Where horse dreams come true

Cottonwood Riding Club adapts to surrounding development

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John and Chris Gandomcar bought Cottonwood Riding Club 35 years ago when the land was home to a junkyard, a dairy barn and three homes.

The couple embarked on horseback rides down the High Line Canal Trail when they came upon a chunk of land north of Titan Road adjacent to Chatfield State Park. John worked for a print shop at the time and Chris worked for an insurance company. They took out a loan from their parents and convinced the landowner to sell what is now Cottonwood Riding Club.

“Everything they made they put back into the business,” said their daughter Erica Gandomcar-Sachs, who now manages the riding facilityin northwest Douglas County with her sister, Tara Gandomcar Hieb. “It’s kind of that true American success story.”

The sisters officially took over the family business in 2015. Their parents live in the Roxborough Park area and come to the riding club daily.

The 100-acre property is surrounded by miles of untouched land and has a backdrop of the foothills. It’s home to about 100 horses and a variety of spaces, including outdoor and indoor riding arenas, stables, barns and a polo field.

“Cottonwood is an oasis,” said Hieb, 41, who recalls trail riding from Cottonwood to the Highlands Ranch Mansion years ago. “The people and the horses here are calm.”

The surrounding land will soon change. Sterling Ranch — a 3,400-acre, mixed-use development that is expected to have 12,000 homes after a 20-year buildout — is under construction south of Cottonwood.

Instead of resisting change, the sisters say they are going with the flow. They recently finished a new 23-stall barn to accommodate more horses, and they are building berms around the property to block off some of the outside commotion.

“Our dad taught us to be compassionate,” said Gandomcar-Sachs, 37, who lives with her husband and 3-year-old daughter in the Cottonwood home she was raised in. “Everyone is entitled to live somewhere, and Douglas County is a great place to live.”

The sisters also learned from their parents how to deal with a variety of people. They see all walks of life at their facility, from those who participate in polo — a sport often associated with the wealthy — to those who are getting on a horse for the first time.

Their goal, they said, it to revolutionize the industry.

“The horse industry is very traditional,” Hieb said. “Why not make it more accessible to the masses?”

The facility has eight trainers who teach and train a variety of riding styles, including jumping, dressage, English and polo.

Annie Lloyd, of Littleton, has been a trainer at Cottonwood since 2001. She started riding as a kid in England, where she was born and raised. The aspect she likes most about Cottonwood is that it isn’t limited to one riding style.

“It’s healthy for the horse and the rider,” she said. “Imagine getting up and going to work every single day. You need some variation — like a vacation or a holiday.”

Cottonwood also provides a place for residents near and far to board their horses. Sherri Gronli, who lives down the road in Sunshine Acres, has kept her horse at Cottonwood for 15 years.

Gronli started horseback riding as a mother-daughter activity. Her daughter didn’t take to the riding, but she did. She visits Cottonwood three to four times a week.

“It’s my sanctuary,” she said. “It’s my favorite place to be.”

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