Watching Cisco Kid trot around the barn at Son Rise Ranch in the Fern Prairie area, he has the pep and enthusiasm indicative of a young, healthy, active horse.
But far from young, this white-and-brown American Paint recently celebrated his 32nd birthday, where he was feted with cards, cake and carrots.
Being 32 is the equivalent of almost 99 in human years.
“We have tried to retire him twice but found he became depressed, so into the beginner lesson pool he went at 24 years to keep him lightly active,” said Pamila Cronkhite, Son Rise Ranch director. “His recovery, both mental and physical, became apparent and soon he was also being leased, and taking many ribbons at fairs and local events, after most of his breed would have passed away.”
Cisco has been at Son Rise since it was founded in 1994.
“I accidentally purchased him at a stock yard in Hermiston, Oregon,” Cronkhite said. “I thought I was getting a different horse but have never regretted his purchase as he has served many riders.”
Some of his feats include completing the Pacific Crest Trail from Sacramento, California to Twisp, Washington, being a winning barrel racer and cross country jumper, and serving as the primary vaulting horse. Vaulting is when riders perform gymnastics and dance routines on horseback.
“Unfortunately, he wore a knee out, common in this sport due to the constant 60 foot circle the horse makes for practice and performance,” Cronkhite said.
She founded Son Rise Ranch as a way to help troubled youths through horsemanship. Soon, her friends were clamoring for their children to take lessons, and she opened up her program to anyone who was interested. She works with probation officers and lawyers to encourage at-risk youth to participate in her program.
“I grew up in a cop family and followed in my father’s footsteps,” she said. “I was a sheriff in San Bernardino, but back then I felt like a domestic quarrel referee.”
Cronkhite switched careers and became a state humane officer for California and loved it.
“During my career there, I also served as a Big Sister and saw the benefit that horses provided at-risk youth,” she said. “I wanted to get to those kids before they became the people that I used to take to jail.”
Thirteen other horses reside at Son Rise Ranch, ranging in ages from 12 to 22 years old. Although their roles may be different, all of them serve a common purpose of helping children accomplish tasks, from learning new skills to turning their lives around.
“Over the years I have seen miraculous cases of troubled youth, who are literally saved from traveling down the wrong path in life through horse involvement,” Cronkhite said. “The sense of pride that kids feel when they reach a goal with their large four-legged friends gives them every reason to remain on course.”
During his time at the ranch, Cisco has contributed to the learning of at least 100 students.
“I believe it is the love and care he receives here, by our students and leasers in return for his efforts, that allows him to still go from speed demon to cuddle bug in a stroke of a hand,” Cronkhite said.
Cronkhite notes that all of the horses help youth riders to build a sense of self-worth, set boundaries, improve communication skills, build respect, decrease isolation, learn to manage emotions and set goals.
“These are worthwhile treasures indeed, as we celebrate Cisco Kid and those that help us achieve our goals,” Cronkhite said. “He gives riders the confidence and self-esteem to handle other horses. He gives them a safe place to grow emotionally and physically. There is so much character building that goes with horses.”
Jeremy Scher, 11, has been taking lessons at the ranch for the past year.
“I like that we are all like a family here,” he said. “Cisco was the first horse I ever rode and he is really nice and a great horse in general.”
Kelly Ann Askers, 13, has been taking lessons at the ranch for two years and leased Cisco for six months.
“I just loved his personality and he is my favorite horse,” she said. “He is a great beginner horse for people and prepares them for more challenging horses. He is very sweet and energetic, and makes you laugh in the weirdest ways.”
Maylie Sanders, 14, wanted to advance her riding skills, and chose Cisco to help her accomplish that.
“I was shocked to find out how old he was,” she said. “He really likes to run a lot.”
Cronkhite and all of the students who have loved Cisco through the years are hoping he celebrates many more birthdays.
“I think his longevity is due to his continual use, and also because the kids’ hearts are so wrapped up in him,” she said.