Monday, January 31, 2005

Cowboying to Wrangling

January 31, 2005 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

I was working as a teacher for the Apache Junction Junior High School in 1973 and the teachers there were a very innovative group. This innovation inspired me, so I proposed a new type of field trip for our students in the spring of 1973. I suggested to Principal Dale Hancock a horseback field trip through the Superstition Mountains for a class I was teaching titled “Superstition Gold.” I thought this would be a great idea because I loved my long horseback rides into the Superstition Wilderness when I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company.

At first Mr. Hancock looked at me, smiled then said, “Are you really serious?” I explained that, if I could get the students out to First Water I could find enough horses for the field trip. To permit the field trip, Hancock had to take a lot of things under consideration before allowing me to implement horseback field trips at his school. There were matters of insurance, parental approval, and safety, not to mention the logistics.

Superintendent Tom Reno and the school board finally approved the field trip, commenting that it was quite an innovative idea. Our first field trip occurred in April of 1974. I would like to think it was a historical event for the Superstition Wilderness Area and the Apache Junction Junior High School. However I am sure others made such field trips prior to 1974. A lot of cows had gone through the corral gate since I had left the Quarter Circle U Ranch in 1959.

The first horseback field trip included thirty-one students and ten adults. I was able to contract thirty-five horses from Billy Clark Crader at the Superstition Inn Stables. Crader was able to borrow horses from Dallas Adair at Greenhorn Stables to complete the number of horses we needed for the field trip. Crader charged ten dollars per student for an all-day horseback trip and lunch.

We did this field trip on a Saturday so as not to interrupt classroom time. I guided the string of horses through the mountains to a place called East Boulder Canyon. As I rode that day, I thought about the days I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company. Now here I was leading my own horseback field trip into the Superstitions. It sure had been a long trail from the back of [a] cow pony on the old U Ranch in 1958 to guiding my students through the Superstition Wilderness Area on a horseback field trip.

Bud Lane called our lunch stop Frankfurter Flats. Along the way, the students were encouraged to note the geology, plants and animals for a discussion at lunchtime. The students were also required to write a brief report on their experience. To this day I still have some of those essays. I must admit I cherished my students’ comments such as, “The best thing I [ever] did in my life.” “It was so beautiful, I couldn’t believe all the water,” “I have never done anything like this in my whole life,” “My horse was the best friend I could have had,” and “I’ll never forget this trip as long as I live.”

Many of these children had never had such an experience and I found great pleasure in sharing the horses and outdoors with my students. I was able to broaden their horizons by giving them the opportunity to look at something in a completely different perspective.

While preparing for another field trip I was called to the office one day to meet a gentleman who offered to sponsor ten deserving students each time I had a field trip. His generosity ensured an opportunity for children who without this sponsorship could not have attended the horseback field trip. 

I continued these horseback trips for more than a decade. Hundreds of junior high students and adults accompanied me on these trips into the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Almost every week I run into former students who accompanied me on one of those horseback field trips during the 1970s and 1980s. These brief encounters with my former students are fond memories for an old man.

The other day I ran into Craig Arnold, Arnold Motors, and we talked about the trip he was on during his junior high school days. I am always running into other students who were a part of these field trips and they are always reminding [me] what a great time they had. Kendra McKinney (Adams) I see almost every day. She is a school administrator for the Apache Junction Unified School District now. She and her sister were on horseback trips with me into the Superstition Mountains when they were students at the junior high school. Her father, Ken McKinney, was a deputy sheriff for Pinal County and he often rode with us on our field trips.

I hoped all my students absorbed something worthwhile from the horseback field trips that would help them later in life. I was really enthusiastic that day I walked into Dale Hancock’s office and offered to start these horseback field trips for students, and I’m sure this innovative idea caught Dale Hancock off-guard just a little.

Hancock implemented many innovative programs at the junior high school in Apache Junction during [his] career there. The horseback field trips may have been one of the most unusual for a public school setting, or at least he believed so. The students who participated in these horseback field trips are now in their thirties and forties. It’s difficult to believe they are all grown up now.

Our nation’s greatest resource is our children, and I am proud of my classroom days as a teacher. If I made a difference in one child’s success in life, I felt I was a success. 

The other day someone asked me just how rich I am. I thought about it for a moment and I said I was really wealthy. I measure my wealth not in dollars but in the young minds I helped to cultivate for the future. My reward is not my dollars, but my students’ success. Today, any time I meet one of my students and see how successful they are, I have found my reward in life. I used every available means to help them on their way. The horseback field trips were just another step forward helping my students meet their goals in life.