Buckboard achieves dream, indoor riding arena set to open Saturday

March 20, 2019

GERING – When Kathy Gatch opened Buckboard Therapeutic Riding Academy in 1997, her dream was always to eventually build an indoor arena. This Saturday, the dream officially becomes a reality.

“I always wanted to open a place where I could work with special needs individuals,” Gatch said. “We first opened at our place south of Melbeta in August 1997. We only rode a month as I wanted to see how things would work before opening full time.”

The first full summer started in June 1998. The five riders and three volunteers returned from the previous year. By the next spring, Buckboard had eight riders, including two adults, and five volunteers.

That summer of 1998 was a lot different from what Gatch had expected. Their house burned down and all the tack for working with the horses was destroyed. It was more than replaced by generous donations, but Gatch and her husband lived out of a loaned camper until the house was replaced.

Even with Gatch’s challenge of rebuilding, Buckboard had grown to 16 riders by the end of the summer and more were signing up. During the summer of 2018, they had 78 riders and about 100 volunteers throughout the year.

“I had three main goals when I started,” Gatch said. “I wanted to help special needs adults and children and give older horses a job when they could no longer work on the ranch. The third goal was to have an indoor arena.”

The riding season at the outdoor academy in Melbeta was restricted to the summer months. But with an indoor area, people could ride year-round.

“We started saving money for an indoor arena in about 2003, but prices kept going up and we’d have to raise more,” she said. “Daryl Wills, one of our supporters, found a piece of land that would work for us.”

Gladyce Helzer said their original homestead hadn’t been used for years so in 2018 they donated the land just west of 14th Street and south of Floral Street in Gering for use by the Buckboard Therapeutic Riding Academy.

The arena building started going up last summer and a dedication and open house is planned from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, March 23. The ribbon cutting will be at 3 p.m. and the public is invited.

“It touches my heart that we’ve had so much community support,” Gatch said. “People have donated time, money, things and whatever we needed.”

Among their supporters are the United Way of Western Nebraska, the Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary Clubs, and a lot of other groups, companies and individuals.

Gatch said programming will start on March 25 with 18 children signed up so far. Riding is scheduled for Monday through Thursday. Fridays are reserved for later when a program for veterans will be added. She plans to have the veterans program up and running by July.

“After both those programs are operating, I’ll reach out to adults again,” she said. “Therapy horseback riding really helps with MS patients and early stages of spina bifida.”

Gatch said having an arena closer to Gering also helps with recruiting volunteers, many of whom are teenagers. Spending a summer with the program often gives them focus and a better understanding of life and what they want for their future.