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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Arrive a city slicker, leave a cowpoke

Courtesy Texas Life Ranch

Like corporations that take staff to Hawaii and never let them leave the conference center, there are groups that go to guest ranches and never get their boots dusty.

“It annoys us when they bring meetings here and don’t take advantage of the ranch and sit in a meeting room for 16 hours a day,” said Nicholas Gold, acting general manager of Tanque Verde Ranch near Tucson, Ariz. “We’ve had a couple that have done that.”

Susan Jessup, owner of Sylvan Dale Ranch near Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, has seen the same and offers this solution. She and her staff encourage hard-working groups to take an afternoon off to ride horses or hike and then have their meetings at night.

After all, she said, the ranch “isn’t exactly a nightlife place, it is more a day-time place.”

Those who do want to strap on their spurs for a day or two will get full cooperation at guest ranches. Most have long lists of available activities; small and flexible as they are, most ranches will even come up with new activities at a client’s request.

Here are a few examples of activities at Texas Life Ranch, an hour from Houston near Bellville, Texas.
Owners Taunia and John Elick are well qualified to teach ranch skills. The pair of lawyers used to compete in rodeos; Taunia describes John as “one of the cowboys that they aren’t making anymore,” the kind of guy who talks as lovingly about his horses as his daughters.

• Groups can brand a calf, throw a tomahawk, crack a bullwhip, drive cattle or twirl a lasso. “We try to do things that are authentic to the ranch,” she said.

• As it turns out, ranching isn’t as easy as the boys on Bonanza sometimes make it look. “Everyone loves practicing roping,” said Taunia Elick. “It is one of those things that you try once or twice and you get a little hooked on trying to perfect it, because it is not easy. Some people almost tie themselves up trying to rope something.”

• Another ranch skill that proves to be more difficult than it appears is branding. “It is not easy to make a pretty brand,” said Elick. The ranch’s cowboys show city slickers how to rock the branding iron back and forth on a piece of leather; as they work the cowboys also explain the history of branding and the important part brands play on ranches today as certificates of title for ranchers’ four-legged possessions.

• For building camaraderie, there’s nothing like team penning. It challenges groups to pen a certain number of setters and heifers in separate pens.

“For someone who is a rookie, it can be a challenge to ID the sex of the cow,” said Elick. “The most important part of penning is teamwork. These cows are scared, and you have to work as a team and be calm or you can get them scared and then someone or the animal can get hurt.”

• Of course, most popular of all are rides around the ranch. Texas Life Ranch keeps the group rides small, from six to 10, with a cowboy at the lead and one at the back, as riders mosey over 400 acres of pasture.