Youth Feature: Ready, Set, Ride!

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When is the Best Time for a Child to Start Riding Independently?

In every child’s life, magic moments arrive when courage and self-confidence trigger the next stage of growth. Each little boy or girl travels his or her own path, taking risks and expanding the boundaries of security whenever they’re ready. For one Colorado ranching family, home to two young brothers who have been around horses since the day they were born, one of those moments occurred in June 2023 when four-and-a-half-year-old Brody Bulkley asked his father, Ryan, “Can I go out with you to move cows today, Dad, and ride my own horse?” 

Ryan wanted to say yes, but hesitated. He trusted the good ranch horse the child was on well enough, and trusted his young son too, but just in case, he added a lead line to the halter for safety. Conditions were good, the weather balmy, the sun shining, and the sturdy black Angus cows ambled across the green pasture in no hurry. Surely, everything seemed under control. But with horses and cattle, one never knows. Moving forward together, keeping a watchful eye, it wasn’t long before Ryan heard Brody ask, “Dad, can I steer by myself now?” 

Photos by David Bulkley

There it was—that life-changing moment when a child takes the reins, literally, and begins the next level of childhood, in this case, on the back of a horse. Brave little Brody couldn’t wait to be in control and feel the ultimate connection between his hands and that horse’s mouth, feeling every bit like the king of the world. 

Did Ryan say yes? He certainly did. Can anyone ever decide when a child is ready to ride on his own? For every horse crazy kid that begs to be solo on his or her first horse or pony, there’s a parent taking a deep breath and maybe holding it—until the little one is back on the ground. In my world, a good parent simply surrenders. Brody’s dad did too. Since then, this oldest son of Chellsie and Ryan Bulkley is on his way to being a fully-fledged little cowboy, a real buckaroo if there ever was one. 

Ranching is a Family Tradition

Ryan Bulkley is a Colorado rancher and horse trainer, working cattle along with his father on a family spread in Southeastern Colorado near the Kansas border. Says Ryan, “Our family started ranching in Wyoming when great-grandfather Charles, originally from Missouri, homesteaded in the Powder River country in the early 1900s. Then Norman, my grandfather, took over; then my dad Clarence, and now me. So, the kids will be fifth generation rancher/cowboys someday. When we decided to resettle in Colorado in 1998, we found a great spread near Springfield, about two and a half hours east of Pueblo—the Bulkley Ranch. It’s home.”

Grandpa Clarence Bulkley is still riding horses at the age of 70 and has weathered the economy, drought, blizzards, and more. He’s the consummate cattleman. Today, his greatest pride isn’t in the cattle so much but in these loveable offspring—two adorable grandkids who will probably out-ride and out-rope the best of them when they grow up.

In case you’re wondering, Connor, the younger sibling, is riding too, at age three and a half. You’ll find him aboard a cherished family member, Peanut Butter, a dun pony, who’s sweet as a family dog. Nonetheless, Ryan still has a good hold on that lead.

Whether you’re raising ranch kids or giving your little one riding lessons via a local pony club or equestrian center, know that the key to success at this age, and anytime, is supervision (a protective helmet is a good idea too).

See this article in the September/October 2023 online edition:

Colorado Horse Source Magazine’s September/October 2023 Issue

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