A love for horses brought them together, but members of Kit Carson Riding Club found much more than a place to ride.
A home away from home for 155 families, members speak of a support network that extends far beyond barrel racing and trail rides.
"It is an excellent family for youth growing up and they're just a good, dedicated group of people," member Barbara Watts says. "They're like a horse family."
Founded in 1942, the nonprofit is Colorado's oldest riding club. Its name originates from Fort Carson, where the founding six members took their first trail ride together.
A purchase of 5 acres off Academy Boulevard provided the members with a place to ride, but soon the city grew around them. So in 1973, the club bought 15 acres in Black Forest, which now sits at the intersection of Black Forest and Cowpoke roads.
"It's just a big family; the whole thing is just family-oriented," said Loren Lanckriet, president of the club. "(My favorite part is) watching the people grow from what they were to what they are now."
Members range in age and skill level, and youngsters are encouraged to get involved. It's all part of the club's family philosophy.
"This club has raised my children," said Joanne Creek, a board member. "I think the best thing a person can do for their kids is get them into horses."
KCRC makes it easy for children to get involved, offering an array of educational programs. In "From Ground to Saddle," attendees learn the basics of riding horses. Specialty classes, such as how to shoot from horseback, also are taught.
Al Miller, a member for 10 years, teaches training clinics and assists people with troubled horses. With a horse named Twister, he knows that gentler methods yield results.
The club also organizes trail rides, competitions, campouts, dances, parties and parades. But you don't have to be a member to share in the fun. Nearly ever Saturday night during the summer, KCRC plays host to gymkhanas and non-members are welcome to participate. The competitions consist of four timed events: barrel racing, flag race, 75 up and back and pole bending. Points are tallied for each age division, and winners receive a belt buckle at the end of the season.
The club's board of directors stays active with charitable causes, holding fundraisers throughout the year for local horse rescue organizations and for its own 4H club. KCRC also rescued and housed 150 horses during the Black Forest fire.
"It's just nice to live the Western way of life," said Julie Lanckriet, a member and the wife of the club president. "We have the horses because of our love for the animal, and we have each other for that support."