story by Kathy Steebs photos by HEIDI HODGES
What began as a small pony ring in Egg Harbor—a summer tourist attraction for kids—eventually expanded to include several horses and trail rides for riders of all ages, year ’round.
By 1966, the business was growing, so the elder Kurtz moved the corral to the family farm on County Road T, closer to Jacksonport. At the farm, they could offer scenic trail rides through wooded areas, as well as buggy and chariot rides.
As Jimmy Kurtz grew older, he began taking on a larger role in the corral, eventually becoming a business partner with his grandfather instead of just an employee. “Grandpa had always given me horses as payment,” said Kurtz, “and every time my horses had babies, my stake in the partnership grew.”
Unlike his grandfather, an inveterate horse trader, Kurtz did not find it so easy to part with his. “I’m not much of a trader,” he explained, “To me horses are like big Labrador puppies who you can’t help falling in love with—they became my friends.”
By 1972, Jimmy Kurtz had taken over the business completely, and in 1976, his grandfather died. A few years later, the corral was moved a mile away to its current location off County I, four miles east of Carlsville, on land that was originally the homestead of his maternal great-grandfather.
Times have changed, and so has the corral business. “It’s definitely a challenging market,” said Kurtz, “When Grandpa started out, there were 16 other stables in the area—now it is just us.” He also noted that it takes a special kind of temperament for a person to choose horseback riding as a vacation activity in the first place, so the market is a bit limited.
Kurtz offers rides for every level of experience—from 20-minute arena rides for the novice to longer trail rides for the advanced rider. Kurtz Corral has 500 acres of trails on and off property—including a wine tour ride which makes a stop at nearby Simon Creek Winery.
With young, first-time riders, Kurtz spends a good amount of time encouraging the rider to bond with the horse—giving the horse treats and going on a test ride to make sure horse and rider are a good fit. “It’s a bit like matching up contestants on Dancing with the Stars,” said Kurtz with a laugh. “When the horse is happy and the rider is confident, it becomes a perfect match.”
Kurtz’s hands-on approach and ability to match a rider’s temperament with the right horse, as well as his emphasis on safety—every rider has to watch a five-point safety video before riding—has earned him high praise from customers on his website.
According to Kurtz, the secret to his success lies with his customers, who want more out of their vacation than visiting shops or lying on the beach. “My customers want a different vacation experience—one-on-one with a horse is what makes lifetime memories.”
Kurtz Corral is located off County I, four miles east of Carlsville at 5712 Howard Lane. www.kurtzcorral.com, 920-743-6742