Putting joy back in the season | TSLN.com

Putting joy back in the season

Holly Thomas
for Tri-State Livestock News

The holiday season is about giving, celebrating and showing the loved ones in your life that you care. There is a ranch near Watertown, SD, that embodies all of these traits year round. In 2002, Joy Nelson donated her horse ranch, located in northeastern South Dakota, to a cause she whole-heartedly believed in: Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota (LOSD). She had spent years enjoying the fulfillment she received from sharing her horses with people and wanted her ranch and the horses on it to be available for years to come to people of all abilities who wanted to "experience Christ's love in community and creation." Since her donation, LOSD has been doing just that by collecting donations and building the ranch to mirror an Old West town with the modern amenities of today's world to accommodate medical camps, youth camps, company retreats, and more. With construction completed in spring 2012, Joy Ranch (named for Joy Nelson) now offers year-round, western-themed accommodations for retreats, conferences, and groups of all sizes and needs. The facility features an 1880's prairie town design complete with church, Longhorn Café, one-room school house, Wild Bill's Game Room, and remuda of horses grazing on the prairie.

Because the ranch started with horses, an equine focus has been upheld through the ranch's current operations. However, the ranch has gone above and beyond by fulfilling Joy Nelson's dream of sharing horses with people of all abilities. The ranch strives to give people who may not have had the opportunity to learn about horses a way to experience horses in a hands-on setting. The ranch has been set up to be "barrier free" by making not only the ranch completely accessible, but also the horses. The ranch is outfitted with an indoor riding arena as well as riding trails that meander through the property. Riding lessons and trail rides are available as well as wheel chair accessible buggy rides and therapeutic riding for children and adults with disabilities.

Now with Christmas right around the corner, Joy Ranch is finding new ways to reach out with the gift of horses by offering horse-drawn sleigh rides to the public. Volunteers from the Watertown area have been increasingly involved in the ranch's activities and sleigh rides have given them another way to give during the holiday season. Volunteers give their time by not only assisting with scheduling, refreshments and driving sleighs, but also with marketing. Joy Ranch manager, Kyle Debertin, noted that locals have taken a lot of pride in the ranch and enjoy showing off this local gem to out-of-town family and friends, especially during the holidays.

"Many people are looking for something unique to do with their families during the holiday season, and a sleigh ride is certainly unique and memorable," Debertin says.

Joy Ranch sleigh rides are held in the afternoons and evenings on snowy days in December and are open to everyone. Like the rest of the facility, sleighs are accessible to anyone who wishes to ride, and they seat approximately six adults. A $10 per person donation is requested which benefits Joy Ranch operations and programs. Guests are told in advance to dress warmly and many arrive not only with large winter coats, hats, and gloves, but also with large blankets to cuddle under with friends and family. Upon arrival, guests are served hot chocolate to help keep them warm. Equine trainers drive teams of draft or draft-mix horses through the ranch property for guests to enjoy the snowy, prairie vistas under starlit skies while listening to the jingle of sleigh bells (for more information visit http://www.JoyRanchSD.org).

"During the Christmas season, there are times when we get very busy with shopping and preparations, but taking a sleigh ride gives you an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the season. It can really be a gift to yourself and your whole family to share together, because the busyness of the Christmas season can be overwhelming!" Debertin explains. "Someone might not remember the coffee maker you got them for Christmas, but a moonlit sleigh ride with a cup of hot chocolate is something they'll remember for years."

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Debertin invites anyone living in or traveling through the Watertown, SD, area to stop in and visit Joy Ranch this winter for a tour, an overnight stay, or sleigh ride through the ranch's rolling hills to experience the holiday season in a new, old-fashioned way: slow down, relax, and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate from the comfort of a horse-drawn sleigh. Follow the Joy Ranch's lead this year and give a gift to remember.

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