May/June 2001 Issue

In the Saddle
Islanders tend to get into ruts when it comes to recreation. If you’re tired of spending your days swimming, boating, playing golf and tennis, beachwalking, and cycling the bike paths, it’s time to try something new!
    One of our area’s most exciting recreational resources is horseback riding—and Lee County boasts several horse farms and ranches. Horse lovers can enjoy trail rides, arena riding, and even pony rides. Enhancing one’s riding skills also is an option at one of the numerous local riding academies.
    North Ft. Myers is home to KC’s Ranch. KC’s offers it all—horseback riding, trail rides, boarding, lessons, training, sales, and local transport. Best of all, if it’s just riding you’re after, KC’s is not BYOH; they’ll supply a friendly horse for you. Full-time instructor Teresa Melock is an integral part of the year-round operation. She teaches by appointment only; instruction, at a very fair $25 per hour, takes place in an equestrian arena. Teresa and several part-time instructors all have one thing in common: they love horses. KC’s is a happy place with happy horses.
    “We opened the facility with the idea of making it where anybody could afford to come out and learn to ride and enjoy the horses,” says owner Keith Lovejoy. “We run horse camps through the summer; we run seminars throughout the year, whenever we get the chance to have them.” KC’s also holds symposiums as well as weekend events that cost as little as $25 per day and allow riders to have their horses and/or skills evaluated.
    Located east of Interstate 75, KC’s Ranch is a whopping 600 acres. “That’s approximate,” Lovejoy says. “I’ve never gone out there and really measured it.” No surprise; he has a separate full-time job. He operates the ranch with his wife, Jody, out of a sheer passion for horses. At this writing, 23 horses were at home on the ranch: Nine were boarding, eight were doing trail rides, the rest were in training.
    Children are welcome at KC’s, where they can ride in the arena or take instruction, and once a child is comfortable with riding, he will really enjoy trail riding.
Find the kid in yourself and get out to KC’s Ranch for riding or instruction. KC’s Ranch, 9851 Quail Hollow Road, North Ft. Myers; 941/543-8061.
    The other treasure we found for riders is Broken Gate Ranch Trail Rides. Broken Gate is a working cattle ranch, the real McCoy—a fabulous place to ride. An ad for this horse lover’s paradise succinctly sums up the place: “Experience the real olde Florida on native pasture and woodlands…see undisturbed Florida wildlife and plant life in its natural habitat.”
    Owner Kerry Van Meter recently began offering trail rides—and lucky for us. On a two-hour ride, guests will see more than just the 70-acre spread Van Meter owns; his riders also have access to adjoining leased land, where hogs and deer run free. That’s a sight you’re not likely to see on Sanibel or Captiva islands.
    Located in Bonita Springs, Broken Gate Ranch offers riding seven days a week. Just call ahead for an appointment. Rates are $25 per hour for one person; take a friend and you each ride for $20 per hour. While parents must accompany small children, the ranch will put a young child on the same horse as mom or dad for just $10 per hour above the normal rate.
    Riders will find 22 quarter horses on the ranch. Most are young; a few are ponies. In addition to being a horseman and cattleman, Van Meter is a former fishing guide and swamp buggy rides are available at the ranch. And don’t miss the horseshoe art.
    Broken Gate offers no training, but if a nice, relaxing trail ride through what remains of olde Florida appeals to you, you’re overdue for a visit here. Broken Gate Ranch Trail Rides, 26118 Cutting Horse Lane, Bonita Springs; 941/992-2555.
    If you’re considering riding instruction, perhaps you want to look at the local riding academies.
    Detour Farms, in Ft. Myers, offers riding lessons year-round. “You need an appointment with a trainer,” says good-natured Stephanie Collins. “Lessons are one hour long and run $35. We provide the horse.”
    With 28 horses and four arenas, Detour provides all levels of instruction in English-style riding. Children are welcome to take lessons; customers are all ages. Detour Farms Riding Academy, between Metro Parkway and Six-Mile Cypress at 6710 Idlewild St., Ft. Myers; 941/936-8044.
    Haji Arabians Inc. is located in beautiful Buckingham, just east of Ft. Myers. If you haven’t visited this oak-filled part of the county, perhaps riding lessons could be your excuse. Haji’s riding academy is a year-round operation. Instruction in either English or Western style is by appointment only. Book your lesson with a call to owner Jackie Leffin and enjoy the accompanying audio surprise—cocks crowing in the background. (Funny how just a few miles can lead to a world far removed from seashells.)
    Training at Haji is $20 per hour-long lesson, including use of the horse. All training takes place in the arena. And if you have so much fun that you run out and buy your own horse, Haji does offer boarding. Haji Arabians Inc., 5120 Neal Road in Buckingham; 941/694-3644.
    Hollyoak Farms Riding Academy, in North Ft. Myers, offers lessons, dressage training and boarding. Only English-style riding instruction is offered. Call for appointments and more information. Hollyoak Farms Riding Academy, Nalle Grade Road, North Ft. Myers; 941/543-4008.
    Next time you’re ready for a new adventure, think “horses,” and explore another side of Florida. Roy and Dale would want you to.

Libby Boren McMillan, a freelance writer, lives and works on Sanibel.