It wasn’t all that long ago that Las Vegas was a haven for horses and the humans who keep, ride and treasure them.
That remains true, albeit mostly at the edges of suburban Las Vegas where there’s still enough room for private owners to house horses for pleasure or business. But the rest of us? Postage stamp-sized yards and encroaching suburbia have weakened our bond with the animals that made the West.
However, starting March 8, Southern Nevadans will have a chance to reconnect with the Las Vegas Valley’s equine past when Horses4Heroes Inc., a Las Vegas-based nonprofit organization, moves to Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs to offer the public horseback riding and other family-friendly activities.
Horses4Heroes Days at Tule Springs will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, from March 8 through March 30. There’s no admission fee, but a $6 parking fee will be charged. (For information, visit www.theranchlasvegas.com.)
Sydney Knott, founder and president of Horses4Heroes (www.horses4heroes.org), said the organization was created in 2006 as a means of honoring firefighters, law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians and military personnel and veterans.
The idea: offering lessons, horse riding sessions and similar activities at a discount so public service personnel and their families can enjoy quality time participating in a fun and affordable pastime.
From those beginnings, Horses4Heroes expanded its offerings by creating horse-riding activities with a morale-building and wellness focus for nonprofit organizations and groups that include domestic violence victims, at-risk youths and children.
Erin Wintill and her family moved to Las Vegas over the summer from Hawaii. Erin’s husband, Lt. Col. Greg Wintill, is stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, and Erin says her family learned about Horses4Heroes through a fellow military friend “who said there was this great place where we can take lessons at a discount and they really reach out to the military community.”
“We jumped at it,” she says. “It has proved to be a great service.”
Since October, the family has been making weekly visits to Knott’s northwest Las Vegas ranch. There, daughters Sarah, 13, and Grace, 11, are taking riding lessons, while daughter Ruth, 5, is participating in an introductory course.
The girls also volunteer their time to caring for the ranch’s horses, Erin says.
“It’s a responsibility. It’s hard work. But, especially the oldest, she just has an innate love for animals,” she says. “So it’s therapeutic, I think, for her and also for us to be with the animals.”
Sarah says, “I’ve always loved horses. And, now, to be able to ride every week and learn more about how to take care of horses, and management of horses, has really been great.”
What’s the appeal of interacting with horses? “It’s very relaxing,” Sarah says. “And a horse is not going to make fun of you.
“I think it’s a great use of time. I would totally recommend it to people.”
Knott says that from its Las Vegas beginnings, Horses4Heroes has grown into a nonprofit organization made up of affiliates throughout the country. All, she says, are families just like hers who have agreed to offer similar programs and similar discounts to first responders.
“It’s a small community, the horse community,” Knott says. “I can call somebody in North Carolina and say, ‘We have quarter horses, you have quarter horses, I’ve got a family moving from here to North Carolina. Can they come and ride your horses?’ And you’d be surprised how often people say yes.
“So, we created a national network of affiliates who are more than happy to open their barn doors and allow folks to come in and take riding lessons and ride horses, and we have about 265 affiliates in 44 states now.”
While military and public service employees receive discounted rates, donations are used to fund other programs — empowerment and anti-bullying programs, for example — offered to other groups.
Knott says horses are uniquely suited to shoring up a battered human psyche, and that the skills used in caring for and interacting with horses — self-confidence and communication skills, for example — transfer easily to human-to-human interaction.
March’s event at Tule Springs represents, Knott says, a sort of monthlong open house through which Horses4Heroes can introduce its programs, activities, horses, staff and volunteers to the community.
Having horses return to Tule Springs also represents a rewind to Las Vegas’ past. Tule Springs, Knott notes, was once was a working cattle ranch.
“We hope to begin a partnership that will lead us to being a permanent resident,” she says.
Activities, which will run Tuesdays through Sundays, will include free horseback rides for all ages (200-pound rider weight limit) and a farm-animal petting zoo. The weekend schedule also will include face painting and other family-friendly activities.
“We want to see Dad and Mom riding with the kids,” Knott says.
And, ultimately, the goal is to offer an expanded slate of horse-related activities at the park and demonstrate to Southern Nevadans the therapeutic value of working, and playing, with horses.
“There are just so many things horses can do,” Knott says.
Contact reporter John Przybys at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0280.