Tall in the saddle

The entrance of The Pine Ridge Dude Ranch. Photographs courtesy The Pine Ridge Dude Ranch.

It’s August and the kids are complaining they’re bored. 

“Dang!” you could say. “Stop all your caterwauling and bellyaching.” But before you start asking yourself what in tarnation there is left to do this summer, Mike Offner reckons you should head to Kerhonkson and relax like a dude. (He’s not talking about the surfin’ or Lebowski kind, he’s talking about the ranching kind.)

Offner is owner and former barn manager of The Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (formerly Pinegrove Ranch and Family Resort) in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Pine Ridge is an all-inclusive family owned and operated ranch with a dedicated following of dudes and dudettes who’ve been influential in saving their “home away from home” after its closing last September.

When previous owner, community stalwart David O’Halloran, died last summer, Offner (who had left his position as barn manager in 2012) led the charge to save the ranch where he’d been riding horses since the age of 7. “My relationship with the property is pretty special,” Offner says. “This is the first place I rode a horse.” The Valhalla native came with his family in 1987 and began working there in 1996. 

Offner’s lifelong attachment to the ranch reflects the experience of many longtime visitors. “The ranch was really loved by so many families,” he said. 

O’Halloran’s family struggled to keep the ranch open and, when it finally closed, the town was heartbroken. Surrounding businesses suffered from a drop of visitors. Longtime guests lost a piece of their history, the horses lost their home and workers lost their jobs. Offner knew he had to find a way.

“I always felt like I owned this place even as a kid, like it was my home,” he said.

Owner Mike Offner helped bring the ranch back from the brink.

He started a GoFundMe page upon learning the 34 beloved horses on the property were sent to auction. “That was very difficult for me,” he said. Saving the ranch involved a succession of dream-come-true moments that started with those horses. 

Offner’s “network” was able to buy 31 out of the 34 and bid the others up high enough so they would be sure to go to good families. Then they retired half of them up to Vermont. “We walked away very satisfied with the outcome,” he said. 

Another challenge he mounted was raising funds to purchase the 150-acre property. “Our chances of getting the ranch were slim to none,” he said. Eventually, two silent partners, former guests of the dude ranch, joined Offner. “We had to deal with the bank and there was a lot of debt on the property,” he said.

When they were finally able to break the news that the ranch had been saved, people were overwhelmed. It was a moment Offner will never forget.

Taking the reins as owners, they saved 100 jobs, 60 year-round and 40 seasonal. 

“In a rural area like this, (saving jobs) is critical for the town,” he said.  

Now he’s hoping to usher in a new day for a place that’s drawn repeat customers for more than 40 years. 

Pine Ridge Dude Ranch includes a 125-room main building that had fallen into disrepair. “This place is like a diamond in the rough,” he said. “It’s so versatile.” After taking over in January, the new ownership embarked on a $1 million renovation, including upgrades for the guest rooms and the lobby.

“It took us six weeks just to get heat in the lobby,” he said. Offner started with obvious fixes but then one upgrade led to another. 

Renovations will continue but with guests champing at the bit, the team launched a successful reopening on Memorial Day weekend.

“It’s an expensive place to try to have with nobody coming through the door,” he said.

With the hamlet of Kerhonkson located in the town of Rochester, 90 miles from New York City, you’ll be going from city slicker to country dude faster than you can say “yee-haw.” Two characteristics to expect are informality and family-style hospitality. “It’s a fun, safe, family environment,” Offner said. “The top comment we always get is how genuine and good our staff are.”

The fun starts as you mosey on by the carved wooden horses in the lobby over the horseshoe and kerchief patterned carpet and sidle up to the front desk where a cowboy hat-wearing employee waits in front of a big sign that reads “HOWDY.” 

If you’ve chosen an all-inclusive package (which includes three meals a day) proceed to your rooms with names like Montana, Dakota, Wyoming and Santa Fe. (Day passes can also be purchased.)

Guests can visit the new filly, Juniper, or try the BBQ, archery, campfires, hiking trails and fishing. There’s a bull named Kawasaki and, above all else, horses. “Everything’s focused around our horse program,” Offner said. Trail rides are tailored to everyone from beginning cowboys to advanced cowgirls. “In addition, we have private lessons,” he said.

Yellowbellies who prefer avoiding critters larger than their pets can go rock climbing, play laser tag and ride paddleboats. There’s an arcade and an indoor pool with twin waterslides, playgrounds and an outdoor bounce pillow.

 City slickers may prefer to hit the on-site Starbucks or the fitness center to get a massage then mount a saddle at the bar in the Bull Room nightclub. There’s also mini-golf, basketball, tennis, paddleball and bocce.

Before you vamoose, Offner suggests taking advantage of the social director who’s on hand to plan scavenger hunts, bingo and arts and crafts.

 “I’ve always lived my life to follow my passion,” he said. “This has always been a dream of mine since I was young.”

With his dream now realized, Offner can’t just rest and take it all in. “There’s so many levels I want to take it to,” he said. “Maybe it’s so surreal, it hasn’t hit me.”

He envisions eventual pumpkin patches, apple orchards and hosting weddings. There seems to be no limit but he’s been preparing for this his whole life. It’s something you learn early on a dude ranch.

If you climb in the saddle, be ready for the ride.

For more, visit pineridgeduderanch.com.

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