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JD Outfitters Working

Debbie and John Schrock and their dog Ryder, the new
owners of the horse concession at Sun Mountain Lodge.

John and Debbie Schrock are a couple of the most likeable, hardest working people you could ever hope to meet. They also are JD Outfitters, the new owner/operators of the horseback riding program at Sun Mountain Lodge. And this is how their story starts: They both grew up in the country, where work and learning new skills is a way of life.

John, the understated one of the pair, grew up in a family that followed economic opportunity from Idaho to Montana to Virginia to the hills outside Chewelah, Wash., where he spent most of his growing up years learning any skill he could. He started welding at age 11. He has been a farm worker and ranch hand, a construction framer and a timber industry worker who drove heavy equipment and helped build roads. He then decided to get in two years driving a logging truck because potential employers “always want two years experience.” He’s the son of a diesel mechanic and like his dad can fix pretty much anything. Oh, and did we mention he enrolled in the farrier’s training program at Walla Walla Community College and at age 29 has a thriving horse shoeing business in eastern Washington?

He’d been thinking about going to shoeing school when he “kinda took an interest in this girl down there” in Ellensburg and started driving back and forth to see her. (As we said, John is the understated one.) There weren’t many trees around Ellensburg to keep a logging truck driver employed but there were plenty of horses that needed shoes -- and a shortage of farriers.

Of course that “girl” was Debbie, a red-headed, effervescent dynamo a couple of years his senior, who was working at Kelley Mills’ horse rehabilitation center in Ellensburg when she agreed to go on a blind date with John. Six months later he proposed, and in June 2009 they had a large and proper cowboy wedding with John’s dog Ryder as ring bearer.

Debbie mostly grew up around Colville although she started life in Oregon and spent a year in Alaska and a bit of time in Mexico. Her dad was a logger for years, “a really good tree feller until he was injured,” and her mom a waitress. “She was good at it and with tips, it paid well.” Their four girls were home-schooled. Instead of attending public high school, Debbie received her diploma at age15 after taking the General Educational Development (GED) exams. She started community college before her 16th birthday and soon had her two-year associate degree.

She had worked in a vet’s office and was considering pre-vet studies. But she also had been in 4-H and one of her 4-H friends told her about a job at Camp Orkila on Orcas Island in the summer of 1999. She loved working with the kids and the camp’s horses – supplied by Claude Miller of Winthrop. That summer changed her life.

The next year Debbie, nicknamed Red, started working for Miller and Kit McLean Cramer, horse operations manager at Sun Mountain Lodge. Debbie put in three full-time seasons wrangling at Sun Mountain. Then she did “a little bit of everything,” meaning she spent the off season tending horses and working as a ranch hand in Malaga, where Miller was wintering his herd. She soon had experience breaking and riding colts and the opportunity to do some packing and cooking. One year she packed hunters into the hills.

By the fall of 2004, she was living in Ellensburg and attending Central Washington State University. But those hills and horses continued to call to her, as did her passion for learning new things, which is why she started working at the horse rehab center.

When Claude Miller called her last year wanting to know if they were interested in the Sun Mountain business, Debbie and John were married and living in a 5th wheel. They bought the trailer because they didn’t yet know where they would settle. She was training and rehabilitating horses and he was building his growing shoeing business.

“We came up [to Sun Mountain] last Labor Day and checked it out,” Debbie says. They went on a regular trail ride with Kit and some tourists. “I’m such a natural jabberbox; pretty soon I was talking to the riders,” she adds. John, who was finding Ellensburg too flat and windy with too much freeway noise, immediately liked the hills and the quiet.

The couple talked over the responsibilities and the work load involved in what Kit described to them as a “lifestyle,” not a business. They decided to go for it and took over this spring. “We feel like we have great support,” Debbie says. Kit stayed on to help through the transition. “She developed this program and kept it steady.”

They are buying the business from Miller, another great supporter. “I’m kinda his red-headed stepchild even if he doesn’t want to admit it,” Debbie says, grinning.

“We’re still figuring out how we want to make it [the horse program] our own but keep it like it is,” Debbie says. “Safety is our number one concern and customer service second. I’d like to say customer service is first, but we have to make safety number one.”

The Schrocks have 43 head of stock, including 25 saddle horses and 12 draft horses from Miller’s herd plus their own three horses and three mules. There have been no changes to the program of daily trail and private horseback rides, cowboy chuck wagon dinners and buckaroo breakfasts. However, John has tightened up and repainted all the wagons. And a couple of family work parties provided extra hands for mending some fence and reorganizing the stable.

There also is a new mascot on the premises – Ryder, the mellow 10-year-old border collie who started his life riding across John’s saddle until he was grown enough to be on the ground.

John is keeping his shoeing business. He works weekends at Sun Mountain and weekdays driving a circuit that takes him to clients in Wenatchee, Leavenworth and throughout the Columbia Basin. Debbie and her crew run the riding program, which continues through the end of October, then picks up again for winter sleigh rides.

And that 5th wheel? Well, it can be parked anywhere, so it is still home for a couple that might just be the valley’s most energetic newcomers.

For more information on horseback riding or the cowboy dinner and breakfast schedules, call the Sun Mountain Lodge activity center at 509-996-4735 or go to