Cool Cowboy Culture
From the crown of your hat to the tip of your boots, the West is alive and kickin’ in Colorado Springs.
The Academy Riding Stables on the west side of Colorado Springs hosts year-round one- and two-hour guided rides on spectacular scenic trails.
Although the actual number of real working cowboys has drastically declined across the American West, ranches are still found throughout the Front Range, and the area is home to authentic riding stables, enjoyed for both trail rides through our beautiful wilderness and for therapeutic riding use.
In addition, the Pikes Peak Region is home to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy, the Pueblo-based Professional Bull Riders (founded by King of the Cowboys Ty Murray), the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, and rodeo and historic mining museums from Cripple Creek East into the Springs. Let’s take a ride across our Wild West for a lesson in some very cool cowboy culture.
Back in the Saddle
Two of the area’s most popular riding stables offer breathtaking rides through beautiful scenery. If you’re a city slicker, experienced rider, or somewhere in between, Academy Riding Stables offers horseback rides through the majestic Garden of the Gods Park, which is perhaps Colorado Springs’ number one must-visit location. Amateur cowboys and cowgirls get the opportunity through one- and two-hour guided rides to experience the park’s remarkable rock formations and beautiful vistas and to experience what our rugged West might have been like more than 100 years ago. The ever-changing Garden of the Gods Park allows rides on spectacular scenic trails, where riders may encounter deer, bighorn sheep, or coyotes along the rugged and unexpected terrain.
“The scenery in this nearly two-square-mile city park is dramatic, colorful, and I see something new every day,” says horsewoman and Garden of the Gods park ranger Stephanie Stover. “There are nine different soil types, which creates a unique habitat for many different plants and animals.”
An added bonus is that one of the wranglers will snap a photo of you and your trusty steed at the top of a beautiful crest. All levels of riders are welcome, and the scenery is constantly changing.
Another option, Old Stage Riding Stables, is located inside the Pike National Forest, and the windy road up to the property is part of the experience. Located near the famed Broadmoor resort, this company caters to all levels of rider and even offers a two-hour ride through a mountain stream and past an abandoned silver mine. With an elevation climb of more than 1,000 feet, participants get to experience the more rugged regions of the upper forest. A three-generation business, Old Stage also hosts weddings on the beautiful property.
Healing Horses, Healing Hands
For almost 20 years, StableStrides has been working with some of the most vulnerable members of our community, including children, adults, service members, and veterans, to find hope and healing through horses. It is the goal and mission of StableStrides to help its clients develop and build both healthy relationships and coping skills along with building core body strength and increased mobility through working with horses. Whether on the ground with the horse walking by their side or gently riding on the equine’s back, this intuitive therapy helps to address both physical and mental health needs through this unique connection.
All StableStrides therapeutic riding instructors are also certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship and participate in ongoing training. “All of our programs include a horse in some way,” says Shannon Mitchell, the executive director of StableStrides. “At our Latigo facility in Elbert, we’re about a 70% adaptive riding program with principles based on horsemanship goals: teaching people with adaptive needs—either emotional or physical—basic horsemanship. There are always underlying goals of trust and communication.” The facility also offers a physical, speech, and occupational therapy program with horses enhancing these modalities.
StableStrides’ metal health program is located at Gold Camp Stables. It features licensed mental health professionals participating in all of the sessions, and both the professional and the patient work with horses on the ground. “We work with communication and coping skills,” says Mitchell, “and have found that what the horse teaches us can be used to combat, for example, suicidal tendencies.”
Mitchell started at StableStrides as a board member, and several months later, the executive director position became available. With Mitchell’s background in banking and finance and degree in health care management, it was a perfect fit. “Frequently, in the nonprofit section, a business mindset is what is missing, and I’ve had horses for most of my life, so I brought both strengths to the position,” she says.
In 2019, StableStrides provided 4,732 therapeutic sessions to 768 individuals with physical, developmental, emotional, and mental health disabilities, symptoms, and conditions. Children made up 40% of program participants, and service members, veterans, and their families comprised 60% of individuals served.
Explore Rodeo’s Past and Revel in its Present
When first arriving at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy, be prepared to be awed by a larger-than-life landmark bronze statue of the legendary cowboy Casey Tibbs, aboard a famed saddle bronc called Necktie. Tibbs was a nine-time world champion and one of America’s most celebrated cowboys.
The everything-Western facility opened in August 1979, and it is the only heritage center designed to “preserve the legacy of the cowboy contests, the heritage and culture of those original competitions, and the champions of the past, present and future,” says the website. The impressive Tibbs statue leads the way into Heritage Hall, displaying both historic and modern clothing and gear worn by the American cowboy. Next comes the Hall of Champions, a huge space that features almost life-size photos and rodeo statistics of the more than 200 rodeo greats who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“Anyone can nominate a cowboy, cowgirl, or stock contractor who has helped make rodeo great to be an inductee into the Hall of Fame,” says Megan Winterfeldt, exhibitions and collections coordinator. “Even animals can be nominated, including Grated Coconut who has won a PRCA record six bareback horse of the year awards.”
She adds, “The categories are by event and include bareback riding, bull riding, steer-roping, livestock contracting, tie-down roping, and women’s barrel racing, as well as an overall cowboy award. One of our special awards is the notable men or women who may not have actually competed in the sport but have helped rodeo in a special way, such as Bill Kirby, who was at the helm of Wrangler for many years.”
At more than 13,000 square feet, the facility has something for the whole family who wants to experience one of the most American of all sports. Visitors can also enjoy multimedia shows, rodeo memorabilia, Western rodeo art, and live rodeo animals as well as a rodeo arena.
In the late 1800s, the lure of “striking it rich” in Colorado drew thousands of people on foot, wagon, and horseback to its gold and silver mines. The Western Museum of Mining & Industry celebrates Colorado’s rich and colorful mining past. It is located on 27 acres and is a hand-on museum that brings you into the current events of today’s mining operations.
Unique to the museum is the actual operation of its carefully restored multi-ton steam engines and mining machines. The emphasis of the museum’s collections is on the technology and the history of mining. Visitors can discover how turn-of-the-century miners timbered, drilled, blasted, mucked, and hauled ore from the mine to the stamp mill, where ore was crushed and processed.
The museum features artifacts and research involving the region’s early mining and industrial activities, including a 10-stamp ore mill. Mining is a significant part of the past, present, and future of the United States and Colorado, and here, thousands of historic objects tell the incredible story of how it impacts daily life for everyone.
As you can see, the West and cowboy culture is still a vibrant part of Front Range life—from the nonprofit Western Museum of Mining & Industry, an educational organization dedicated to preserving the West’s mining heritage, and saddling up to experience some of the area’s great natural beauty to learning more about a very important therapeutic riding program and a Hall of Fame and Museum dedicated to celebrating the rodeo—so go explore.