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Horse Sense: Riding In Winter

Admittedly, I’m not a “horse person.” That’s not to say I have anything against horses, as in, “I’m not really a dog person…” The truth of the matter is, I just haven’t spent any significant time in the company of horses. Sure, I’ve scratched a few horses on the neck, and I’ve offered up an apple or two, but for the most part, I simply haven’t had much close, personal contact. I can count on one hand (precisely, one finger) the number of times I’ve actually mounted a horse – and honestly, I can’t say I have a reasonable explanation for my inexperience. For the record:  My general avoidance of all things equine has been strictly unintentional.

It’s easy to conjure up a variety of nostalgic images of Door County in winter. Despite my embarrassingly low H.Q. (horse quotient), more often than not, when I close my eyes and imagine this beautiful place blanketed in white, horses inhabit the internal landscape that I paint. I hear the clip-clopping of horse drawn carriages, and the jingling of an approaching sleigh. I see peaceful paddocks, and I can feel the exhilaration of being transported through a magical wonderland on horseback. Whoa – I’m getting caught up in elaborate, rosy-cheeked romantic fantasies of galloping through a snowy field, but if I want to make this dream a reality, I suppose I need to go and see a man about a horse.

I’ve driven past Kurtz Corral possibly a hundred times and (shame on me), this will be my first visit. There isn’t any snow on the ground just yet, but I’m still pretty excited. A well-established riding stable will undoubtedly provide the best opportunity for someone like myself to get back in the saddle. I’ve made an appointment, and I stop at the office to check in and provide some basic information so that I can be matched with a horse suited to my size and ability level. While I wait, I find myself drifting back outside. I scan the yard, reading the wooden placards mounted along the fence. If the horses’ names accurately reflect their personalities, I suspect that I won’t be paired with “Titan” or “Studly.”

Owner Jim Kurtz comes out to greet me. As it turns out, I’ll be riding “Bogart” today – but before I do, I go back inside to watch a quick introductory video that outlines the basic techniques for riding and communicating with horses. I’m outfitted with some proper boots and a helmet, and I meet Jim back outside for more instruction, and to become acquainted with my new friend. By the time I’m swinging my leg up and over Bogart’s muscular back, I’m feeling confident. Jim says that the basis for a good ride is a healthy, happy horse, and though I’m not certain I fully understand Bogart’s language, he seems to be both. As we head off toward the woods, I learn that the stable has a long and interesting history.

Photo by Kathy Enquist.

Jim grew up with horses. His grandfather Lloyd was a dairy farmer who enjoyed horse trading as a hobby. He’d accumulated several ponies, and in 1960 he opened and began operating a small pony ring for summer tourists. Back in 1972, the Kurtz stable was located on the family farm on County T, and Jim was ready to take over the business. By 1978, though, a unique twist of fate had brought the Kurtz heritage full circle. A farm on Howard Lane went up for sale, and Jim didn’t hesitate. It just happened to be his great-grandfather’s homestead, and he moved the family business there.

Today, Kurtz Corral is home to 60 healthy, happy horses, and a full spectrum of riding experiences is offered. Young riders can start learning with a 15-minute arena ride, and a variety of trail rides provides options for riders of varying abilities, from absolute beginner to advanced. And the Tag Understudy Program allows visitors to spend the entire day shadowing – and learning from – one of Kurtz’s guides.

About halfway through the ride, I’m really starting to relax. I’m feeling remarkably more like a “horse person,” and I say to Jim, “I could get used to this!” He seems pleased that I’m such an easy convert, and says, “Riding a horse definitely sharpens the senses.”

During the winter, it’s best to call Kurtz Corral at least one day in advance for regular riding reservations. Winter rides are dependent on the weather, and are offered primarily on weekends. Traditionally, special candlelight rides are scheduled for New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. The Kurtz Corral Studio is open following winter rides and serves as a fantastic warming house. Bring a bottle of wine and cozy up around the central fireplace, or sip some cider and share horse stories with your trail mates.

For maximum comfort, winter riders should dress in layers. Gloves that don’t restrict natural hand and finger control will ensure safe handling of the reins.

Some days, it might seem too windy for a pleasant ride. In fact, wooded trails provide plenty of natural protection. When weather conditions are especially favorable, winter riding is comfortable and safe for both the horse and rider – and exceptionally thrilling!

Kurtz Corral is located 10 miles north of Sturgeon Bay, off County I. To make reservations, call (920) 743-6742 or (800) 444-0469. For additional information, visit www.kurtzcorral.com.

Give Door County Riders a “Thumbs Up”

In February of 2005, the Thumbs Up Equine Club formed in Door County to unite local horse owners and enthusiasts in an effort to share information and collectively work toward creating more riding trail opportunities on the peninsula.

President Mindy Krolick says, “When we were kids, we were actually out there on our ponies, riding from Sister Bay to Fish Creek. We just want to protect the legacy of riding we grew up with here.” Most local riders recall a time not so long ago when neighboring farms provided an accessible network of acreage on which they were welcome, but as properties are sold and land developed, these “horse friendly” areas are dwindling.

Photo by Kathy Enquist.

“We want to make sure that those of us who live here will have plenty of trails to ride in the future. We also know how enjoyable it is to visit other areas to ride, and we’d love to be able to accommodate visitors who want to trailer their horses along with them so they can ride on vacation. This is definitely a rapidly growing tourism segment that could positively impact the economic development of our community,” Krolick asserts, and notes that many local horse enthusiasts are already willing and prepared to host equine guests on their properties. “The 4-H Horse and Pony Project organizes the annual  . . . Fall Trail Ride in early October, which coincides with Egg Harbor’s Pumpkin Patch celebration. Visitors to the county who might be interested in bringing their horses along next year can contact us for information on where they can park their trailers and board their horses.”

In early September of 2005, the Door County Parks Department approved the creation of a horse and off-road bike trail at Door Bluff Headlands County Park, and Thumbs Up members are excited to see it taking shape. Since funding was not included with the approval, the club and its supporters have rolled up their sleeves to build it themselves.

The ultimate goal of the club is to establish a network of trails that can transport riders all the way from the bridge to the tip of the thumb. And these riders are definitely not horsing around.

For more information about the Thumbs Up Equine Club, contact Carrie Franke at Northern Door Pet Clinic, (920) 854-4979, or email [email protected]mail.com

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