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Meet Jessica Kinkelaar of Little Raven Ranch in Littleton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Kinkelaar.

Jessica, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Horses have forever been a passion of mine since a young age. When I was three years old. my great Aunt Dorothy introduced me to her horses that she kept in her backyard, and I was immediately in love. I begged to spend summers with her and work at her campground in order to help feed and ride her horses. I started riding lessons when I was five years old. Growing up in a large family, I was taught to work hard for the things I wanted. Determination, faith and commitment were values instilled in me from an early age and values that have been carried on throughout my life. We moved multiple times while I was a kid, but I always found a way to be around horses, reading every book I could find, watching videos and other people riding, anything possible to gain knowledge!

When I was ten, there was a barn about three miles away that I would walk to in order to watch them train their Arabians. I would volunteer to brush the horses, clean the barn, go to shows to hand out ribbons. I learned a lot at a young age by just putting myself out there! They found a horse that I was able to lease for the summer… and there happened to be a one stall barn in an adjacent property that had been vacant for years. My mom and I spoke to the owner and worked out an agreement where we could use it. We spent weeks cleaning it out and getting it ready for the best summer of my life! Dancer was her name and she arrived late one evening. Although I promised my parents I wouldn’t ride her that first night, I just couldn’t wait. I woke my brother up around three in the morning and dragged him to the paddock with me.

I had to ask him to give me a leg up, as I didn’t even put a saddle or bridle on and there was only the moonlight to see by. Hindsight, this was not a good decision but I sure did have fun galloping free around that pasture until I fell off. Promising my brother to never tell a soul, we snuck back inside and I went for my “first” ride the next day, supervised and with a saddle. 😉 I spent every day of that summer cleaning her stall and water buckets, feeding, grooming and riding my heart’s desires out. As much as I knew it was only for a summer, it was still devastating when my parents said we couldn’t buy her and she was sold to someone else that fall.

I soon found a hunter/jumper barn, Dublin Farms Ltd, that was significant in creating a foundation for my learning. My trainer was Boo Gonzolaz- Founder of the Missouri Hunter Jumper Organization (MOHJO). Boo trained under and taught the principles of Gordon Wright (known as the “founding father” of hunter-seat horsemanship and author of many equestrian books; including ‘Learning to Ride, Hunt and Show’.) Under Boo’s tutelage, I began a journey of showing, leasing and owning horses, studying horsemanship, technical riding and pursuit of precision.

I trained with several other trainers as well and also participated in clinics with professionals George Morris, Linda Allen, Richard Shrake, Jeff Cook, Joe Fargis, Nick Novak, Mike Henaghan, Frank Madden, and Walter “Jimmy” Lee & Juliana Zunde.

I went on to graduate from William Woods University with a double degree in Equestrian Science and Business Administration. I studied multiple disciplines but specialized in hunter/jumper under the supervision of Linda McClaren. Other influential instructors included Gayle Lampe, Jean Kraus and Laura Ward. Specialized Course work included; horse show management, teaching techniques, veterinary medicine, equine anatomy and movement, farrier science, Horse Evaluation & Selection, Equine Nutrition, as well as advanced riding classes in multiple disciplines.

I’ve worked my way through the industry and learned so many things along the way. After graduating college, I dabbled in outside career paths (working as an executive assistant and managing restaurants) but always came back to horses. I’m forever blessed to have found my true passion so early in life and be able to fully encompass that into my lifestyle and career path.

Some of the highlights of my equestrian journey:

 – Volunteered at Equitana, Lexington KY, and Therapeutic Horsemanship, Columbia MO.

 – Coordinated as Head director for multiple summer camps at several barns- putting together itineraries, developing teaching strategies for all ages, and incorporating riding skills with core fundamental knowledge of horses and the industry.

 – Worked several summers for the St. Louis carriage company; driving Percherons and carriages along the Mississippi River riverfront, Lacledes Landing and throughout the downtown city, giving historic tours, handling and caring for the draft horses.

 – Judged as a Hunter Judge for several local schooling shows.

 – Managed a large Breeding farm- working with young horses, broodmares and show horses. Competing with the green horses at their first competitions and developing them through the levels.

 – Trained and managed at Ridgefield Arena. Taught over 100 students- daily lessons, taking students to away shows, overseeing care and training of horses, competed on sales horses, as well as clients horses in multiple levels of both hunter and jumper throughout the region, including the St. Louis National Equestrian Center, Bridlespur Hunt, Kentucky Horse Park and Irish Fox Series. Helping to develop and host series of A-rated charity shows, voted as the best horse show of the year by MHSA (Missouri Horse Show Association) for multiple years in a row.

 -Worked under the Tredennick family at Wood Run Farm and operated the Colorado boarding and training location. I spent my time overseeing the facilities, rehabbing injured horses, handling babies, hosting bi-yearly shows, as well as clinics. I set up charity events with donations being made to Harmony Equine Center, Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance, Dumb Friends League, Promise Ranch Therapeutic Riding, USEF Equine Disaster Relief fund, as well as the DE Task Force. Wood Run Farm was ranked the #1 boarding facility 2013 Castle Rock Awards.

I opened Little Raven Ranch four years ago for Denise O’Leary, practically from the ground up. Developing the business from start to finish- including all business plans, purchases of machinery/equipment/footing, hiring and training of employees, assisting in web site design, developing strategies for marketing and financials. This has been the biggest learning experience of my career and continues to be the most rewarding as well. I’ve been able to create a business that encompasses the high standards of care, the unique atmosphere of an organization I believe in.

I’ve been able to combine the aspects of my Business degree and Equestrian Science degree and I’m able to have an influence in all the facets of the business- the financial portion (reconciling, invoicing, monthly reports, payroll, Quickbook entries, budget, etc), the day to day operations (hiring, training, customer relations, projects, vendor choices, social media updates, organizing events) as well as the equine portion (riding, training, teaching lessons, caring for the horses, working closely with the vet and farrier on their needs, and handling each horse on a daily basis). Being able to diversify my position as a whole has kept me busy, but happily so! I love that every day is something new. I’m extremely satisfied with the company as a whole, the support it gives to those in need and the encouragement it provides to all ages of horse lovers.

I always go back to stay grateful that I was able to find this passion so early in life and believe in it. I know so many people that search their whole life to find something they can make a career of, and all too often they settle for a job they don’t enjoy. For me to go into college knowing what my major would be, to follow through along that course and end up in a job I love is the ultimate gratification.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
As a barn manager, it just never ends… there are holidays and late nights, sick horses, cold miserable days, equipment that breaks, employees that call off….work that’s ALWAYS there. It’s difficult because it’s never a normal ‘job’… there’s no snow days, or ‘weekends off’… the horses still need to get fed and taken care of. The stress level is high, especially at a show barn level and the needs that have to be met, not only by the horses but the clients as well. Decisions that get questioned, feeling like you can’t please everyone, frustration and underappreciation, are all struggles that I’ve faced throughout the years.

Most recently, it has been balancing work and family life with two young children. There’s a saying: “We expect women to work as if they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work”. For myself, in a position to run the business successfully, I want to be there 24/7 and vice versa for my children. It’s definitely taken some time to find a good balance between the two and I think I’m finally there now. When I’m at the barn, I’m committed 100% and as involved as I can be – whether that’s training a new employee, dragging the arenas, getting hay analysis’ pulled, teaching lessons, reconciling the accounting, communicating with the vet or putting on a show, I truly give it all my focus. Then, I take time for myself and family. I have employees that I trust and an operation that, over the years, has become a well-oiled machine. I don’t feel as guilty for taking a day off, or an early afternoon to spend with the family. It’s not something I could do in the early stages when we first opened the facility, but with time and hard work, the business has developed so that I can.

The horses make the work enjoyable. They have an innate talent to read emotions, an honest character, a gentle soul. There is nothing more peaceful than to take a moment and just enjoy them. I often have to remind myself of that… especially when the days get busy, stress levels are high and the to-do list keeps extending itself. To pause, breathe, and just be with the horses. To remind myself of why I’m here and why I do what I do.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Little Raven Ranch – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Little Raven Ranch is a large hunter/jumper horse boarding and training operation south of Denver. Little Raven Ranch has created a unique brand for itself in the equine industry. Boasting a beautiful and well-cared for the facility, we have developed a system of care for the horses and boarders that sets us apart from others. Our attention to detail, safety, and consistency sets us apart from other boarding operations and we run our business with a waitlist to get in. Education and experience are key values.

All of our staff already comes into our employment with horse experience from all aspects of the equine world. We make sure they have vast handling awareness and we continue to educate them regarding the health, nutrition, and care of the horse and allow them vet and farrier exposure regarding medications, care, lameness education, etc. Over the years, we have developed a process of caring for the horses and educating the owners as well.

Routinely we invite a fire inspector/ risk reduction specialist to our farm to walk through the property and give advice on emergencies, as well as review our emergency evacuation plan. We have had opportunities for clients to sit with Boehringer Ingelheim reps (an innovative vaccine and pharmaceutical company) vets, Purina Feed experts, saddle fitters and brand inspectors, among others, in order to provide expert training and information. Myself, as the barn manager, continues to further my education by attending animal emergency clinics, trailering clinics, vet lectures, and volunteering with the Douglas County Office of Emergency management.

We have trainers who operate out of Little Raven who take the clients and horses to shows across the country, and the ribbons and awards speak for themselves. Our riders and horses are extremely competitive and are known for winning the biggest of classes. Additionally, we host multiple out of state clinicians every year to continue training. Little Raven organizes on-site shows for the horses and riders to compete in. Our 2019 Little Raven Ranch Charity Show was able to raise thousands of dollars and awareness for multiple charities (Happy Dog Ranch and Hope Through Horses) with our silent auction, donations, class proceeds and concession sales. We invited the community to join us for the day and offered them free vendor sites to display their local goods and businesses. We provided barn tours, explaining about the horses and their care. Our ultimate goal by providing education as well as bringing the neighborhood together for good causes. We host multiple other events throughout the year for our clients as well, seeking to provide a sense of family with a shared vision.

Little Raven Ranch recently received the “2019 Best of Littleton Horse Boarding” award.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Little Raven strives for creating a positive atmosphere, a place for all ages to learn, and a professional environment. We have developed a reputation for the great care of the horses and safety measures for both the equines and riders. We aim to not only continue what we are doing but to implement ideas to make our business model even more successful. By setting our standards high, we can hold ourselves accountable to be only the best. Continuing the ongoing education for staff, clients and community, becoming a spokesperson for the treatment of equines and all animals, maintaining public relations, helping neighboring businesses and supporting charitable efforts. These are the ambitions and objectives of 2020 and the years to follow.


  • Stall Boarding $900
  • Outside boarding with shelter $600

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Elizabeth Lord Photography
Gabs Brown Photograpy
Jessie Thalman
Noah Sohn
Jessica Kinkelaar

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