools, SOS Outreach and Colorado Outward Bound, by arranging service projects for students, such as building fencing or cleaning up the stables.

The center does all of this by partnering with End of the Trail Rescue in Olathe, about 50 miles south of Grand Junction, and Longhill described their working relationship as “a dual purpose.”

Through it, the rescue’s horses help people at the center build a new awareness and better understanding about how they can be better human beings, Longhill said, while at the same time, the horses benefit from the added training and increased visibility they get at the center, which makes them more adoptable.

In fact, according to Longhill, the center helped facilitate 10 adoptions over the last two years. “It’s obvious to us that the more trained the horses are, the more adoptable they become,” he said. “And we have a lot of people coming to our place for classes and realizing they want to adopt a horse.”

After the season is over, the horses that aren’t adopted at the Blue River Horse Center will be returned to the rescue.

The center also relies heavily on its volunteers with about 50 steady helpers and roughly 450-500 more people who support the center in various forms, including going through its volunteer programs or serving as ambassadors for its fundraising efforts.

The ReSaddled Thrift Store in Silverthorne serves as a major source of funding for the center, which receives additional support from individual donations, private businesses, The Summit Foundation and the Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance, among others.


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