Rusty Spurr Ranch celebrated its 20th year anniversary this summer! Rusty Spurr opened this May to provide premier horseback riding and cattle drives to guests. Guests can experience a slice of Western life, while also admiring views of the Continental Divide and Gore Range over the ears of their horse. Rusty Spurr also offers “Saddle and Paddle” excursions that combine a morning of riding with an afternoon rafting trip. The ranch’s closing day will be this Sunday, September 19th. If you haven’t taken a ride with Rusty Spurr yet, this weekend is your chance! Han Smith, who co-owns Rusty Spurr with his wife Connie Smith, answered our questions about the ranch and the experience customers can enjoy on horseback.
What inspired you to begin running Rusty Spurr Ranch?
Han: We were inspired by and remain committed to providing unique horse experiences for novice and experienced riders alike that are more than just a nose-to-tail experience. We continue to invest heavily in horses and staff to accomplish this. We wanted people to see the beauty of this area, but also to experience actually getting to ride and even work cattle. We’ve always felt this lifestyle is special and enjoy being able to share it with our visitors.
The business was opened in 2001 as a joint venture between the Culbreaths and Wellingtons. I came to help them set the business up
and work for them in that first year and the following two summers. I acquired the business in 2004 (the same year I and Connie met) and the Rusty Spurr became a tenant on that portion of Culbreath Ranches. Connie joined the business full-time when she moved to Kremmling in 2006, though she had been very helpful with the ranch in the previous two summers.
How does your ranch differ from the experience of other ranches in Colorado? Why should customers choose Rusty Spurr?
Riders seek us out and enjoy our activities for a number of reasons. They can spread out and ride without following the horse in front of them if they wish. They receive real instruction and personal attention from our wranglers so that they can actually succeed in this. Our wranglers are trained to deliver top-notch customer service. We select and assign horses to each guest on an individual basis before the ride goes out, based on information they provide in advance. We spend a lot of time selecting and working horses into our program to ensure that they will not only be safe for any rider but that they will also be responsive to any rider. We keep all our rides small and send them out one wrangler at a time, with the exception of large groups who are all together. No long chains of people with a wrangler on each end whom they can rarely see, let alone talk to. Here because our riders are spread out, the wranglers can “float” through the group and have meaningful interactions with each rider.
If customers join a cattle drive, they have a unique opportunity to participate in a real ranching tradition as they go out with our wranglers (and dogs) to ensure the cattle and grass are managed well. We are committed to being ambassadors for Western Agriculture and are proud to share this lifestyle with all of its beauty with our guests. But don’t take our word for it; look us up on TripAdvisor, Facebook, Google, etc. to see what others think of their experiences here.
Can you describe the rides you offer and why you branched out from the typical “nose-to-tail” trail rides?
We have always felt that most people are bored on nose-to-tail rides and have always wanted to offer our guests something that gave them more of an understanding of the connection that we have with our horses. While we typically don’t permit galloping, we still try to give our guests a taste of the freedom one feels when actually interacting with their horse and not just sitting on them like a passenger in a train car. We help them connect with their horse and that causes them to feel more connected with the entire experience.
Can you describe the cattle drives?
Haha! Not easily and not briefly. Were it not for the lessons we learned from the Culbreaths on how to manage the cattle and the land, and the Wellingtons on how to organize chaos and make it fun, we would not still be here.
Each day we take folks out on a cattle drive is unique. We think that’s what our guests enjoy the most (especially our many repeat clients); it’s neither planned nor make-believe. We make sure our movements always benefit the land and the cattle. We’re very careful not to get complacent and fall into routines.
We generally know where the cattle have been and where we want them to go. We make it all happen in a specific time frame without knowing who will be riding with us, weather impacts, or overnight activity. But ensuring that all participants stay safe, are successful, and feel that their participation was meaningful is the real trick.
We give some (at times pretty intense) riding instruction as we leave the corrals and head out to find cattle. Once we start seeing where things are, we plan on the fly on where we’ll go next. Then we start coaching on how to move cattle. The dogs are an immeasurable help as they can allow us to still gather/move cattle even when they’re in areas that aren’t appropriate to take our average guest (steep timber slopes, areas with old fencing, etc.) At the end of the day, we also step back and take a big picture view. As long as the cattle do well and the land is managed appropriately and protected, then all we have to do is provide a great experience!
What activities/amenities does the ranch offer?
We currently offer Cattle Drives, 2- and 3-hour trail rides, and the “Saddle & Paddle” in the mornings then 1- and 2-hour trail rides in the afternoon. The trail rides are available privately at a higher rate.
Where do your guests usually come from?
All over the nation and the world. The majority are visitors to Summit County, but we get plenty of folks visiting Grand County and Steamboat as well. In the shoulder seasons (spring and fall), we see a lot more visitors who are local to Front Range communities.
How long had Rusty Spurr been operating as a working ranch before it became open to customers?
The land that the Rusty Spurr operates on is currently owned by the Culbreath and Stark families. The Rusty Spurr is the name of our business that offers guided horseback riding and cattle drives to the public on land leased from the Culbreath and Stark families, as well as public land with a special use permit from the BLM. The Culbreath family has run cattle on this land for many years. Previous to their acquisition of it, this land was owned by the Orr family who also used it for ranching/stock raising, etc.
How many horses do you have and how large is the ranch?
We have 50 horses. We operate on approximately 10,000 acres. 80% of that is pubic land where we operate the cattle drives. We conduct the trail riding activities on the private land leased from the aforementioned parties.
Now that the 2021 season is winding to a close in a few days, how did this season compare to 2020? What do you expect for the 2022 season?
We count ourselves lucky as small business owners who have survived the uncertainty of the last two years/seasons. People were ready to get out and do something and the very nature of our activities (outdoor, well-spaced, individually accommodated) offered folks a truly safe outlet in the midst of the pandemic, so we are fortunate enough to still be here and in operation. We’re always hesitant to try to predict the future, but we are guardedly optimistic for 2022.
What employment opportunities and benefits are there for wranglers who might be interested in working at Rusty Spurr?
Since we are closed for the winter months, we won’t be actively seeking employees until January or February of 2022 to start in April
or May. We anticipate a pretty solid return rate for staff next year so we may only have one or two full-time positions to offer. Our wranglers must have a strong background in customer service and horsemanship. Ranch and/or equipment experience is a bonus. We also hope to find one or more motivated high schoolers looking to grow in these areas and to assist in the non-riding aspects of our business (greeting guests, prepping horses, etc.)
We offer competitive pay rates for all positions and a SIMPLE IRA for full-time employees. Wranglers are entitled to tips that are not pooled and onsite housing. We offer comprehensive training programs along with additional guidance as needed on an individual basis. All positions receive end-of-season bonuses as well. We treat our staff like family and are personally available to them 24/7.
A few words from longtime employee and office manager Patti Gagnon:
“I came here as a guest and fell in love with the way they treat their animals! Han and Connie are amazing people to work for. They jump in and help; it’s not like they are just the boss. I’ve worked here for six summers and do everything I can in the winters to come back in the summer!”
For those interested in booking an activity with Rusty Spurr, or learning more about what the ranch offers, please visit: rustyspurr.com