Riding in the Garden of the Gods

Academy Riding Stables in Colorado Springs advertises their rides go “where the pavement ends and the trail dust begins.” While that’s true of most trail rides, none of the others go through the otherworldly red rock formations of the Garden of the Gods.

Once a sacred spot where the Ute Nation came to worship their gods, the 1,400-acre site with Pikes Peak as its backdrop is now a municipal park open to hikers, riders, runners, and nature lovers. Paths meander through scrub and cactus and cross dry creek beds prone to flash floods after mountain thunderstorms.

There were no rains today. A few clouds dotted the sky and wisps of thistle down floated by on the faintest of breezes. The morning was warm and promised to be high-mountain, dry-climate hot by midday.

After a friendly and thorough briefing on riding basics and the technique to handle the sometimes steep and rocky stretches we’d encounter, we set off.

My easy-going mare, Ice, a flyspecked Quarter Horse, was next-to-last in line. Only Katie Kopchik, who with her sister Kira were our guides, was behind us. She pointed out formations that evoked images of a sleeping Indian, ET, a rattlesnake poised to strike, and kissing camels. Ice, for her part, demonstrated the common sense of a foundation Quarter Horse, carefully considering which path to take up and down some intimidating rocky sections of the trail.

The stable has about 60 horses in its herd, all chosen for their good natures and stamina. The staff is equally pleasant and hard-working. Clearly experienced, they also clearly enjoy their job.

“This lets me share my passions: horses and the land,” 20-something Katie explained. She works year-round, and “that’s great, because I get to ride in all seasons. We ride in the winter and that’s beautiful. I take people out in thunderstorms. It’s really cool.” She then explains that the red color of the rocks comes from the high iron content in the soil and that attracts lightning more than a mobile home park. Garden of the Gods has the highest number of lightning strikes than any other spot in the country she said proudly. Probably another sign of the Ute deities hovering in the rocks.

Academy Riding Stables is open year-round, with one and two-hour rides. Take the two hour to really see and appreciate the area. Riders must be over 8 years old and weigh less than 250 pounds. For younger riders, the stable has pony rides in an enclosed paddock. Reservations are required. Visit www.arsriding.com or call 888-700-0410.

All photos courtesy of Academy Riding Stables.