If you are looking for an old-time ranch experience, one where you could ride a horse for miles across hundreds of acres of open fields, maybe even head right into town and tie up to the hitching post while you sit down for a cold drink or a pizza, you don’t have to look any further than La Center.
Erik Kahn was raised on the Bar UK River Ranch in La Center, a then-300-acre spread his father Ulf Kahn purchased in 1968. He’s still working the land, joined by his siblings and now their children. Erik offers public trail rides on his string of novice-friendly horses, following the same trails along the East Fork Lewis River that he used to ride to La Center High School in the 1970s.
Back then, Ulf pastured 180 head of champion Limousin cattle in the bottomlands along the river. He had a job out of town, so it fell to his boys – Erik and his brother – to make sure they were taken care of. The boys would tie feed for the cattle onto the cantles of their saddles and ride to school, where they tied their horses during morning classes.
At lunch time, they would hop on their horses and ride down to the fields to feed the cattle. When school let out in the afternoon, they would mount up and head back down to check cattle, move them to new pastures, or mend fences on their way home.
One day, the principal came over the speakers in school and called the Kahn boys to the office. They quickly conferred as to who had done what, but neither could think of any trouble they had been in.
It turned out that the family’s bull had escaped his fences and joined the cows at a neighboring ranch across the river; the ranchers wanted that bull back where he belonged. The Kahn boys hopped on their horses to get the job done.
Horses were an important part of family life, said Erik. Ulf competed in 100-mile competitive trail rides, and almost every night the family would ride up to 20 miles.
Bar UK River Ranch spans about 150 acres now. Clark County bought 100 acres to create La Center Bottoms Natural Area, and family members have acquired pieces of the farm to build their own homes.
But it’s still a working ranch. They offer horse boarding and lessons along with the guided trail rides. A large recreation room in the upper level of the barn is popular for birthday parties and gatherings. The indoor arena, built in 1974, was said to be the first of its kind in Clark County. The fields yield up to 3,000 bales of hay each year, and a late bottomland harvest means crews can be busy cutting hay up until October. Erik is planning to run cattle again on the open land.
One recent guest at the ranch was a father who brought his two daughters, age 11 and 13, for their first ride. The family was headed to a reunion in California, and the girls were anxious about flying. Their father hoped that facing their anxiety on horseback would build their confidence to face other anxiety.
When they arrived, the girls loved the horses but they were scared. “They were shaking, but they wanted to do it so bad,” said Erik. “But by the end, they were trotting and having a great time.”
Each ride is a “mini lesson” according to the rider’s skill and experience, said Erik. He teaches a few simple skills to help riders communicate with their horses and stay safe. “I made up a couple simple things to practice in the arena.”
“For example, if I say ‘rein slide,’ pull the reins through your hands,” he said, gesturing with his hands to demonstrate.
Erik has guided rides for couples seeking a romantic dinner, for families, and for kids’ birthday parties. Young adults bring their friends for a fun outing, to try something new. Taco Tuesday in La Center is a popular ride, said Erik. Riders depart the ranch at
5 p.m. in the summertime and stop in town for tacos and beer.
And moonlight rides are beautiful, said Erik, with the open fields shining brightly.
This isn’t a typical “nose to tail” ride, according to Erik. Once riders are comfortable, there are places where they can trot or canter their horses.
“People love the fact that they can ride horses that are trustworthy and responsive,” said Erik. “It’s a safe environment, and it builds confidence.”
Guided 6-mile-long riding trails follow the river and traverse open floodplains and wooded paths before arriving smack dab in the middle of La Center, where riders enjoy a break for dinner or ice cream in town. The route is a loop, with the return path cutting through a hilly wooded area. The bottomlands are home to abundant wildlife, which changes through the year.
The family has created special places on the property over time, among them two secluded sandy beaches. It is another fun destination for rides, said Erik. They tie their horses at the beach and stop for a swim or a picnic.
Turtle Beach has a swimming platform with a slide, and a large picnic area where the family hosts their multi-day “River Romp” camp and potluck for friends and family each year. The more secluded Gooseneck Bend beach is sandy and serene.
Many people travelling the river on kayaks or rafts stop at the beaches without realizing the shore is a private ranch. That’s OK, said Erik, as long as they don’t leave trash or damage the property.
Rides are available year-round by reservation. For more information about trail rides or riding lessons at Bar UK River Ranch, visit www.barukriverranch.com or call 360-513-4457.