Guest ranches - an insight from the inside at Tod Mountain Ranch!
Top50 Ranches gives you an insight as to what it’s like owning and running Tod Mountain Ranch!
Owner/Manager: Tracey O'Connell
Ranch: Tod Mountain Ranch - British Colombia, Canada
What's the most important thing you have that brings guests back year after year?
We remain true to what we are and deliver what we say we're going to deliver. The most important thing for our guests is that they get involved with all aspects of the horse - catching, grooming, saddling, turnout, doctoring, etc. They get to see our vet and farrier at work, and are able to talk to them and ask questions. They work right alongside our wranglers and then get to sit next to them at dinner; they feel involved and a part of the ranch operation - more than just a guest.
Where do you see our industry going in 3 years, 7 years and 20 years?
I think ranches and horseback riding vacations can endure the next 20 years but only if it's acknowledged that people are looking for more from their vacation. Travel will become even easier, and people will travel further and have more options. They want to experience more than one thing and explore more than one place in the short time they have. I think we will continue to see people looking for shorter stays to experience the one thing that ranch is great at before moving on to another nearby location for the next experience.
If you could invest a million dollars into your ranch, where would you put it and why?
I would buy the adjoining property so that I could make the ranch almost completely self-sufficient. Having the extra land would allow me to keep a small herd of cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens for our own use, and I would be able to plant that vegetable garden I've always wanted - we would produce as much food on the farm as possible. It would also provide additional grazing/hay land so although it would be more work, we would be able to grow our own hay and not have to buy it in. It would also open up access to more crown land so there would be more trails for guests to explore.
I would also build a new barn and an indoor arena - it would give us more options to have clinics and perhaps allow us to extend our season a bit, attracting a different type of guest in the winter months.
And then there is the never-ending list of things that I would love to do - improve the landscaping around the lodge and cabins, replace the fencing in the north end of the property, build a new hay shed at the south end of the property... but I think I might need more than a million to do all that!
Do you have a funny/odd/crazy story or anecdote from a ranch vacationer, or from your own experience?
A ranch vacation can open people up to new things in such small ways. Last summer we had a young couple come for a few days - a birthday gift to the lady from her fiance. It was clear from the outset that he was here under duress and had no real intention of enjoying it, but she was super-excited to be here - she didn't know she was coming to the ranch until they got to the gate.
When we talked to them at dinner about what they wanted to do the next day, the guy reluctantly agreed to go riding in the morning but would then not ride in the afternoon - he said he hated horses and thought riding was boring, he liked more active things to do. The girl wanted to ride as much as possible.
The following morning after breakfast, the girl headed straight to the barn with the wranglers to get the horses ready, and the guy stayed in the lodge with his ipad and yet another cup of coffee. He only went to the barn at the last minute to join the orientation and go out on the ride, and once mounted, it was clear to me that he was scared. So I rode alongside him for a bit, talking to him about what he does, what he likes to do for fun, etc, and gave him some encouraging tips. Soon, he was so busy talking about things that he forgot to be scared.
Stopping at a clearing, he turned his horse towards his girlfriend and suddenly he realised that he got the horse to do what he wanted - it was only a very small thing, but I could see that he was very proud of himself.
Riding on, he was silent but with a little smile on his face, and I watched him move away from the group a little bit, turning his horse to the left and stopping, then turning to the right and stopping, then walking back to the group. He didn't know I was watching him. Then, talking to him later, he said he'd changed his mind and he'd like to ride again in the afternoon. So after lunch, we head out again.
By the end of the ride, he'd tried a lope and even wanted to groom his horse, all the while patting, whispering to and hugging him, with a big grin on his face. After turning the horse out, he walked silently back to the ranch and sat on the deck with a beer, just staring out at the horses in the pasture.
The next morning, before breakfast, I found him in the pasture with the horses and for the next two days, he didn't leave the barn, even helping other guests get their horses ready! When he left the ranch at the end of his stay, there were tears in his eyes and he told us it was the best vacation ever.
Witnessing that change in people, seeing them suddenly bond with their horse and enjoying something they never knew they would, is why I do what I do.