For aspiring cowgirls and cowboys of all ages, a drive up the shaded track to Heaven’s Ranch in Chino Hills, Calif. is truly a trip to Nirvana. For owner and founder, Annee Capelle, the 450-acre boarding facility and working cattle ranch is her own little slice of paradise, and the personal realization of a childhood dream.
Women have always been integral to the ranching world, but what sets Capelle apart is her urban, Downey, Calif. upbringing, and a diverse career path leading to a dream achieved by few.
As a young city girl, Capelle craved horses and the western lifestyle.
“My girlfriends and I hopped on anything that anybody would allow us to ride,” she said.
While Capelle envisioned a life with horses, her route to bliss included stints as an EMT paramedic, small animal veterinary technician, software representative to Fortune 500 companies, and veterinary office manager.
“The list is long, I was a jack of all trades, master of none,” she said.
The course of her life changed when she met her mentor Nick Van Vleit, a Chino Valley cattleman and the owner of the ranch where she boarded her horse. Eventually, Van Vliet encouraged Capelle to take over the beef cattle operation and build up the boarding facilities of what was to become Heaven’s Ranch.
In 2005, after Van Vliet’s death, Capelle assumed the ranch lease.
Today, Heaven’s Ranch supports between 60-80 boarded horses and approximately 100 head of cattle. In 2005, the dedicated rancher launched Heaven’s Ranch Horse Rescue. With a motto of “Horses With A Future”, the rescue specializes in animals that can be rehabilitated and adopted into forever homes.
“We take the younger horses, the ones that need more of a mental and physical rehabilitation, turn them around, and find them homes,” said Capelle.
Education is central to the culture of Heaven’s Ranch, and the curriculum is focused on up-and-coming horse lovers.
“I feel that the horse industry takes advantage of newcomers,” she said. “I was one of them for many years, trying to learn and take lessons, but I was not receiving the education I should have.”
The ranch syllabus often combines rescue horses and horse crazy kids and adults, as rescued equines possessing exceptional dispositions enjoy new careers as four-legged teachers. With nearly 65 students, it’s a busy place. Capelle draws on her own past to create a unique lesson program.
“Today, things are so structured,” she said. “It’s sometimes hard to convince parents to drop the kids off, leave them here, let them grow up and experience thinking outside the box a little bit.”
Students learn the fundamentals of sound horsemanship, from placing a halter on their horse and retrieving it from a stall, to cleaning feet, saddling and bathing.
“It’s a super hands on program, to the point that I am chewing my nails sometimes, but you have to let them grow up and be confident,” she said.
“I love seeing kids laughing and riding double, falling off, and being silly with their horses,” she said. “It’s the way I used to ride and the kids are gaining confidence in themselves and their animals.”
Capelle feels that her lesson program is valuable in alleviating bullying in schools as well.
“If a child is confident around a 1,200 pound animal, a little boy or girl is not going to bother them,” she said.
Ramping instruction up a notch, summer of 2015 was the inaugural year for the ranch’s week long Wrangler Camps. The day camps provide children with a taste of ranch life.
“The kids learned to ride, move cattle, brand, drive a tractor, they fed the animals in the morning, rode bareback, and just had fun,” she said.
Horses are also available for half or full leases on a monthly basis, allowing those thinking of make an equine purchase the opportunity to experience the responsibility of ownership.
For the future, Capelle would like to present horsemanship seminars and workshops focused on future horse owners.
“Most of the horses I rescue right now are from folks with little knowledge or experience, who were talked into a purchase,” she said.
Lizett Bond, Community Contributor