Back on the saddle

By Elizabeth Sias

I’ve always had a passion for animals. I remember watching Animal Planet as a kid, learning all about pods of whales, prides of lions and herds of horses while obsessing over nature documentaries.

When I was 12, my mom heard about Little Elk Ranch, a horse camp for children and teens up to age 16 in Browerville, Minn. I was on board immediately. I signed up and spent my first week there during the summer of 2000.

Elizabeth Sias and her shared-lease horse Bob from Amador Acres in Shafer, Minn.

Every day I enjoyed trail riding, swimming, canoeing, hiking, crafts, hayrides and the evening activities like movies, a carnival and a talent show. But the most exciting part about Little Elk Ranch was that counselors assigned each camper his or her very own horse for the week.

I loved camp and horseback riding so much that I returned with my friends until age 16 when I reached the maximum camper age. For one week every summer for five years, it was like pretending to own my own horse. Every morning, I woke up bright and early to the sound of John Denver’s voice in “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and headed to the barns with the rest of the campers to groom and saddle my horse.

I even had the same horse my last two years — Buckaroo — so when I returned for my final summer, it was as if greeting an old friend after a long time apart.

That summer was my last time riding on a regular basis. I remember e-mailing the camp director asking if they could make an exception to the age limit so I could return again at 17. I never heard back, and the owners have since retired and Little Elk Ranch is no more.

Since those five summers, I’ve dreamed of owning horses. I’m realistic, though, and understand the time, money and space required to pursue this dream. I gave it up, always thinking ‘maybe someday…’

A few years ago, however, I learned it was possible to lease a horse, whether as a full or partial lease, which means the lessee shares time throughout the week with the owner of the horse.

And there it was. That was a perfect solution to the restraints that always held me back. Sure, there was trail riding, but I didn’t want to pay an hourly rate to ride a horse trained to follow horses on a path single-file.

At the time, I didn’t have the financial means to pay for a monthly lease, and unfortunately forgot about it for a long time. Once I started at the Isanti County News, the idea came back to me, and I started researching online, looking for stables or boarders that lease horses.

The first place I found turned out to be a perfect match. It’s a stable called Amador Acres in Shafer, Minn., about 10 miles from North Branch along Hwy. 95. Working in Cambridge, the drive over there is a quick half-hour commute.

I contacted the owner, and within a few days I was back on the saddle. The first day there I met a few of the horses open for leasing and tried a couple of them out. I chose Tooy, a registered bay quarter horse. The next day I rode, I was on Bob, a registered chestnut Appaloosa without the traditional spotted markings on his haunches, but with a white strip down his nose. I quickly relearned neck reigning and direct reining, and worked well with both horses. Bob has another lessee, so the owner and I agreed on a shared lease — for two days every week, I can ride either Bob or Tooy.

I couldn’t be happier to be riding again. Being on the saddle brings back memories of Little Elk Ranch, and I’m excited to improve and learn new skills. I figure I’ll at least lease throughout October and hope the weather stays nice. After that, I’d love to continue leasing in the spring.

Leasing is ideal for my situation — I get all the enjoyment of grooming, saddling and riding a couple times a week, but without the boarding, farrier, veterinary care costs and other expenses.

It may not be owning my own horse, but it’s one step closer to the dream.