Academy Stables: Last one left on Westside providing Garden rides
In past times on the Westside, there were several riding stables offering commercial trail rides into the Garden of the Gods.
Nowadays, there's just one: Academy Riding Stables, at 4 El Paso Blvd.
George Armstrong, who bought the operation with two brothers in 1987 - the 50th anniversary of Academy's opening - keeps it open year-round.
“It's amazing,” said the former Nebraska ranch boy and retired airline pilot. “People will ride in snowstorms. The hard part is getting the wranglers out there.”
The stable has 120 horses. To keep them fresh, they are rotated in and out of the trail-ride routine - given “time off,” just like employees at a job.
Armstrong got into the business first as a hobby. But after retiring from flying in 2000, he moved into the vacant saddle at Academy. Older brother Tom is “pretty much retired,” he noted, while younger brother Bruce is an attorney in Los Angeles.
Running a commercial stable operation in the 21st century is not the most profitable thing in the world. Business was good in 2001 - at least until the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The number of riders dropped about 20 percent after that, to about 15,000 a year, “and it still hasn't come back up,” he said.
What has gone up is costs. Liability insurance spikes 10 to 15 percent annually, he said, and in recent years the city has begun tacking on a per-ride fee to help cover the expenses of Garden of the Gods trail maintenance.
The city claim is that horses cause much of the trail damage. Armstrong doesn't deny there is some, but he believes bicycles do their share as well, not to mention some hikers.
In any case, the city charges the stable $1.50 per rider, and Armstrong thinks that fee may be hiked again in 2006.
Academy has to pass such increases along to customers - the current cost is $34.50 for a one-hour trail ride, $51.50 for two - but “you can only raise your fees for so long,” he said.
Whatever the future may bring, Academy gives the present-day Westside a vintage look at the old West. The stable operation is an unexpected and picturesque sight - like walking into a Clint Eastwood movie - just a few hundred feet north of El Paso Boulevard. At a given moment, a few wranglers might accompany a group heading out on a ride while others curry horses or perform various clean-up chores. The 4.5-acre property sits at the base of little hills where some of the horses can be seen grazing on the skyline, just like in the early days of Colorado City.
Westside Pioneer article