By Jane Van Berkum on November 1st, 2014
Here in the southern Colorado Rockies we’ve been closed for the dude ranch season for just over a month. In that time we’ve shut down the grand old Lodge and all the cabins, said goodbye to our great staff, remodeled the last two cabins that needed living areas and fireplaces, pulled shoes and trimmed feet on the horse herd and done any number of things that need doing. Plus, David and I went on a quick trip to Connecticut and Tennessee to take in two weddings. So we’ve packed plenty into those 35 days, not to mention catching back up with our kids–school, athletics and Halloween have kept us all busy.
But for me the end of the season is always heralded by the moving of the 130 or so horses down to winter pasture. We gather them all in our corrals then run them about a mile down the road to the Forest Service pens where we load them into big trailers to make the hour trip down to the San Luis Valley. It is colder down there but there isn’t as much snow; we’ve boarded them with a good rancher friend for a number of years now and it is a wonderful symbiotic relationship.
This morning, my husband David and I saddled up and set out to gather the remuda under skies blue as only Colorado’s can be. There was a hard frost decorating each branch and twig and it was a brisk 18 degrees where we could see the horses’ breath and our hands were cold on the reins. It is quite a sight to see that many horses roar across the pasture, over the bridge and thunder into the corrals. We have a lovely team of black Percherons, Toby and Tess, and when they gallop, those giant feet move in a kind of equine poetry, side by side with Pinata and Liberty, our littlest members, born only this year. We have horses that have been with us upwards of fifteen years, and some we only just bought. We have paints, palominos, bays, grays and sorrels, mares, geldings, yearlings and weanlings–and we have years and years of miles and memories in those pounding hooves.
But we only have glorious adventures and moments like these because we are privileged enough to own a dude ranch. We live and love the western lifestyle, and the highlights are days like today. Or when someone we talked to at length on the phone and convinced to come experience the magic of a guest ranch vacation comes to us on Sunday morning with tears in their eyes and says this is the best vacation they and their family have ever had. Or when two truly outstanding individuals stand before God, family and friends on their wedding day in Granby, CT and later relate how they met when they were both staff at the ranch. Or when we watch our kids growing up in a totally unique environment.
These are the moments that make scrubbing toilets and making bread for the third time that day, fixing plumbing and washing dishes absolutely worth it. And it all comes back to the guests. We are, before anything else, a dude ranch. Our first priority always is offering guests a chance to come into our ranch home and gather a lifetime of memories from a riverbank or the back of a horse, from a dance floor or a hayride.
Thus, as I rode down the gravel road above the beautiful Conejos River in front of a hundred plus horses, all I could feel was gratitude to the people who seek out a western vacation and give me the opportunity to be exhilirated. To all of our guests, past and future, thank you. I owe you for another truly wonderful dude ranch day.