Rodeo Bible Camp gives children confidence
Nestled in the hills near Delta, Colo., is a summer youth camp that has changed lives forever. The Rodeo Bible Camp was started more than 20 years ago by local rancher Shane Kier.
“He started this camp because he attended a rodeo bible camp as a child, and it changed his life,” according to Andrew Bowman, who is the vice president of the Delta Chapter of Rodeo Bible Camps. “He wanted to provide that experience to other children. He was only about 20 years old when he held the first camp.”
The goal of the camps is to teach children how to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. “Some of the children who attend these camps may not have the best self esteem, but through guidance and by working with their horse and volunteers, they build confidence that changes their lives,” Bowman said.
“Being a team leader at Rodeo Bible Camp has forever changed my life,” said Sara Rutkowski, who is a team leader at the camp. “You spend a week mentoring these kids, pouring positivity into them, and when it’s all over, it seems you’re the one who was blessed. It’s a privilege to come back year to year and seeing the kids growing and maturing in Christ,” she said. “I’m challenged each year by these kids. My heart has grown so much in the area of showing Jesus to the kids during camp and between camps. Participating in Rodeo Bible Camp is truly the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Since the first camp 20 years ago, they have added a horse training camp, which Bowman leads. “My wife and I have been involved in these camps for seven years now. We are stronger believers in them and what they can do for these children,” he said.
The two camps are three days each, and for children between 8 and 18 years old. A day-long Pony Bible Camp is also held each year for children under 8 years old. Last summer, they also started a Rodeo Bible Camp at the Apache Reservation in Arizona.
During recent years, Bowman said they have partnered with the Stillwater Rodeo Bible Camp in Grand Junction, which Rutkowski helped start. More than 90 children attend that camp each year. “We have close to 250 kids attending the camps at our facility, or ones that we’re involved with, over the coarse of the summer,” he said. When the camps first started, most of the children were local, but over the years, the camps have drawn in youth from further away. “We have a few kids who come a long ways just to participate,” Bowman said.
The community has been supportive. “We have a lot of local businesses that have come on board to donate materials and money to make these camps happen. The community is heavily involved in what we do here,” Bowman said. Because of the number of sponsors they have, scholarships are available for children who can’t afford to attend. “We try to keep the cost of the camps as low as we can, but we do have to pay for some things like the food and roughstock,” he said. “It is a very good, inexpensive way for kids to get a lot of experience. These camps are very unique because they are run from top to bottom by volunteers.” The volunteers working directly with the children are screened to make sure they are right for the job. “We have hundreds of volunteers who help over the coarse of the summer with everything from setting up for the camp, to donating money or time and effort to make the camps happen,” Bowman said. “No one receives a salary for helping with the camps. We do pay the clinicians some money to help with travel expenses, but they don’t get paid for instructing the camps. Some of the clinicians have impressive records. The others are just good teachers, but don’t have the titles. They are all very competent working with the children.”
One of the clinicians is Doug Miholland, who teaches the performance horse clinic at the horse training bible camp. Miholland has won several National Reining Horse Association titles, and was inducted into the NRHA Hall of Fame. “The camps have been blessed to have Doug as a clinician,” Bowman said. “He is sought after around the world as a clinician, reining judge, trainer and breeder.” .
Miholland looks forward to working with youth and sharing his skills with them. “What the camp has meant to me is that it has given me a chance to give back to God for the gifts and talents, training and teaching, that He has blessed me with by helping and sharing with these young people in a Christian format,” Miholland said. “I believe that I have been blessed even more than the kids have at these camps. It truly blesses my soul to see these kids grow in their spirits and skills as equestrians.”
The idea of the camps is for children to come and stay for three days. During that time, they get instruction from professional clinicians in training their horse or learning a rodeo event, and they also participate in Bible study. “Our main emphasis is to teach children who Jesus Christ is and why he came. We use the horses as part of that,” Bowman said.
At the camps, the children partner up with a team leader or camp counselor, who will lead a Bible study session a few times each day with the children, Bowman said. The rest of the time, the children work with their horses or train for rodeo events.
At the rodeo camp, youth choose which event they will spend three days training for. “There isn’t enough time for them to train for more than one event, so they have to choose one,” Bowman said. Bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, bull fighting, steer wrestling, barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, team roping, calf roping, and break-away roping are among the events offered. “We tailor the clinics to all skill levels,” Bowman said. “Some of the students will already have a lot of experience, and some have never done the event before. We just try and accommodate all skill levels at the clinics.”
During the horse training camp, youth can choose between rookie riders (beginner), performance horse, cow horse, green horse (untrained, difficult horses), ranch roping and rope horse training. “We have many kids who come to the camp year after year,” Bowman said. “We have held the camps long enough now, that some of the kids who started when they were little are now adults and volunteering to help with the camps.”
One of those volunteers is Shay Hamilton, who became an accomplished roper by attending the camps. Graduating from high school last year, Hamilton will now be volunteering at the camp as an adult. She hopes she can make a difference in the life of someone else like attending the camp has done for her. “Rodeo Bible Camp has been a huge part of my life,” Hamilton said. “I went to the camp for 10 years, and enjoyed that we get to do our rodeo event but also learn the word of God. Now that I am 18, I look back at all I have learned from these camps. They have shaped my life and made me the person I am today.”
For more information about the summer camps, to to http://www.cowboyatthecross.com/. ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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