MISSOULA - Since the 1980’s, there has been a hidden, 90-acre gem in Missoula — the Big Sky Horse Park.
A non-profit run by volunteers that park hosts weekend events throughout the summer, from horse jumping to barrel racing.
They focus on introducing kids to equestrian sports.
“Our mission is to support, encourage and grow horsemanship and horse activities here in western Montana with a really targeted focus on kids, getting kids involved in healthy activities, in the fun of horses.” Big Sky Horse Park president Tierney Wheaton says.
Wheaton says teaching kids how to care for horses can teach them responsibility, confidence and mindfulness.
“It gives him such confidence and such self-confidence that a screen doesn't do,” she says. “You really can't ride and text, your horse is not going to keep going straight.”
The kids that start riding at Big Sky Horse Park tend to stick around. In fact, many of the volunteers were once young riders at the park themselves.
“I have been here since I was four,” says park maintenance volunteer Elle Bucher. “I love this place. As a little kid I used to run around and pick dandelions and just play in the creek, and now I've come back. After watching my dad work here for 12-plus years, it means a lot to me to be able to give back like he did.”
Arwyn Anthony, who is now the director of the park, also couldn’t stay away.
“Because this is the place that I first started riding, it's always been near and dear to my heart,” she says. “I think it's a great place, and I really hope to see it for a long time coming. It's dramatically shaped my life and where I've gone. It's been a large reason that I've stayed in Missoula.”
The park attracts riders from all over the Western United States and even Canada and their events have a little something for everyone.
“There’s anything from kids who are, you know, one year old and you're holding on to their little pony, to adults coming out to really show what they have and show these horses that they worked really hard with,” Bucher says.
The Big Sky Horse Park is operated by the Missoula Horse Council but works with Five Valleys Pony Club and Missoula 4H Club to put on events. The events are free and open to the public.
Wheaton says she hopes to see more Missoulians at the park this summer. "I think there's just so much in Missoula and there's so much around Missoula. Don't forget about what's here too."
The park has various memberships, including youth, cross country, family and individual. They also offer daily park passes for $15. Those who don’t ride horses can join a ‘friend of the park’ membership or donate directly.
They have several arenas, a cross-country course, jumps and obstacles for equine training and the park is also open for walkers, bikers and other non-riding recreators.
“We have 90 acres out here, and it's not just a horse facility,” Anthony says. “I mean, I know so many people who walk their dogs out here, or just come out and walk and take their family to bring their strollers, ride bikes. It's just, again, our little hidden gem of Missoula.”
Anthony says the park is always looking for more volunteers.
The Big Sky Horse Park is hosting a 100 jumper show on Saturday, May 13, 2023, and Western Montana Quarter Horse Association’s buckle series on Sunday. Information on this summer’s events and how to donate or become a member can be found on their website.