A new addition to Bear Creek Regional Park is designed to prepare local equestrians and their horses for stream crossings, mountain climbs and other challenges they might encounter on Colorado's rugged terrain.

The Equestrian Skills Course, covering roughly 15 acres of the park between South 8th Street and the Norris-Penrose Event Center, will have its grand opening at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday. The course, which creators say is the first of its kind to be free and open to the general public, features a pond with water obstacles and two sets of stairs with options for riders of different experience levels.

"The main goal is to help people get ready for the trails," said Debbie Bibb, president of the Friends of the Equestrian Skills Course, which raised money to construct the addition.

The two sets of steps, constructed of dirt, logs and rocks, give riders and their animals a taste of what ascending is like in the back country, Bibb said. One of the staircases includes steps with turns and varying sizes, requiring more maneuvering by more advanced riders.

Riders and their mounts can also practice moving through water in the shallow pond, which has several different entrances that simulate dirt and river rock crossings. Equestrians can also try to dismount from their horses using a rock in the center of the pond and experiment with other obstacles.

The course has been in the works for years, although volunteers didn't begin building it until 2016. So far, it has cost about $12,700 to construct, Bibb said. In addition to donations, a $5,000 grant from Roundup Riders of the Rockies and another $3,300 awarded by the American Quarter Horse Association has paid for the endeavor.

In the coming years, the group hopes to expand the course, adding another set of steps, stream crossings, bridges, switchbacks and a gate for riders to practice opening and closing. Riders often have to pay to use similar courses or go with an instructor, Bibb said. The group is not aware of any other similar courses in the country that are free and open to the public.

"It's really a unique thing," she said.

The grand opening, featuring the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard, is open to the public. A ribbon-cutting will take place at 11:30 a.m. Attendees, with or without horses, should enter through the event center at 1045 Lower Gold Camp Road and follow the signs to the southeast corner of the facility, where a trail leads to the course.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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