On Being a Dude Rancher

The other evening, while enjoying another wonderful meal prepared by Chef Philippe, one of our guests suggested that I write a book about my life on the ranch. We sat at our long tables and I told a few of the more entertaining stories that I could remember. It’s always a fun evening swapping tales over dessert. Though I have had many interesting, funny and sad, experiences, I’m not sure that I have enough material to make for much reading. However, I would like to share with you some of the aspects of being so fortunate to be a dude rancher.

Family
Though there are tough challenges working with your family at times, overall it is very satisfying working with your spouse and children creating a special hospitality environment. Joanie and I met at a dude ranch during our college years, and it turned out to be more than a summer romance. Casey and Laura grew up enjoying many of the great activities offered by the ranch, and later worked in all departments. I owe all of my family a big thank you for all their help in making me look good.

Partners
We are all very thankful that our partners, Steve and Ann Stranahan, are so dedicated to the ranch and the Elk River Valley.  Their hard work in establishing conservation easements to perserve this beautiful valley should be applauded.  It’s also nice to have a job where you look forward to the owners showing up. 

Staff
There is so much fun and so many great rewards putting together a team of individuals to produce a wonderful experience. Many of our past staff have moved on to new careers, and it is fun to hear about their new experiences. I hope that the day never comes that I utter the words “Kids these days”. It is so nice to work with youth that has the world wide open to them.

I feel lucky to have Clyde Nelson and Philippe Shapiro heading up our Colorado Relais and Chateaux quality cuisine, Talyer Cabalka and Karen Donoghue in the barn, and Randy Hart in maintenance. Of course, we still have Selina Heintz managing the office.

Many people find it hard to believe that I find working with employees as rewarding, but it just must be the environment of a dude ranch that creates this. Our staff is what makes things happen.

Guests
I managed a hay and cattle operation for awhile. I have a degree in agriculture and thought that this was what I always wanted to do. Cattle aren’t very exciting. I am so fortunate to meet and visit with all types of people from all over the world. Every day I get to learn about a different profession, locale, or way of thinking. It’s like having the world come to Clark, Colorado. From the Botanical Gardens of Philadelphia to the Hubbell telescope in space, and everywhere between – it all gets discussed in our dining room, or on the front deck.
I can’t imagine what it’s like being a celebrity, as every trip I take I run into a guest of ours.

Horses and Horsemanship
Never in my early wildest dreams would I have ever thought that I would ride with some of the finest horsemen in the world. Never would I have thought that I would be starting colts and riding them within 2 hours and not have them buck. I have had a great ride through the world of horsemanship, and it continues. I first met Buck Brannaman 18 years ago and thought it was magic how he did things – he definitely had an impact on my horsemanship, as my earlier years were hardly done the same way. Since then, I have ridden with many other great horsemen and I’m grateful that I’m friends with Curt and Tammy Pate. Riding with the Pates is always enlightening and fun. I just wish that I was younger when I learned all this. I’m not sure starting colts at my age is a wise thing to be doing.

Fellow Dude Ranchers
My best friends are my competitors. We have such a close fellowship amongst us dude ranchers that you cannot believe. When someone outside our industry attends one of our conventions, they are always amazed at the camaraderie – heck we even share trade secrets. The backgrounds of my fellow dude ranchers are amazing. One raised his family in the Rain Forest of Ecuador where they used poison blow guns to kill their prey. Another dude rancher designed nuclear submarines for our military. These folks are all near and dear to my heart. Nothing beats having a cup of coffee with Rod Pringle.

The Land
Being a steward of the land is something I take great pride in. It is incredible the changes that can be made with the land if it is properly managed. I have hooked up with a bunch of farmers and ranchers that practice Holistic Resource Management. It’s great. We compare notes and take tours of each others’ successes and mistakes. Like natural horsemanship, taking a different look at management and thinking a little differently can produce amazing results. It is unfortunate that groups that claim to be environmentalists have so much power in the government. Here in Colorado, we are going to have a nice fire in the next ten years due to the pine beetle infestation. This could have been prevented with proper logging techniques, but thanks to the Sierra Club, logging was halted. I hope that we can work these differences out in the future to create a better planet.

New Experiences
When running a dude ranch, as well as anything else I suppose, there is a fine line between new experiences and having the same old comfy one. The slightest change can mean disaster. The past few years we have brought in some new experiences that have worked well here at the Ranch. Our first was our management training with Conversant out of Boulder. We have had over 100 people go through this course, and the results are amazing. For our part, we are so impressed at how these folks that haven’t touched a horse, end up team penning like old pros.

Our other new program is our yoga and horsemanship with Tammy Pate and Janice Baxter. This is a lot of fun. The women that have participated have all had the time of their life. Tammy and Janice are so good that the women reported to me that it was truly a life changing experience.

Hard Work and Fun
Yes, the days here at the Home Ranch are long, but they are fun. It is nice to operate in an environment where you are outdoors a lot. In the summer, I get to go riding as a part of my job. In the winter, I get to ski. Not a bad deal, and I don’t spend a minute in rush hour traffic. The other day, we were talking to some folks about the internet and they were talking about trying to keep up with the pace of things. That got me thinking. I shoe a horse differently than I did ten years ago and its better. But if I had to, I could go back to the old way and it would work. I can’t fathom coming to work every day and having everything move so fast that it was completely different in six months, and you couldn’t go back.

We’re glad there are dude ranches.

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