Introducing the Ramah Horses

When I was studying to be a rabbi, I never thought that part of the official duties in my rabbinate would be to drive 450 miles to Pavillion, Wyoming (a town of 126 people, two hours west of Casper) to ride horses in the pouring rain.  And yet, last Thursday I found myself standing next to veteran ranchers Dar and Bob Vogel on their 2,000 acre ranch checking out about 50 horses that they had pulled off the range.  Each horse had spent the past six month on the Wyoming plains eating the winter grasses and trying to stay warm in the freezing temperatures.  While horses that live in barns need constant attention, horses on the plains can run freely, need almost no grooming, and do not even need shoes on their hooves.

Dar and Bob had preselected a group of horses for Ramah based on our needs.  Each horse was brought out of one corral saddled by an experienced ranch hand and then ridden around the muddy ring.  If the horse seemed tame enough, I jumped on and took them for a ride.  Although it has been almost twenty years since I have done any serious riding, I managed to stay on each horse and began to develop a feel for what we were looking for.

Now, if you are a parent sending your child to our camp, you might be asking “what does a rabbi know about horses?”  This is a great question, and the answer is: not much, but he does know how to enlist people that do know!

The reason I drove all the way to Wyoming to get our horses (when there are plenty of ranches closer to Denver) is that the other two Jewish camps in Colorado, Shwayder Camp and the JCC Ranch Camp, have been leasing their horses from this vendor for years.  Rather than begin a new relationship with a vendor, we decided to jump on board existing relationships.  The co‑director of the JCC Ranch camp, Gilad Schwartz, himself an expert wrangler, has gone above and beyond to help us get our horse program up and running.  He arranged for our leasing contract, he walked us through all the equipment we would need, provided advice on how to run a program and, when he was in Israel, took time out of his vacation to meet with our head wrangler, an Israeli woman from a ranch in the Golan named Karin.  On Thursday, Gilad and his wife Miriam (another expert wrangler) stood with me in the rain giving me tips on riding and suggesting which twelve horses I should invite to join us on the ranch.  At times it felt like an episode of American Idol, when I would look the horse in the eye, pat his nose and say “you are coming to Camp Ramah!”

Aside from our colleagues at Ranch camp,, we have received valuable counsel from a local horse instructor named Deborah and also a veteran camp wrangler named Alon.  We feel so fortunate to have such wonderful and trusted advisors to help us set up our horse program.ues

It is too soon to evaluate our horse program.  We are the only Ramah camp in the country to have an equine program, and so we have had to look outside the Ramah system for models on how to run a successful equestrian program.  All three of our wranglers will be participating in a week long horsemanship safety clinic at the JCC ranch camp next month.  But one thing is for sure, Thursday was another example of how we at Ramah have benefitted by the assistance of the other local Jewish camp directors.  Earlier in the year I wrote a blog post titled “when camp directors work together” about all the Jewish camps in Colorado recruit together.  Well, here is another example of how  the Colorado Jewish camps are working together and hopefully are stronger as a result.   It took some time to build a sense of trust.  But at this point, I have come to see our colleagues at the Colorado Jewish camps not as much as competitors, but partners.  At the end of the day we will all have better programs because of our ability to work together, even in the freezing rains on the Wyoming plains!

But now for the important pieces:  Below are pictures of about ½ our horses.  The other half were more camera shy, but rest assured they are just as eager to start their working vacation at Ramah Outdoor Adventure this summer.

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