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Community News from the Heart of Summit County

Silverthorne’s Got Heart: John Longhill gives his heart to horses and the community

Published November 6, 2019
Girl at Blue River Horse Center
Girl at Blue River Horse Center

John Longhill and the Blue River Horse Center

Over the past 35 years, John Longhill estimates that he has worked with 15,000 kids through his horse programs, starting in Georgia before moving to Colorado and opening the Blue River Horse Center. Serving as executive director since 2008, John works hard helping horses, children and adults.   

Located just north of the town of Silverthorne, the Blue River Horse Center has a twofold purpose: to help decrease the number of unwanted horses in Colorado and to provide an educational experience for youth and adults.

Rehabilitating the Horses

To help the horses, the Blue River Horse Center partners with Colorado Horse Rescues to rehabilitate and train horses so that they may become more adoptable. The Center relies greatly on volunteers to assist with these important tasks. This year, the Center worked with 12 horses and eight were adopted. Some of the horses were adopted by local residents in Silverthorne and will continue to be boarded at the ranch and help with training programs. The horses that are not adopted will go back to rescues in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. John said that the Blue River Horse Center takes care of these horses in the summer by providing health care, feet trimming and plenty of food. “They are a little chubby by the end of the summer,” said John.

Leadership Awareness with Horses

The Center’s signature program is called Leadership Awareness with Horses where kids learn self-leadership by working with horses. The four-hour program runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and serves as volunteer training, should participants want to work at the Center in the future. The bulk of the Center’s programs run from May to October, working with local organizations like SOS Outreach, Summit County Mentors, CO Outward Bound, Building Hope, the Keystone Science School, Frisco Fun Club and more. The Blue River Horse Center mostly works with kids aged 8 to 12 but has worked with all ages up to 85.  This past summer, John estimates that they had over 100 classes and over 1,000 participants.

This innovative program works with many children who come from difficult backgrounds, teaching them essential life skills, including relationship building and leadership skills.  Working with the horses, John explained; teaches the children to be aware of their thoughts and body language. If they are afraid, the horse sense that fear and thinks that they should be afraid as well. This helps the child realize that they need to be aware of their thoughts and be able to change them if they are not helpful in their life.

“The horses become the teacher, and by the end of the day, the kids are leading the horses around with confidence. It teaches them that their life is not a function of their circumstances, but their thoughts about those circumstances,” said John.

John went on to say that “the transformation I see in the kids in just one day” is his favorite part of running the Blue River Horse Center. “Kids who are afraid and don’t want to touch the horses at the beginning of the day, leave happy, smiling and confident. They learn self-assurance, responsibility and how to control their thoughts; it is dramatic. All the things they learn are applicable in daily life, including leadership, positive decision making and risk-taking. It’s a powerful program and that’s why I have been doing it for 35 years,” he said.

Over the years, John has heard from several former participants of the program that a weekend at the ranch changed their life and helped get them on a new, positive track. He said that the goal of the program is to give kids the tools needed to help redirect their life, and it is powerful to hear from kids when it has truly worked.

The People of Summit County

When not busy at the Blue River Horse Center, John enjoys all of the outdoor activities of Summit County including biking along Lake Dillon, hiking, fishing and snowboarding. Outdoor activities aside, he believes the people of Summit County are what makes this community so special. “My personal belief is that I’m here to support others in happiness and fulfillment. And that seems to agree with most people in Summit County. They like helping people.”

The people of Summit County are a huge part of the Blue River Horse Center. The Center is 98% volunteer-run, making up a critical part of the training, class assistance and fundraising. A volunteer even started ReSaddled Thrift Store nine years ago to help with fundraising for the Blue River Horse Center. The thrift store has a paid manager but otherwise relies on volunteer help. The thrift store is a big part of fundraising for the Center, along with an Elks breakfast twice a year and several other donor events.  Coming up on November 14 is a Sip and See Wine Tasting and Art Auction fundraiser. John said that they are always looking for additional donations for the store and that it is a great place for kids to get community service hours.

Volunteers at Blue River Horse Center
Volunteers at Blue River Horse Center

Make a Difference Day

Recently, Blue River Horse Center got an additional boost from the people of Summit County through Make a Difference Day. Sixteen volunteers visited the ranch as part of the countywide volunteer effort to help with the horses and see how the leadership programs run.

Silverthorne and our surrounding community appreciate the difference the volunteers made on Make a Difference Day, and the work John does every day to improve the lives of horses and children.