Leslie Miller: Horseback riding in Summit County
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Leslie Miller started riding horses soon after she learned how to walk.
The Eagle resident’s first horse was carefully chosen by her grandfather, who owned a ranch in the mountains outside of Los Angeles.
“I have pictures of me on a horse when I was 2 or 3,” Miller said. “Grandpa bought us an old horse that could barely walk and that was ours to sit on. … He knew we wouldn’t get in trouble on it.”
The Southern California native’s early equine encounter clearly had a profound affect on her, as she has been surrounded by horses nearly her whole life since then.
Miller, who has owned and operated the Copper Mountain Stables for 10 years, began her professional career in Buena Vista during the 1970s. She started as a volunteer at Adventure Limited Ranches, but things quickly snowballed.
“I was volunteering for the summer and ended up running the program for the next 15 years off and on,” she said. “I just got up there and became so immersed in the horses that it became my career, I guess. It found me.”
In time, Miller opened up a boarding facility and summer riding camp at her home in Evergreen.
As much as she loved sharing her passion through teaching, Miller also realized a need for adventure so she began competing in endurance riding – cross country horseback races, typically ranging from 15 to100 miles.
Some Endurance races are even longer, such as the Pony Express Trail (750 miles) and the Outlaw Trail (260 miles).
“With the 750 mile race, we did 50 miles a day for five days and then we went back a few weeks later and did another part of it,” she said. “That was fun, that was exciting.”
Miller fondly remembers her 15 years as an endurance rider.
“That time was a real highlight for me (in working) with horses,” she said. “It was when I learned the most.”
Long distance riding eventually led to international recognition for Miller and her horse, Bezibn, who was named 1991 Endurance Horse of the Year by the International Arabian Horses Association.
According to Miller, Bezibn is the only stallion to claim the distinction in a sport typically dominated by geldings and mares.
“Stallions are normally very lazy so they end up at the back of the pack,” she said. “They don’t usually have the heart to win, but he had the heart.”
Although she has strayed away from competition in the interest of running a business, Miller’s future plans include returning to the endurance racing circuit.
For now, she spends seven days a week at the Copper stables.
“This is my family,” she said. “It’s my life. If I wasn’t here, I would be lost.”
In addition to some 10 employees, Miller employs roughly 35 horses to run her summer trail-riding operation.
Six draft horses are used for winter sleigh rides, while a “hodge podge of quarter horses,” comprise the summer staff, she said.
Miller is careful not to overwork her quarter horses, each of which logs about three months of active duty per year.
“A lot of ranches send their horses down south for the winter so they can get year-round use,” she said. “But we figure our horses are a lot stronger with more rest. They keep a good attitude which provides a better riding experience for our guests.”