As you approach the intersection of Brush Creek Road along Highway 82, it’s hard to miss the 170-acre Cozy Point Ranch on the south side of the road. Set against a wooded hillside, and with sweeping views of the Elk Mountains and Sawatch Range, it’s been a local landmark for more than 120 years. And yes, a river—or at least Brush Creek—runs through it. With horses, cattle, fields of hay, open space, and a majestic red barn, the property epitomizes the old West, but its real magic is that the ranch remains vibrantly active today.
“Cozy Point Ranch is such a special place,” says Austin Weiss, open space manager for the City of Aspen, which owns the property. “We have an amazing opportunity to help preserve the ranching and agricultural heritage of the valley.”
Aspen purchased the ranch in 1993 and operates it under the Parks, Trails, and Open Space Department as a public riding facility; space is also leased to other complementary entities. The city is currently in the final stages of a two-year process to develop a new management plan for the ranch. In addition to being designated open space, the land is at a prime trail juncture and river confluence; includes Aspen Valley Land Trust conservation easements; and is a working ranch with senior water rights, making for quite the oversight puzzle.
“We’re looking at ways to apply agriculture that enhance the health of the land, whether that be pasture management, restoring riparian areas, equestrian use, habitat protection, or food production, all in a sustainable manner,” Weiss says. “We are learning to be ‘light’ on the land through agriculture.”
The riding operation is at the heart of Cozy Point, and it’s run by Patti Watson, who’s worked there for 16 years. Summer means equestrian camps, with more than 40 students participating daily. The ranch also hosts after-school riding programs, private lessons with trainers who are independent contractors, and the Aspen Equestrian Team. Plus, horse boarding is available, with 80 horses currently in residence.
Horses are not known for being easy on land, and pasture management is an important part of what happens at Cozy Point. But headway is being made. On a tour of the ranch—during which she addressed every horse by name—Watson was thrilled to show off a lush pasture that had been reseeded just last year with turf specifically blended to withstand both horses and Rocky Mountain weather. “We can’t do every pasture at once, though, because we have the horses,” she says. “We also grow all of our own hay and feed almost a ton of hay a day.”
One option the town is considering is building dedicated riding trails on the property. “Our goal is to improve on the equestrian experience at Cozy Point,” says Weiss. “But it needs to happen in a sustainable way.”
The long-term management plan is slated to be reviewed and adopted later this summer, so Roaring Fork Valley denizens can continue to benefit from this legacy property.
Aspen Equestrian Team
If you want to meet the future equestrians of the Roaring Fork Valley, go to Cozy Point Ranch around 4:15 p.m. on a school day. There, you’ll see upwards of 50 kids tacking horses, doing homework, and riding, both in private lessons and as part of the Aspen Equestrian Team.
Michelle Bonfils Thibeault, Lisa Flynn, and Patti Watson run the program as part of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association. It’s open to middle- and high-school riders, with a goal of accessibility. Participants do not need to own or lease a horse, with coaches providing horses for lessons and shows. This past year, 28 riders participated and placed third in the annual state competition, as well as rode in other shows around Colorado and even beyond.
“The team is a place for riders of all abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds to come together for the joy of horses and for sharing team spirit,” Thibeault says. “The sportsmanship and self-esteem they develop helps them grow in all aspects of their lives.”
Take, for example, Nicole Romano, a rising eighth grader at Carbondale Middle School who started the program as a novice rider and has progressed to helping the team qualify for finals at state-level meets. “I never thought I would be able to ride so many different horses and be judged while doing it,” she says. “Riding has helped me build self-confidence, and I really like working with the team.”
Learn to Ride
The top trainers at Cozy Point Ranch aside, here are three more options to get started in the saddle:
Crystal Springs Ranch and Saddlery
Private and group lessons, plus children’s riding camp, in hunter jumper and equitation, $100/session
Semiprivate and private lessons, $60–$85
Riders must provide their own horse
Private and group lessons in hunter jumper, English, and horsemanship, $50–$70