Special Accommodations Provided for Four-legged Travel Companions at Central Kansas Ranch Resorts
The Hilton®, Super 8® and Holiday Inn® are all recognizable motels and hotels for people. But is there a demand for horse motels? As two families accidentally found out there is quite a demand for an overnight accommodations for the hoofed members of the “family.”
Elaine Harder and her son Kelcey
Sun Rock Ranch Resort, about 15 miles outside of Junction City, is located in the Flint Hills just seven miles from the Smoky Hill River. Elaine Harder along with her son, Kelcey, his wife, Janel, and their daughter, Jordan, own and operate the resort. The house that stands on the property was originally built in 1877, but when Elaine bought it in the 1970’s, she added an upstairs and living/dining area.
“Horsemanship clinics were held out here in the early to mid 80s,” Kelcey says. “When all [the kids] grew up and moved out of the house, the upstairs was turned into boarding facilities for the people who came to the clinics.”
Four years ago, the Harders decided to turn the homestead into a bed and breakfast/guest ranch. Kelcey kept getting information through the mail and over the Internet about horse motels; a few people had already inquired about having horses overnight anyway, so they decided to try it. “I just paid a little money to get listed,” Kelcey says of their first listing was in OverNight Boarding Directory. It's kept the ranch busy since.
In addition to the 400 head of cattle and 600 acres of farm land, the Sun Rock Ranch Resort has more than 500 trail rides. The Resort boards about 25 horses a month during its busy season, which typically runs from March to November. “Word of mouth and the Internet is the main advertising,” Kelcey says, noting they also advertise in the local phone books and through the Junction City/Geary County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The resort offers eight heated box stalls with bedding and four outside stalls with running pens. They also offer an indoor riding arena and several miles of trails for the horse to get out and stretch. The owners of the horses have the option to stay in the B&B, set up camp, or hook up their RV/campers to the Sun Rock Ranch Resort electric and water outlets.
“It is surprising how busy we are during the traveling season,” Elaine says of the traffic at the resort. “I thought [the horse motel] would be an occasional thing, something that wouldn’t be [used much], but it is busy.”
They attribute their their steady business to their pet-friendly attitude. “We allow everything including dogs,” Kelcey says. That includes everything from the typical dogs and cats to llamas and mules. “We literally have caravans,” Elaine says.
Being situated near I-70 doesn’t hurt either. Although they admit most of their business is travelers from the East coast—as far as New York and Florida—and the West coast of California, they occasionally see someone from Oklahoma or Montana. “We have met some very interesting people,” Elaine says.
With all that goes on, the resort would not function without their four full-time employees: Leanna Coons, George Jury, Jerry Spenser and Hannah Wendland. That's not counting the work the family does (including 2-year old Jordan, whose job it is to feed the calves). “There is not a real job description for anyone, everyone just pitches in,” Kelcey says.
They are proud that the family business has evolved and continues to grow. “It is really neat that we get to keep [the ranch] in the family,” Elaine says. That might be source of the relaxed atmosphere. “People just don’t realize the quiet beauty of Kansas if they don’t get off the interstate.”
E BAR Z stables Dexter Eggers and Ann Zimmerman
Another horse motel is open just down the I-70 for the weary horse traveler. E BAR Z Stables sits just outside Salina. Owners Dexter Eggers and Ann Zimmerman stumbled into the horse motel business a little differently than the Sun Rock Ranch Resort.
“When we first moved here, a farrier came by to shoe some horses we board. He told us that ‘You guys need to be in the directory.’” Ann says. They looked at each other and asked what directory? The directory that the farrier was talking about was the Overnight Stabling Directory, one of several resources for overnight stays today.
At the time the husband and wife team were boarding horses from Salina as well as raising and training their own horses for reining competition. Their day jobs took them into Salina, where they are both lawyers.
Dexter grew-up around Bird City and was raised around horses his entire life. His family raised and sold ranch horses. Ann however knew nothing about horses. “I broke my collar bone and it put a cramp on my other job as a folk singer,” she says. She now is a stable hand that doesn’t ride. E BAR Z boards 12 horses for locals and can take on up to 20 horses for overnight stays.
The E BAR Z stables offer an 8-stall barn, six stalls of which have outdoor runs. They also offer 10 outdoor steel pens with shelters. In addition there is an indoor riding facility and several acres of trails to wander.
“We typically do 30 horses a week during the summer and have had as many as 18 in one night,” Dexter says of the business. Due to the large number of horses and their day jobs, E Bar Z has Laura Baxter and Zane Johnson as part-time employees to keep up with the day-to-day activities like feeding and exercising the horses.
The stables offer an electrical hookup (30 amp) for trailers and access to the bathroom and shower located in the barn’s office. “More and more people are staying in their trailers,” Ann says of their clients. Some decide to camp and others take the short trip to Salina to stay in a hotel.
“It is just the right drive from Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Denver,” Dexter says of the location. In addition to show horses, they have several customers that stop by from the southern states on their way to Little Britches Rodeos in Wyoming.
“We have had people from Canada to Mexico. Some are on hunting trips others are going to shows,” Ann says. In five years of business they have had their share of interesting experiences. A gentleman from Georgia had his handler and driver stop to rest “the string of ponies” on their way to polo competitions in Aspen, CO. A string of ponies is seven horses that are anything but Shetland ponies. “The polo pony is a thoroughbred type horse that could bring about $40,000 each,” Dexter says. “It is a very athletic horse.”
The motel has even housed a celebrity of sorts from the horse world. Their horse guest was on his way to Ohio to be a model for Breyer®, a collectible horse model company.
“It is real fun because you get to meet so many people,” Dexter said of the overnight guests.
Yes it is true. Horses no longer have to sit in a cold trailer overnight. They can have a padded floor and a heated room with their feed delivered to their stall, just like their owners can in a hotel room. Horse hotels can be found across the United States. Most of them, including Sun Rock Ranch Resort and E BAR Z, can be found via the Internet on sites like HorseMotel.com and HorseTrip.com.