At Wildwood Hills, runners go whole hog to help horse camp

During the Wild Boar Challenge, runners get down and dirty for a good cause. Photo: Wildwood Hills Ranch

By Steve Dinnen

Most people donate to charity by tucking a check into an envelope. Others prefer to slog through mud pits, haul logs and hopscotch through truck tires in the Wild Boar Challenge that raises money for Wildwood Hills Ranch of Iowa.

This year, hundreds are expected to head for the hills near St. Charles to run the muddy 5-mile obstacle course on Sept. 30, and registration is still open. The fee is $75 through Saturday or $80 starting Sunday — or more, if you’re in a giving mood — and includes some swag from sponsors as well as a post-race shower operated by the fine folks from Tommy’s Express Car Wash.

“A hundred percent of the proceeds go to kids,” said Matt Moeckl, executive director at Wildwood Hills.

The “kids” in this case are disadvantaged young people from across Iowa to the Madison County ranch to ride horses, learn life skills and sharpen their leadership skills in a faith-based program. Most of the camps take place in the summer, but there are monthly retreats for teenagers, and a horse-mounted drill team practices year-round. As participants grow up, their activities shift from “being served” to “serving,” Moeckl said, so they can practice how to “show up on time and work hard.”

Basically, Wildwood Hills Ranch welcomes children who have been stuck in a cycle of poverty, abuse and neglect and then helps lift them out of it.

Every year, the ranch works with about 1,000 youngsters who have experienced some sort of trauma. More recently, the ranch has also helped veterans who’ve struggled through the trauma of war. Participants of all ages partake in “equine-assisted therapy,” which can include riding horses, grooming them or even just walking with them. Moeckl said horses have a gait that is similar to a human’s, and they can help injured veterans regain mobility.

But all of this takes money. The ranch spends about $1.7 million each year on its programs and staff, including several who work year-round. And, of course, the horses eat year-round, too. Proceeds from the previous Wild Boar Challenges have defrayed the costs of maintaining the site’s ATVs and refurbishing a water slide — which will be put to good use on the day of the run.

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