Once upon a time, right here in Northern California, there was a young lady named Patricia Jones who had a beautiful black Morgan horse. The two of them traveled all over together going to horse shows and winning lots of ribbons. The horse's name was Ty. After his show ring days, he was ready for a career change. Anyone who has ever been to Trailhead Youth Ranch knows Ty, he's been a part of our ministry for the past eight years. Ty has always been our go-to horse; gentle, willing, and honest as the day is long, he's always been there for us. He's been there for the hundreds of people, young and old, whose lives have been touched by the ministry of Trailhead. Now it's our turn to be there for him. Ty's age is finally catching up with him; he's no longer able to hold up to being ridden, and he needs to be on a special diet now. It's time for him to be retired, and we want to give him the care he deserves. If you'd like to help us take care of Ty, please consider making a monthly or one-time donation* toward the cost of his feed.
Thank you, Ty, for all your years of faithful service at Trailhead Youth Ranch!
*Trailhead Youth Ranch is a 501c3 non-profit, and any donations are tax-deductible. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 1056, Palo Cedro, CA 9073.
Peyton has been involved in the Trailhead Youth Ranch program for the past three or so years. It didn’t take long to realize that she’s a very special young lady and of course loves horses. Under Courtney’s tutorship she’s grown into a competent horse person and is how one of our go to Wranglers.
When she first started in the program her favorite horse was Copper. Copper’s a 16 hand Quarter horse mare. Almost every participant in our program is drawn to her. Peyton was no exception. In October she took Copper home for the winter. She also took Ty, our 30 year old Morgan gelding, to keep Copper company. Everything was going pretty smooth until it rained.
No, I’m not talking about water. Rain is Peyton very first, all mine, horse. She got Rain from a friend of Courtney’s in Ukiah.
Needless to say, there’s nothing that quite compares to a young girl and her first horse. Rain is a whitish Appaloosa mare with a spot here and there, 15 hands and full of energy. It’s one thing to be attached to a borrowed horse but it totally different when you have your very own horse. I’m sure it was love at first sight.
Copper didn’t take much to the idea of being part of the triangle. She was having major trouble dealing with the competition. One thing led to another and Copper had to go live with Courtney. This is the pours part.
Saturday, Nov. 12 --- Today was our last program day at Meadow Ridge Ranch. I’ve known this day was coming for some time and prepared myself for it as best I could. For sure I was a little more than melancholy, the reality of it all was on my mind for quite a while. It’s always hard to leave something (or someplace) that’s been such a big part of your life.
Just in case you’re unaware of what I’m talking about, the owner of Meadow Ridge Ranch passed away this spring and the ranch is now in new hands. It’s time for Trailhead to move on.
Saturday morning turned out to be very pleasant even though the weatherman had predicted a chance of rain. We built our last warm up fire in the fire pit and gathered the chairs around. Twenty some kids, parents and wranglers circled up and the morning activities began. We had our usual time of greeting everyone and checking to see if the participants (the kids) had done their homework. Their homework assignment is always the same, and it’s dog proof. “Have you been a blessing to someone this past week?”
There are ground rules and they all know what they are. 1.) Your normal chores that you’re responsible for don’t count. 2.) If someone asks you to do something that doesn’t count either. 3.) Has to be something you’ve done for another that has a positive impact on them and you expect nothing in return.
I think Rachel sort of hit it on the head. She shared with us her reaching out to another student at her school that’s always alone, has no friends and everyone ignores. She made a special effort to talk with this person and share lunch with her. What made this even more special is she did it at lunch time in front of the whole student body knowing full well that just by associating with this person some students would be critical of her.
The best of all blessing are those that cost you personally and at the same time lift up someone else. Builds that special character that gets every ones attention. Rachel sure got my attention. I’m betting she got God’s attention, too.
The first non Native Americans to come into Tehama and possibly Shasta County are noted in history to have been Mexican soldiers from the California Missions. In the late 1,700s or early 1,800’s they came up the Sacramento River as far as the Red Bluff area and then turned west to the ocean making a big circle back home. Not long after this initial exploration Hudson Bay Company trappers came south from the Columbia River with a large brigade of trappers. They entered into the Sacramento Valley following the Pit River, then turned south along the east side of the Sacramento River. They traveled through what is today the Jelly’s Ferry Wilderness Area setting up camps along the river and trapping beaver as they headed south into the valley’s interior.
I’ve ridden into this area on my mule Sugar many times and every trip is a special adventure. There’s something around most every corner, both present and past, that captivates my imagination. Every time I go into one of the Indian caves under the lava cap along the east side of the river it’s easy to imagine them gathered around a fire on a cold, wet, windy day. I can almost see Sam Neal riding his prize Morgan horses over the rolling oak studded hills heading north to warn Fremont that the California rebellion had started. John Bidwell rode past Paynes Creek and Ink Creek, close to where they dump into the river, on his chase to run down horse thieves headed for Oregon with his favorite team of carriage horses. Some historians think he caught up with the thieves in the wilderness area. Paynes Creek and Ink Creek are also the site of two thirty-mile long flumes. These two flumes, The Blue Mountain Flumes, carried logs from the eastern mountains to the river.
The Jelly’s Ferry Wilderness Area is probably the largest wilderness area along the Sacramento River that’s, more or less, just like it was when the Hudson Bay trappers first saw it. They may have even camped at Massacre Flats our favorite overnight camping site along the river. Sort of neat to imagine you’re riding the same trails these early explorers, mountain men and pioneers rode.
On Saturday we met up at the Ranch at 8 in the morning to gather horse and get everything ready to trailer to Jelly’s Ferry. By a little after 9 all three horse trailers were loaded and on the road.
“THE ADVENTURE HAD BEGUN!”
Every Fall for the past few years we’ve taken our Trailhead Wranglers for an end of Summer trail ride to Anderson River Park. It’s in some ways a reward for faithfully helping us each week work with the kids and families that take part in our ranch and horse ministry. Truth is, we couldn’t do our ministry without them. They are a very important part of making everything work. But, it’s also an opportunity to create a stronger bond between us and at the same time enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.
This year Erik and Courtney invited them to spend Friday night camping out at the Ranch. Of course, it’s always fun when you’re a teenager and you have a chance to sleep over with you friends. But, it’s also an easy way to get everyone up and ready to hit the trail early the next morning. I’m betting that this might have been in the back of Erik’s mind when he suggested the camp out.
Of course, camping out at the Ranch when there’s a full moon means a horse back ride on the Millville Plains after the sun goes down. When I got to the Ranch at 7:30 Saturday morning the moon light ride and the sunrise ride on Saturday morning where the main topics of discussion. That’s right, they enjoyed the moon light ride so much they got up early and took a sunrise ride. This is turning out to be a night and day none of them will forget.
After a breakfast of hot cakes, sausage, peaches, coffee and juice (thank you Erik), we loaded the horse into three different trailers and headed for the park. An interesting side note: This was the first time Courtney hauled two horses in her very own horse trailer. We pulled into the trail head parking lot at 10 and were horseback and on the trail into the park by 10:30. Our first stop was the first of three merry go rounds (Sixty foot round circles in the sandy soil where you can work you horse.) located along the park trails. You wouldn’t believe the cloud of dust ten people horseback can kick up trotting around a sandy circle in the ground.
After the merry go round warm up we headed deeper into the park at a trot along the Tree of Heaven main trail. This is a wide trail through a dense growth of Trees of Heaven. Of course, I always have to stop and make sure everyone knows what kind of trees they are, their significance to the Chinese 49ers and how they got where they are. Some of them have heard the story several times. I feel guilty repeating myself but then I remember: “It’s not what you say that makes the difference, it’s how many times you say it and they hear it.” This is why I try hard to read my Bible every morning.
We were back at the trail head parking lot at noon just in time for Annette’s wonderful lunch. After lunch it was back into the park for one last hurrah. This time it was thirty degrees hotter, dustier and Sugar my mule and I were both dragging. A little after two everyone was back at the trail head ready to repack and reload everything and everyone. A tired, dusty and sun burnt group of happy and contented Wranglers ready for our next adventure at the Jelly’s Ferry Wilderness area headed home with some great stories to share with their family and friends.
Stormy came to Trailhead Youth Ranch about three or four years ago; she’s a beautiful purebred Arabian mare around twenty years old. Her owner, Katie, has been loaning her to us each spring to use in our riding program during the summer. Dozens of kids each year have a chance to work with her and ride her. And of course, fall in love with her.
Two years ago Stormy showed up at the Ranch with a big surprise, a three-month old filly named Angel. Angel is half Arabian and half Haflinger. Needless to say, all of a sudden Stormy’s popularity quadrupled. We put mother and daughter in a holding pen next to the barn each time we worked with a group. This way everyone could get up close and personal with them. There’s nothing that makes your day brighter, when you’re ten years old, than being able to talk to and pet a newborn foal. Angel was indeed an angel.
This April Stormy showed up at the Ranch with a new foal, another filly. She’s a full sister to Angel, looks like Angel but she isn’t any angel. Right off the bat we realized she was bigger and much more full of it than Angel at the same age. The Wranglers have learned the hard way that when you’re around her you’d better be careful or get kicked. Seems like she doesn’t want anyone around her mom, especially when she’s hungry and wants to nurse. What do you name a filly that looks like an angel but isn’t an angel?
After some deliberation everyone settled on Peaches. She’s sort of colored like a peach. With time the sweetness may develop like a peach. But for the time being she’s sort of like a supermarket peach you buy in the early summer. She looks good, feels nice and fuzzy, maybe even smells good but when you bit into it there’s no sweetness there.
Every time the Wranglers are at the Ranch they put Stormy and Peaches into the small holding pen next to the barn and feed them a senior horse supplement. When Stormy sees a car or truck driving toward the barn she’ll be standing at the compound gate with Peaches waiting to be let in. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that Peaches was eating the supplement, too. A week later I noticed that when we fed them Peaches was biting Stormy trying to drive her away from the feed bucket so there’d be more for her. Seemed like unusual behavior for a four-month-old filly?
This past Thursday when I drove up to the compound gate Stormy was standing there by herself. I didn’t think much of it at first, Peaches would show up in a minute. After about ten minutes and no Peaches I started to get concerned. Stormy wasn’t concerned at all, she went right into the pen and started eating the supplement. Fifteen or so minutes later Bennett and I were getting ready to start searching the 350 acre pasture for a dead filly. About then a half dozen horses came loping down from the mesa and sure enough, Peaches was trailing along behind them. She came right to the compound gate then hollered and fussed until we let he into the holding pen with her mother. This is one smart, independent, four-month old filly. She’s nothing like Angel. Angel would hardly leave her mother’s side until she was about eight or nine months old.
Saturday morning it was the same thing over again. However, this time it seemed like a half hour before Peaches showed up ready for breakfast. Evidently, she’s become friends with the General and followed him off the mesa down to the barn. General’s the alpha male in our horse herd. Anyway, when Peaches is ready for breakfast she’s cranky. You’d better not get between her and her Mom. Bennett was the first Wrangler to learn this lesson. Luckily for him, he was behind a gate when she let loose.
After a hardy meal Peaches is a different horse. Interesting how your disposition changes when you have a full stomach. After her breakfast, when she’s finished nursing, we generally take Stormy out of the holding pen and use her in the program. Of course, Peaches doesn’t like it when we take Mom out of the pen and leave her in. She makes a lot noise, prances around for a while and makes sure everyone knows she’s unhappy. Luckily her attention span isn’t long and she’s easily distracted. Once the kids start petting and scratching her she forgets all about Mom. She especially likes to be scratched on her backside. If the kids are a little slow to catch on she’ll turn around and rub her backside on the pen rails. And of course, there’s always a line of anxious youngsters who’ve figured it out and are ready to oblige. Amazing how quickly she taught us to do that.
I wonder what she’ll be teaching us next?
Friday morning, May 20th at the Ranch;
At seven o’clock in the morning it was cloudy, cool and dry in Bella Vista. The weather forecast was for intermittent rain. However, not a drop hit my truck windshield until I reached Palo Cedro. About now is when I started wishing I had remembered my rain slicker. It was a steady rain when I unlocked the Ranch gate and started for the barn. As I’m driving through the puddles I’m thinking it’s an hour and a half until Mrs. Hall’s kids from Redding Christian School are due to arrive. Surely it’s going to clear up. “Hope springs eternal.”
This would be the third year that Redding Christian School has brought their primary age kids to the Ranch to celebrate Redding Rodeo Week. Everyone at Trailhead was excited about working with these delightful five and six year old kids. They’re always dressed up in their colorful cowboy outfits. The little girls have on bright colored dresses, boots and hats. The boys are wearing their cowboy vests, chaps and bandanna’s. They brighten up the whole Ranch and everyone present. As it turned out, if it hadn’t been for the kids and their enthusiasm it would have been a really cold, wet and miserable morning.
Needless to say, it didn’t clear up. In fact, it got colder, windier and wetter. (You may have noticed that the weather on the Millville Plains is always a notch above the surrounding countryside.) This was starting to look like it was going to be a very unpleasant and long two hours, in spite of the kids. To make matters worse, I wasn’t the only one that came unprepared. There were a bunch of parents in light sweaters and shirts fast reaching the same conclusion.
Of course, the kids were oblivious to it all. When you’re five or six years old, in a big rustic ranch barn and the rain is beating down on the tin roof you’re not going to let a little physical discomfort slow you down.
Except for the covered wagon, outside activities were not going to work. We started out with Erik sharing about the Ranch and about cowboys. Then Arlynn lead everyone in praising God through song. Next, Alfred brought his miniature horses into the barn. And last but not least, Courtney got Mighty Bucky saddled and into action. Now things were starting to warm up. The smart phones started flashing as parents began taking pictures and videos of kids riding Bucky, sitting on Alfred’s miniature horse and petting his small colt. Now things were really starting to warm up.
The star of the show was Alfred’s one-month-old miniature horse, Patches. He’s a beautiful little pinto, about 15 inches high. Danika had her hands full keeping the crowd of mesmerized kids surrounding him under control. All Patches wanted to do was nurse his mother; he never gave the kids petting and caressing him a second thought. I’ll bet there were a couple of dozens parents that couldn’t wait to show their friends and relatives the pictures and videos they took of their kids with Patches.
After a snack we hooked up the covered wagon and off we went. This is the first time in eight years we’ve hauled kids around the Ranch in a rainstorm. Only twenty or so energetic and excited preschool kids huddled in a cold, wet and soggy covered wagon could make that trip and morning a memory that will last a lifetime.
Oh Yea! I’m knocking on the door of 75, my fake left knee locks up when I’m cold and wet. And, I get cranky. Thank you God for that “Hope that springs eternal,” that bright warm day in eternity He promise all believers. It sure makes days like Friday a blessing.
Dave Kacalek and his ranch touched my life several years before I even knew who he was. If you’ve driven by the intersection of Hwy 44 and Millville Plains Rd in December you can’t miss the big lighted cross. It’s twenty some feet high, covered with Christmas lights and nailed to the side of Dave’s big red barn. I first noticed it about 10 years ago. That cross says a lot about who he was and what was important to him. Seeing it on a cold winter night warmed the hearts of more people than we’ll ever know. Dave realized the impact it would have and that’s exactly why he put it there.
It was the spring of 2007 when I actually met Dave for the first time. My friend Fred had been driving by the Cross every December since Dave first put it up. Finally, he wrote a note on the back of one of his business cards and put it on the gate. The note simply asked the owner if he was interested in developing a Christian youth ranch on his property. Fred had never met Dave and had no idea what would become of that small card and note. Dave found the card, phoned Fred and they set up a meeting. A short time later we met at the Palo Cedro Pizza Parlor.
I remember that first meeting well. Dave came with a teenage boy who was helping him on the ranch. I was to learn later that he was just one of many at risk young men Dave mentored and evangelized on a regular basis. My first impressions of Dave were mixed. Here was a big burly man, a busy general contractor, the owner of a large ranch and he was willing to spend a couple of hours in the middle of the work day talking with three total strangers about a dream. When does this ever happen? He was interested in what we were proposing, we prayed about it and agreed to meet again. I didn’t realize it at the time but God had just opened an amazing door. This was the beginning of Trailhead Youth Ranch. This is “Where The Adventure Began.”
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” When I think of the years that have passed at the ranch and my dealings with Dave this verse always comes to mind. We developed a close working relationship after a year or so and I valued his advise and input but most of all I valued his friendship. There’s no question in my mind that our friendship was “Iron sharpening iron.” Dave had a way of always getting right to the point of who you were and what you believed. Didn’t seem to make any difference who it was or how well you thought you were grounded in God’s word, Dave could always find a way to make you dig deeper. I look back on those many conversations Dave and I had in the old red barn as important insights into my faith and where I’m going in this life.
Since Dave’s passing a couple of weeks ago he’s constantly on my mind. I know he’s in a better place and I know he’s looking down on us all watching the seeds he planted grow and bear fruit. This world is a better place because of Godly men of character like Dave Kacalek.
The North wind can really blow on the Millville Plains. Saturday April the 30th, 40 mph gusts pelted the Ranch all day. This time of year when the grass is tall and the wind is blowing it feels like you’re in the middle of an ocean. It’s sort of mesmerizing, even a little nostalgic. After a few hours your face starts to dry out and you begin to feel the wind burn. If you’re anything like me, about now you’re wondering how the pioneers managed to survive on the Great Plains and it’s a little easier to understand what Prairie Madness was all about.
I’m guessing that the ten or so people that attended our packing clinic were thinking the same thing as they led their pack animals through the tall grass and wound their way to the top of the mesa.
This was the culmination of three days of horse and mule packing instruction. George, our packing instructor, had spent hours teaching the finer points of surviving a pack trip. Saturday was his final exam. However, no one expected it to take place in a driving north wind. All of a sudden the test difficulty factor doubled.
In spite of it all, George’s students managed to throw the double diamond hitch and the box hitch on their horse and mule packs. Which, is a little touchy when the north wind is whipping top covers (manties) around a mule or horse’s head. After George’s close inspection they headed for the top of the mesa to set up a mock camp, the second page of the test.
In a grove of oak trees at the top of the mesa the first step was to set up a high line to tie the mule and horse to. Then, they unloaded their packs and unsaddled the animals. Did I mention that the wind was blowing ten miles an hour harder on the top of the mesa.
They spent an hour or so at their mock camp contemplating the past three days, reviewing George’s lecture points and taking in a beautiful view of the Millville Plains at the peak of it’s Spring Bloom. An unforgettable end to a very blustery day at the Ranch.
Tom is one of the founders of Trailhead Youth Ranch. He has been involved in Christian ranch and horse ministries since the early 1980s. Trailhead Youth Ranch is the culmination of 35 years of experience at various related Christian ministries.