By Sam SchechterJanuary 7, 2010
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. - Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan and the rest of the boys have bellied-up to the paddock's "breakfast bar" to enjoy equine epicurean delights: oats, alfalfa nuggets, and hay.
And Speedy, the corral's mascot burro, is not about to forgo a meal, so he jostles with the group for his fair share.
The herd, 20-plus residents of the Buffalo Corral, a Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation riding stable here, had just been rounded up from the evening turnout pasture, and hustled over to pack in calories for the day's work.
Debra Wilson, the corral's business manager, is out and about keeping a watchful eye on her horses, employees, volunteer and customers.
Managing livestock, executing the day's chores, and arranging suitable matches among horses and riders is no small feat.
Wilson admits that over the years she has become emotionally attached to the animals, and works consistently to maintain their health and well being.
The stable offers horseback riding primarily for the Soldiers and their Families; however, civilians are welcome, too.
The corral is especially mindful of children, and has designed age-appropriate equestrian experiences to meet their needs.
Young riders are given a chance to gain horse handling skills, and experience Western-style riding in the Huachuca Mountains' foothills.
Children learn that, "every horse has a different personality, and it's good to learn about not just one horse, but many to get a well rounded knowledge of horses," Wilson explained.
Lead-around rides are available for youngsters 2 and older, an offering in which a parent leads around a child on a docile horse.
Bailey Mashburn, 5, is the child of a civilian post employee. Bailey's grandfather was stationed on Fort Huachuca and her mom, Joanne, as a teen, rode at the Buffalo Corral. Mashburn, reflecting on her visits to the corral as a youth, believes it was her impetus to be self-reliant, and now as a parent sees it "instills a sense of cooperation and responsibility," a trait she has noticed in Bailey.
Along with instilling values, a visit to the corral is also a powerful motivator.
"When she (Bailey) knows she's going to ride a horse, that's when we get her to do things on time."
Emily Leavitt, 14, traveled with her mom and sister all the way from Glendale to ride on post trails. A self-professed animal lover, Emily admits she misses the day-to-day contact with horses.
"Horses enable me to be free spirited again, similar to how a child feels when they dream of having a horse of their own," Leavitt said.
Through the "volun-teen" program, volunteers 14 and older learn how to maintain horses. They are taught to feed, groom, administer dietary supplements, tack up (putting on blanket, saddle, and bridle), check hoofs, shoes, and clean up after horses.
Teens gain familiarity and confidence in horse handling in what Wilson praises as a "safe, supervised environment."
With an eye towards safety, the corral requires young riders to wear helmets, and matches the rider's skill and weight with the appropriate horse. Riders under 18 must be supervised by an adult, either a parent on an open ride, or corral personnel on a trail ride.
"I want everyone who comes out here to have a (safe) experience, from the first- time rider, to the person who has ridden all their lives," Wilson said.
"The Buffalo Corral is a safe place not only to be around animals, and teens are taught a sense of work ethic. We encourage the Buffalo Corral to be a family place that promotes appropriate demeanor and treatment of animals."
More youth-focused activities are offered, such as assisting Scouts to gain their horsemanship badges, and for the children of active duty personnel, horse camp during the spring and summer school break.
At camp sessions, a child is assigned a horse to ride for a week, and is responsible to assist with caring for all the corral's horses According to Wilson, "They get a taste of everything; all the staff at the corral has one thing in common, we all love horses! It's not a nine-to-five job, Monday through Friday; it's a job you have to enjoy doing."
The Buffalo Corral is located about two miles west of the Fort Huachuca traffic circle, and is open to the public, Thursday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting.