When my family first purchased the Brush Creek Ranch in 2009, my only knowledge of horses was the Hollywood visions I had gathered from movies like Dances With Wolves. I had no idea what it really felt like to be out riding under Wyoming’s tremendous skies. But in the past few years, after gaining more experience, I can say this: only on a horse–certainly not in a car, and not even on foot–can one begin to experience those feelings of independence and freedom that define the real American West.
Meet Shae Barkhurst, Maria Peschges, and Bailey Gornto, the cowgirls that make these experiences possible every day at the Brush Creek Ranch. With a mysterious knack for making people feel comfortable on a horse, these women teach our guests, levels beginner to advanced, how to really get to know the Wild West.
Lead Wrangler Shae Barkhurst leads guests on a trailride through the picturesque sagebrush valleys on Brush Creek Ranch.
When it comes to horseback riding, what sets Brush Creek apart from the competition?
Bailey: Brush Creek’s equestrian program is more advanced than the average guest ranch. We have wranglers who specialize in cutting, barrel racing, and roping. In a drastic change from the plod-along head-to-tail rides of other establishments, our trails allow for a variety of levels of riders to test their skills, from the basics tailored to beginners to advanced rides designed to test the rider and horse. These rides allow for riders to use horses that match their skill level, from spirited cow ponies to gentle trail horses. The rides we take at the BCR differ, from gentle, scenic 1-hour trails to the more challenging 3-hour or half-day rides (including my favorite, Jim’s Draw Trail). Water crossings and incredible scenery are what our riders remember most, not just the backside of the horse in front of them. We ride at different paces, cover a number of different terrains, see a variety of wildlife, and have a horse available to suit the personality of almost any rider that comes to enjoy everything that our horseback program has to offer.
Shae: My goal at Brush Creek is to make every guest feel like they are the only person for many miles, making it a special experience from the beginner, who has never touched a horse and is scared to no end, to the person who has ridden numerous times. I take the extra step whether it’s spending an extra hour with the person who is scared to death just to make them realize that every horse we have here is a gentle giant and that they can overcome any fear. I can make special events at the ranch even more special; for example, we do champagne toasts at sunset after riding to the highest peak on the property. We love when a small child can create a bond with Sally and Eeyore, our miniature horses, then take the next step of making a regular horse their friend for life. These are the moments why guests come back year after year. There is no doubt in my mind that we can make anything happen while having the utmost safety during all of the fun.
What are the different riding experiences that guests can experience?
Shae: We offer a large variety of experiences, and each one is individualized. There are no 2 experiences that are the same—I don’t believe in the cookie cutter model. There may be some that feel more comfortable with the head to tail experience at first but by the last day, you see them gaining confidence and pushing the envelope a little bit more, demonstrating the skills that they’ve learned during their stay. Each private lesson or private ride is designed with an ultimate goal of the guest gaining confidence in themselves that will carry over into other aspects of their life.
We have standard activities that I have changed some for the upcoming season. Rather than offering a 1 hour, 2 hour or 3 hour ride, we offer a beginner ride. This type of ride might start out in our indoor or outdoor arena, so we can get the rider more comfortable in a controlled environment. Once they’ve reached a certain comfort level, we’ll move them to a simple trail ride. I am very proud to say that we’ve had several guests who start out very scared, but by the time the ride is complete they are very comfortable.
We offer an intermediate ride this will accommodate the guest who has ridden maybe years ago but needs a refresher course. Our advanced rides are longer and faster-paced. All three options offer gorgeous views of the ranch and the surrounding snow-kissed peaks of the Snowy and Sierra Madre mountain ranges.
We offer cattle work: cattle drives where you move the cattle to various pastures for land grazing purposes. Other cattle events include cutting demonstrations—guests are given instruction and the time to practice those new skills. We are really lucky to have Bailey on our team—she has lived the cutting world for years from the training level to the top competition level. Other cattle related options are team penning or cattle sorting. We make teams of three and the team to pen or sort their designated animal in the least amount of time is the winner.
Our wrangler team has the talent and ability to offer private instruction in horsemanship, arena events, and general equine knowledge. Our team consists of a select group who each has a strong talent in various areas ranging from doctoring the animals on the range to arena events at the professional rodeo level. We are lucky to have such outstanding people on our Wrangler Team.
Top left: Bailey Gornto heads into her second year at BCR, Middle/Top Right: Maria Peschges, a skilled barrel racer who helps lead the team is going into her fourth season, and Bottom: Julie Nelson, a two year BCR wrangler in vet school, leads horses through the outdoor arena.
How do the wranglers handle guests with different ability levels? Will there be riding opportunities for me if I’m a beginner rider, or an expert? Do you customize the riding experience for each guest?
Shae: When I first have the chance to meet the guests I have a pretty good idea of their ability level. You can tell by the way they discuss their interest in the horses. I suggest what ride would be best for them, and see if this fits what they had in mind. This enables us to individualize the ride for each guest from young to old or beginner to experienced riders. The most important part, aside from making sure the guest is in a lesson that matches their ability level, is making sure that they experience the beauty of the 13,000 acres that the ranch offers. We have such a wide range of landscapes that are sometimes only accessible by horseback.
Tell me about your favorite trail ride on the ranch.
Maria: My favorite trail ride on ranch is our half-day ride. The ride consists of walking, trotting, loping, river crossings, jumping logs, seeing lots of wildlife, and climbing to the highest point on the ranch. We also pack a gourmet picnic lunch and stop at one of the yurts to enjoy lunch, alongside one of our crystal-clear ponds.
Describe the typical day of a wrangler.
Shae: The Wrangler team starts many days before the sun has come up and ends the day long after the sun has gone down. We are saddling in the dark. Some rides leave the arena at daylight to take in the amazing sunrises or get back at dark after taking in a sunset ride. If a ride is scheduled for 8:30 we start gathering horses from the pasture at 6:00 AM. We have long days with lots of footsteps involved. We generally saddle 30 plus head of horses during peak season, each being groomed and cared for individually. Then at the end of the day, you’ve got to unsaddle each of them and turn out for the night. We are okay with these long hours because we honestly love our horses and what we do. It’s a lot of hard work but so very rewarding.
How do you define a cowboy or cowgirl?
Bailey: A big hat and jingly spurs are not what make a cowboy or cowgirl. It’s the love of the land and the desire to preserve a way of life that most parts of the country have forgotten. The use of horses for work and pleasure, pushing cattle toward water and graze the old fashioned way, and the camaraderie that comes with knowing your coworkers will always have your back are what makes a cowboy or cowgirl.
Shae: A true cowboy or cowgirl is not the clothes, boots or hat you wear, but comes from within. You have to have the heart to put in the long days. You can’t be a cowboy/cowgirl for monetary gain but for the personal growth. We love the animals—we have compassion for them just as we do for people. They are not only a piece that is necessary for our livelihood but they are our friends.
Bailey crosses Brush Creek, followed by Maria and wranglers Brian and Brad.
What are some of your favorite memories from the Brush Creek Ranch?
Shae: The most touching and heartfelt memories for me so far at the ranch have been the dreams that we as wranglers get to make come true, particularly for the smaller children. Every little girl and some boys’ dreams of pretty horses or ponies growing up are able to become a reality with our help. Watching them the first time they ride, trying to be brave and not let anyone know that they really are not too sure about this furry friend they are making. By the end of the day, they kiss the horse on the nose, and I might shed a tear or two.
Maria: I love waking up before the sun rises to bring in the herd of horses and watching them run in the crisp morning. I’ll always remember: racing on the lanes of raked grass before they bale the hay, the constant jokes and pranks that continue through out the days between all staff, watching guests play with my black lab, Chongo, long rides after work with my boyfriend, and all-staff races…these are the things that make my summers complete!
Bailey: Since I’ve been at Brush Creek, I’ve had a number of amazing adventures. Everything from snowball fights in June to racing horses and getting in water fights with my fellow wranglers has been an experience worth repeating.
Stay tuned for more blogs featuring the BCR wrangling team and unique riding adventures at Brush Creek Ranch. Shae Barkhurst and the team are happy to chat with you anytime to help plan your dream equestrian adventure. Email: email@example.com
Corinne White has been a BCR employee since 2009 and loves being there so much that she would rather be on ranch than in Tahiti. She has been everything from a hay baler to guest concierge and is best known around the ranch for having a fleet of ranch dogs following her around. Currently residing in New York City, Corinne is working at an art auction house and learning how to cope with east coast skiing.