Monday, June 20, 2011

Brighton, CO to Golden, CO And The Wonderful Westernaires on US Route 6

Brighton, CO to Golden, CO

A beautiful morning here in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and I FINALLY saw Route 6 signs closer to Denver, though not enough to get someone through the city if you didn’t know how to do it.  So here’s the scoop.  You take 76 West and soon you’ll see the Route 6 Exit towards Adams and Commerce City.  It is a city of commerce here – traffic lights and industry.  Here, Route 6 is Valesquez Ave. and when you see signs to get onto 70W, get up on that crazy interstate.  There’s no indication that Route 6 is routed onto 70W here, but just take my word for it.  Once you get on, there’s a couple of signs indicating that, yes, this is also Route 6. There is also no way to know that Route 6 continues onto 25South – but again, I’ve done my homework and knew it ahead of time.  Colorado has some ‘splainin’ to do here.  So, as soon as you see signs for 25South, stay left and jump on that. In a few miles, you’ll see the familiar 6 shield, indicating that it’s time to get off on Highway 6 towards Lakewood.  We’re now heading out of Denver.

I did not stay in Denver, and will not propose to write about Denver’s wonderful attractions, restaurants and lodgings.  There are plenty of other guidebooks you can refer to.  So, I’ll continue on to one of the very highest highlights of my trip so far (and that is saying a lot having already been on the road for a month) – in Lakewood, CO right on Route 6.

Cory MacDonald
Proudly Wearing her Red Westernaire Sweater
Lakewood, CO
If you happen to hit Lakewood on a weekday evening around sunset, you must make time to watch The Westernaires practice. These kids, these impressive 9-19 year olds, will give you goose-bumps, tingle your spine, get you teary-eyed and make you proud of our Country’s youth.  But I get ahead of myself.

Westernaires Director, Glen Keller
and Mom/Instructor Debbie Koop
Lakewood, CO

Fort Westernaire Museum Mural
Lakewood, CO

Westernaires Lesson in Saddle Maintanance
Lakewood, CO

Westernaires "Tenderfoot Conference"
Lakewood, CO

Newborn Westernaires Foal
Lakewood, CO
The Westernaires have been led by just two directors; E.E. Wyland who, in 1949 was asked by the Lakewood Youth Council to “start something for kids,” and current Big Cheese, Glen Keller who, in 1983, took what Wyland grew from 28 teens to a few hundred kids and turned it into the 1,000-strong organization it is today. When Keller took over the reins, only 5% of the Westernaires went on to college.  Today, 95% do. Keller feels that for some of these kids who are at-risk and from broken homes, this program is so important they stay in school just so they can continue to be Westernaires (a requirement).

Children as young as 9 start out in the “Tenderfoot” division, and must learn the very basics even before getting on a horse.  Over the next ten years, they move up to the Red Division, earning the coveted and prestigious “Red Sweater.”

Red White and Blue Westernaires
Lakewood, CO

Fort Westernaire is a complex of indoor and outdoor arenas (7 in all), classrooms, and a phenomenal museum that you can visit if you’re here on Saturdays(also a practice day throughout the year) between 10am and 2pm.  Based on the notion that “The Old West had values worth learning,” according to Keller, “all Westernaires must visit the museum when they first sign up.”  Inside, there’s a library filled with Western and Colorado History books – among them an 1867 “Revised Statues of Colorado” Law tome.  The kids begin by learning about the anatomy of the horse. They learn the history of the region, including Native American History (several amazing costumes), the origins of the US Cavalry (the Westernaires portray this old branch of the military in shows), and the progression of the saddle. Murals on the walls are done by the kids themselves.  There are branding irons, various kinds of barbed wire, bits, bridles, stirrups and spurs.  If it has anything to do with horsemanship, the Fort Westernaire Museum has it.  And it also has one incredible object: the carriage that brought Abraham Lincoln to the train in Springfield, IL as he set off for Washington DC to serve as US President.  This carriage was also used by Buffalo Bill Cody in his Wild West Show, and it was here that I began to ascertain a similarity between the Westernaires and the Wild West Show. 

These kids learn precision riding (at high speeds, as you’ll see in this video), rough riding, Liberty Riding, roping and, trick riding.  In fact, the Westernaires are one of the best (if not the best) trick-riding teams in the United States. 

Westernaire End of Day Drills
Lakewood, CO
“It’s a real family – you really get addicted,” said my contact, Debbie Koop, who has two Westernaire daughters and is an instructor herself.  The program is so important to participants, many return as volunteers; there are 350 – 500 graduates and parents who just can’t let go and want to give back.  They sew the costumes, teach kids at all levels, take care of the 30 acres of property. “We’re a totally self-supporting organization,” Keller told me. “We believe in doing for ourselves.” For the most part, the Westernaires are funded by ticket sales.  They put on a Wild West – like show in Denver every year, selling over 42,000 tickets at $7 each. 

As I watched a perfectly executed Westernaires performance against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains and the setting sun, I was touched in a way I haven’t been for a long time.  These teens become so proficient, so self-assured, so masterful – they give me hope for the world’s future. 

I was so moved, I can’t write anymore about Golden, CO – just a few miles away on Route 6.  So – stay tuned for tomorrow’s Golden post. 

And I’ll end with this: Westernaires – you have my sincere respect. 


  1. Very cool. I am so proud of these kids and this organization!
    I have a Tenderfoot in Westernaires and one to follow next year.
    I am a newly trained Wrangler and can appreciate how much work is involved at all levels.

    1. Hi Larry - sorry it's taken so long to respond. My blog post today is a collection of my best Westernaire's photos. I was blown away by them!
      Thanks for commenting -

    2. I am a Westernaire, I will be in my fifth year in September. Right now I am a Shadow Rider. I came across your blog and I thought you captured Westernaires perfectly. We learn horsemanship, discipline, and basic integrity. We also learn confidence, I was really shy when I started Westernaires and after having to go talk to strangers in order to sell tickets for Annual Show and therefore I have become more confident. I hope that you come to visit sometime again, we have some new baby ponies one is named Queen of Spades (we call her Queenie), the other one is named Eclipse (she was born the night of the eclipse), they were born a few days apart. Westernaires is doing really well, maybe you should come visit and see how its doing for your self. THANK YOU!!!


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