Ariel Roselle and Bri Richter driving our our Belgian horse team.

We’re happy to share with you not just our 10th Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award but the Greener Pastures initiative that has sought to rehome horses that are no longer able to live on The Ranch. Herd Supervisor Ariel Roselle and our Barn Team have steadfastly sought to ensure each horse retires with the happiest life possible.

Greener Pastures

by Ariel Roselle, Herd Supervisor

It is an early Friday morning in a break room full of peers, they are pouring large cups of coffee and murmuring about their weekend plans; our most tenured employees stand together quietly observing the up-and-coming staff, young and full of promise. A haze of nostalgia settles over the scene, “Do you think they will miss us when we retire, do you think they will wonder where we have gone?”

Tack room

The Ranch’s tack room for our 70 horse herd.

People often celebrate retirement with happy hours, beautifully frosted cakes and a lengthy line of well-wishes. Some retirees may even take a trip somewhere like The Ranch at Rock Creek to celebrate this milestone with their loved ones.

At The Ranch, we are lucky enough to celebrate annual retirements of our own. Every fall we say farewell to our oldest and most beloved four-legged friends. They too will enjoy a never-ending conveyor belt of sweet treats; lines of their closest and oldest friends coming to say farewell, along with thanks for the miles spent on the trail. They are thanked for the deep resounding lessons only the best horses can teach. Even the local vet who has known them through all their Ranch days takes the time to bid adieu before they climb onto the trailer and head south to warmer weather and simple living. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky?

Ariel driving the Belgians Big Jake and Casino for our Summer Breakfast Ride.

Greener Pastures, a horse retirement project, at The Ranch at Rock Creek, was born from one wrangler’s passion, an owner who encourages his team to innovate and a lot of support from the team along the way.

A Passion Project

I came to The Ranch at Rock Creek in 2017 and originally I only planned to stay for the summer. What was supposed to be a layover between academic and professional pursuits, quickly turned into what I considered to be my passion and career. After my first season, I found myself back in the saddle with more than trail rides and rodeos on my mind, it became evident that this is the kind of place that fosters ingenuity and welcomes the challenge of a new idea.

Ariel on Buckaroo on her third day working at The Ranch at Rock Creek.

With the support of leadership, I began taking an already great horse herd and making them truly excellent through a more holistic approach. We shifted our focus from vet care for injuries and ailments to preventive care. Additionally, we developed a performance nutrition plan and a more comprehensive vet program.

We looked at what each horse’s workload should look like and inevitably discussed the retirement of several horses. The first horses considered for retirement were some of the original horses to the property and were as instrumental in developing The Ranch as any of their two-legged co-workers. It was during the early season evaluations when the “Greener Pastures,” retirement through rescue program was born.

Our herd gathered for a “Meet the Horses” Valentine’s Day experience.

I knew we had to find them good homes and a soft place to land, but I also considered it would be impractical to try and find each of these horses’ homes privately. The natural solution was a rescue program where the horses could go to be further evaluated, and then placed into their new perfect forever family.

I began diligently researching rescues in our region to ensure they were reputable which resulted in partnerships with three excellent horse rescues. 1 Horse at a Time Draft Horse Rescue located here in Montana, The Horse Protection League, and Drifter’s Hearts of Hope, located in Colorado. When developing these partnerships, The Ranch recognized that taking in these animals is a lot of work, and to support every horse we rehome after retirement we donate $1,000 to help offset care costs until they reach their new family.

1 Horse at a Time Draft Horse Rescue

Located close to The Ranch in Corvallis, Montana is 1Horse at a Time Draft Horse Rescue, founded by Jasmin Shinn. In the late summer of 2020, The Ranch sent 1Horse our first working team, Crown and Coke lovingly known as the “girls”. The girls were almost immediately adopted, and we knew this was the beginning of a wonderful partnership. We have since sent the rescue two more teams of draft horses, “Slim and Shady” and “Bob and Buster”, as they have reached their retirement.

Ariel with retired draft horses Bob and Buster.

We are continuously looking for ways to support these rescues and recently donated an all-inclusive two-night stay at The Ranch to 1Horse, which raised over $5,000 for this incredible organization. This kind of funding gives the rescuers we have partnered with the ability to provide each horse with continued high-quality care while also expanding their own community outreach. You can often find Jasmin Shinn, the President and founder of the 1Horse, taking one of the gentle giants to the local nursing homes for the residents to brush and enjoy.

Senior Wrangler Briana Richter riding former Ranch horse, Shady, with Jasmin Shinn, 1 Horse at a Time Draft Horse Rescue Founder and President.

The Horse Protection League

Tucked away in the Rockies of Colorado the other two rescues were chosen for their excellent reputations and community outreach initiatives. It was exciting to find organizations whose values aligned with The Ranch that were so near to where I was raised, just outside of Denver, Colorado.

The Horse Protection League in Golden, Colorado, is a prime example. HPL sits on a historic piece of land nestled in the suburbs and serves as a reminder of the state’s agricultural heritage. The Horse Protection League is dedicated to the protection of equines through education, community building and advocacy.

While some of my riding mentors have passed on, those that remain in the Denver Metro area are raising the next generation of horsewomen. Working alongside them is Margaret Blaha, the Ranch Director for The Horse Protection League. She is a longtime friend and now peer. For us to work together to participate in the development of youth has been a dream come true. When we send a horse that has taught me life lessons, my heart feels full knowing she uses them to teach the next generation.

Ariel riding on the “Red Team”. Red Team is the top preforming team of the world-famous youth riding organization the “Westernaires.” Ariel was a member of for over ten years and it was foundational to the success I have today.

The Horse Protection League has found forever homes for some of our guest favorite horses: “Snap” was one of The Ranch’s very first horses, he now provides comfort and companionship to a family high in the Rocky Mountains, and “Big Kahuna” works with the new volunteers at HPL, providing them a safe horse to learn how to handle, tie, groom and feed a horse. Sweet “Beau” is often featured in the rescue’s social media and greets every new horse at the rescue like he is their oldest friend.

Drifter’s Hearts of Hope

Located in Franktown, Colorado is Drifter’s Hearts of Hope which was founded in 2014. In 2017 they kicked off their program, The Annie Project. The goal of this program is to ensure that horses from guest ranches across the west have a place to call home when it is time to retire. This project was inspired by a little brown horse named, Annie, and has now grown to include over 15 guest ranches that participate in rehoming their horses through DHOH. The Ranch is proud to be a part of The Annie Project and trusts them with retirees like our beloved “Fridge” and “Oso,” but also those horses who may come to require advanced medical care out of our capabilities. Knowing we have a resource to call in challenging times like these has grown a strong relationship of shared passion and dedication found only through the love of the horse.

Drifter’s Class of 2022 look out over their new home- Fridge, Bart, Spud, and Rango.

The “Greener Pastures”project has been the most rewarding undertaking of my career. I am proud and eternally grateful to have had a hand in an initiative that will continue to grow and flourish as The Ranch grows and flourishes. My first memory in life is of a horse and every moment since has been filled with their power, lessons, love and magic. To work every day to bring a little bit of that magic to our guests is a privilege and to pay it all forward to the horse in his retirement is the ultimate wish come to life.

To embolden our efforts as we celebrate our 10th year as a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star ranch, we wanted to give back to these organizations and support our community with a  “Once-in-a-Lifetime Auction.” This auction raised over $16,500 for these horse rescues. When it’s time for each of our 70+ horses to “hang up their hat,” we want each of them to have a sunny patch of pasture and the respect of retirement that is indicative of the best guest ranch in the world.

Horses with saddles waiting for a trail ride

The Ranch at Rock Creek is an extremely special property full of passion and drive to create exceptional experiences for our employees, guests and community.  It is amazing to be part of a team that believes hospitality should extend beyond our property border.  We understand that our footprint is part of the legacy that we want to leave for the next generation, whether it is organizing a river or roadside cleanup, hosting blood drives, donating to the children’s community garden, sponsoring athletic or first responders events, it is all a part of doing our best to leave it better than we found it.  Sustainability does not just apply to what we do here on the property but beyond our fences too.

~ Linda Walser, Assistant General Manager

 Celebrating 10 Years as a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Ranch

We still remember the morning we got to announce our first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award. With just three years as a hotel under our belts, it seemed like the most incredible feat to be the world’s first five-star ranch. Now, we have the honor to announce that we’ve held that achievement for a decade. It’s not easy, but our homestead hospitality approach, means our staff is dedicated to hard work, pitching in to help and going the extra mile – all the same values we share as both a working ranch and an all-inclusive resort.

Achieving 5 stars is performing at the highest level of luxury hospitality. Take it to the next level and do it for 10 years straight is a testament to the dedication of this world class team that never relents and never gives up on pushing forward to provide the best guest experience possible. There is no single position on this Ranch that is greater or more important than any another, whether they interact with guests or are behind-the-scenes. I am so proud of all this team has accomplished. Not only is this team dedicated to the guest experience, but the dedication to the local community is inspiring.

~ Jeremy Belnap, General Manager

Our 2023 Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star team.

Throughout the past decade, we have made it our mission to be a force in the world of responsible hospitality. Our sustainability efforts to eliminate single-use plastics and reduce our footprint have had a positive impact on our ecosystem. Meanwhile, our desire to give back to our community’s healthcare, childcare, and environment programs has helped the community to be more sustainable.

Over the past ten years, we’ve helped the Granite County Medical Foundation raise over $250,000 toward local healthcare projects and we’ve given over $250,000 to support organizations like Trout Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Montana Natural History Center, Five Valleys Land Trust and over $100,000 to support other local organizations in Granite County. The money is complemented by countless hours of volunteer work our staff does as board members, coaches and community organizers that help give back to the local area that makes our success possible.