The Rusty Spurr

image_pdfimage_print

The Rusty Spurr

by Stephen Pitalo

Lovers of music and horseback riding enjoy a unique experience just north of Breckinridge, Colorado, at The Rusty Spurr Ranch, where memorable horseback adventures have been going on for almost 20 years. Conveniently north of Breckenridge, the facility allows plenty of space for off-trail horseback riding, encouraging their guests to “Get Outta Line” and enjoy the connection between horse and rider.

“On any given morning, you can hear music in the corrals of Rusty Spurr varying from Chris Ledoux to Wu-Tang Clan to Rodrigo y Gabriela while the wranglers are grooming and saddling horses before guests arrive,” said Connie Smith, co-owner of Colorado’s Rusty Spurr Ranch. “They enjoy a wide variety of musical genres, and I definitely have a love of mountain musicians such as Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Scruggs and Flatt, and Dan Tyminski to name just a few.”

Bill and Linda Wellington started the ranch back in 2001 after managing a similar business that had closed. They believed soe horseback rides. name just a few.”

much in the idea that they decided to start their own business offering authentic cattle drives and non-single-file horseback rides. 

Han Smith had worked for them previously and was invited to be a part of the crew at their new location. They started from scratch, up at a remote mountain location, and built corrals, a tack shed, and a small off-grid guest building nestled in the aspens. The challenges to starting a business at a distant location in the mountains included learning how to operate off the grid, figuring out how to get the word out about the unique activities in the pre-internet pre-smart-phone world, and housing the dedicated crew that would be there daily from dawn until dusk.

“Old water springs were improved for the horses’ water source, propane lanterns and a generator were basic light and electricity, and two historic hand-built log cabins became rustic employee housing,” explained Smith, who runs the ranch with her husband Han Smith. “After putting in three years, the original owners decided to go in a different direction and sold the fledgling business in 2004 to my husband. I met him around the same time, and we embarked on this new journey together. We found that the remote location and unique activities would ultimately become a huge draw for visitors looking to experience the real West.”

“Old water springs were improved for the horses’ water source, propane lanterns and a generator were basic light and electricity, and two historic hand-built log cabins became rustic employee housing,” explained Smith, who runs the ranch with her husband Han Smith. “After putting in three years, the original owners decided to go in a different direction and sold the fledgling business in 2004 to my husband. I met him around the same time, and we embarked on this new journey together. We found that the remote location and unique activities would ultimately become a huge draw for visitors looking to experience the real West.”

At the beginning of last year, Han and Connie were just as unsure about their future as everyone else; they were entering uncharted territory. In an overabundance of caution, they hired less than half of their normal staff in case they were unable to open due to COVID restrictions or tourism took a sharp decline. However, after quarantine, many people that had the means wanted to get outside and enjoy safe, socially distanced activities. Crowded resorts and air travel were exchanged for RV’s and road trips. It turns out that horseback riding was a natural fit and the activities were booked out daily. The result was an incredible season, and both are thankful that they could provide an outlet that made people smile and laugh again while enjoying what inspires them every day.

Connie said that Colorado is the perfect location for Rusty Spurr because Colorado is the classic American destination with its Purple Mountain Majesties and historic cowboy culture.

“Colorado boasts over 300 days of sunshine per year and hosts close to 60 peaks rising above 14,000 feet so the weather and scenery are perfect for outdoor activities,” she explained. “The majesty of the rugged Rocky Mountains and the iconic Wild West has always been top attractions, whether in movies, books, or popular culture. In today’s world where many people are constantly distracted by technology, the mountains offer peace and a chance to slow down, to connect with nature again. Also, Colorado is fairly centrally located so it’s a popular road trip destination.

As for the horses, Connie’s experience tells her that most people don’t realize how lucky they are that horses let us ride them.

“Their size, strength, and speed make them capable of inflicting great harm on us,” she

elaborated, “yet many people take it for granted that anyone can get on a horse and ride like they do in the movies. This is simply not true. The horse must have a training background that instilled trust, kindness, consistency, and patience from their human partner in order for them to be comfortable letting just anyone climb on their back and tell them what to do. What one might consider a simple trail horse is actually an incredibly tolerant and talented animal that must have the right training and brain to be able to take out new riders of all abilities and ages every day and not get frustrated with the job while keeping them safe. I think people forget this when they complain about their horse being slow or not listening to them on the trail; they are not machines but rather complex creatures that need a partnership and understanding. When you connect with a horse on that level, there are no bad horses.”

Another forgotten yet important detail about our relationship with riding horses is that they do have a weight limit that they can comfortably carry. “If we consistently push beyond what they are built for, we are sacrificing the welfare of the animal and they will incur short term and long-term injuries. Understanding and respecting the horse and considering their welfare is our duty as their caretakers. In turn, they will share with you the free spirit and wild freedom that we love so much about them.”

Han and Connie Smith look forward to celebrating 20 years in business this 2021 season. As this is a family-run business, their young son Wyatt is learning the ropes and takes part in the daily ranch chores and activities alongside his parents. They plan to continue offering their award-winning horseback adventures to the public while keeping the guest experience intimate and memorable.

“The challenges of operating during a pandemic forced us to get creative with managing the business successfully,” Connie admitted.

“There were definitely some good ideas that came out of the necessity to operate differently that we otherwise may not have tried. Fortunately, horseback riding is naturally socially distanced and outdoors, so it has survived throughout the many mandates and restrictions that other businesses have struggled to survive with. Plus, horseback riding has remained one of the most popular vacation activities in Colorado as horses continue to captivate and inspire so many.”

Rusty Spurr has closed for the season but looks forward to reopening in mid-May.

The 20% Rule

A University of Minnesota article explains the “20 percent rule” that Rusty Spurr follows to the best of its capabilities:

“In 2008 at Ohio University, researchers evaluated the impact of rider and tack weight. They monitored horses for heart rate, breathing rate, rectal temperature, and loin muscle condition when carrying loads of 15, 20, 25, and 35 percent of their body weight. The researchers found that an average adult light riding horse could comfortably carry about 20 percent of their ideal body weight. This result agrees with the value recommended by the Certified Horsemanship Association and the U.S. Cavalry Manuals of Horse Management published in 1920.”