Agrinews article about Gayle

The following is an article that appeared in Agrinews

Gayle Goetzman building quite a legacy with horse operation

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

By Heather Thorstensen

Agri News staff writer

WINONA, Minn. -- Gayle Goetzman, approaching her 70th birthday and living with a breast cancer diagnosis, wants to leave a legacy.

She plans to do it with the land her family has owned for almost 100 years, where she runs Big Valley Ranch, Inc.

The riding academy offers horseback riding lessons, training in indoor and outdoor arenas, trail rides, camps, stabling, hay wagon rides, campfires and therapeutic riding.

"We focus on family horse activities, economical lessons, family trail rides, singing and story telling around the campfire," Goetzman said.

The 160-acre ranch is a portion of what once was a 500-acre farm owned by her grandparents and parents before her. Her grandparents, Wendel and Mary, had sheep, then started a dairy operation with Guernseys. Her parents, George and Gertrude, kept the dairy farm going, but switched to Holsteins.

Out of her six siblings, Goetzman is the only one to retain a portion of the family farm. She purchased her parcel in 1963. The rest of the land has gone to development.

To protect what she has from future development, she voluntarily put her land under a conservation easement with the Minnesota Land Trust, a non-profit organization. Even if she has to sell the land, the easement continues under future owners.

"It'll be open trails for horseback riding," she said.

She's created her ranch so people have a place to spend time outdoors with animals. After 36 years of teaching elementary school students in Rochester and Winona, Goetzman emphasizes safety as a priority. Trail riders wear helmets, unless adults sign an opt-out agreement, and children are only allowed in the barn with adult supervision.

"We're very versed in safety rules," she said.

The ranch has five main trails that are used for half-hour, hour, two-hour or three-hour rides. Depending on the weather, trail rides are offered year-round. The ranch hosts parties, and if more than six people sign up for a trail ride on the same day, Goetzman's team will split the riders into groups, giving one a wagon ride or tours while another goes on the trail.

Goetzman's team specializes in basic and intermediate riding lessons in an individual or group setting. Her lessons include basic and intermediate Western horseback riding and horsemanship as well as basic and intermediate English Equitation. She teaches horsemanship classes for St. Mary's University and the YMCA. Her lessons are also promoted through the Winona's parks and recreation department.

The ranch has offered therapeutic riding since 2007 and has already worked with an estimated 250 people with a range of physical disabilities, personality disorders and emotional disabilities. Based on the rider's abilities and needs, these lessons may focus on balance, posture, how to sound out commands and stretching as the client rides the horse. The experience can help a client gain confidence, mental stimulation or develop muscles, and it gives them time outdoors.

A team of staff is in the process of certification from the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Ranch manager Lorrie Rinn remembers taking a therapeutic riding client on the trail and afterward, the client told her "You made me feel like a human again."

"It benefits them very much," Rinn said.

Goetzman owns 10 horses and will have 12 others this summer for training and stabling. She has a dog and what seems like cats every place you turn. She takes in kittens each year, housing them in an old rabbit cage so children who visit can meet them.

For now, she's ready for young blood to take over more responsibilities so she can spend more time with her three granddaughters, but she's not retiring.

"I have to have a purpose to get up in the morning," she said.

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