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How the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the Westernaires

The Jefferson County nonprofit has taught kids about horses and life for 71 years (and counting).

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colorado — Since 1949, the Westernaires has been putting on riding shows and teaching kids about horses. But now, COVID-19 has offered a new challenge to the old organization.

"Our operation has been, for all intents and purposes, shut down," Westernaires Director Bill Schleicher said.

The nonprofit organization works with riders from ages 9 to 19 to teach them about life, Schleicher said.

"Responsibility, self-respect, and teamwork through the use of a horse," Schleicher said. "I don't remember who said it, but there's nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse."

But, the need for social distancing has canceled all lessons, training, and shows.

"We can't bring out our young riders in to ride the horses and consequently that pretty much dries up our revenue stream," Schleicher said.

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Yet, the Westernaires still have to care for and feed around 200 animals --  costing about $1,000 each day, according to Schleicher. He said volunteers are stepping up.

"Westernaires is an incredibly resilient organization made up of about 500 volunteers that are extremely devoted to what we are doing," Schleicher said. 

Skylar Mason is a volunteer and has been a member of the Westernaires for the last nine years.

"I'm like mustang trainer, so last night I was able to help get horses back in shape," Mason said. 

Schleicher said donations are coming in, which help pay for food and supplies.

"So, we're in good financial shape, but this is not something that we could weather forever," Schleicher said.

Over the past few months, Schleicher said the Westernaires have had to deal with a contagious infection called Strangles, a state-wide issue with a virus called VSV, and the possible closure of the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

If you want to find out about how to make donations, click here: http://www.westernaires.org/

"The shows are an important part of what we do, but they are not the most important part," Schleicher said. "The most important part of what we do are the kids."

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