-HTCAA Changes Lives-

By Preston Bates of N Bar Ranch, New Mexico

In 1990 I had the chance to buy the ranch I had been working on. The owner lived out of state, it was a hand-me-down ranch from his family and wasn’t of much interest to him. I had a few years of sweat equity as a down payment, we got along well, and he saw I could do what I said I could do, so he owner financed it… Otherwise, a fella like me would never have a chance to get such a place.


I had been doing pack trips deep into the Gila Wilderness Area and guiding hunts for several years and this is what paid the mortgage for the first few years. I spent more time in the wilderness sleeping in a bedroll, than I did at home in a bed.


I loved taking folks in the wilds and showing them the country, teaching them some skills and seeing the wonder in their eyes. I didn’t grow up here, so I knew exactly how they were feeling, seeing it for the first time.


Often some of my pack trip clients would ask to do some cattle work with me for a day or two. Heck, having folks pay me to do my work was sure a lot easier than running pack strings!

The place came with 40 head of old but solid momma cows, and 2 bulls that I borrowed on. I bought six 12’x14’ wall tents and a 20’x30’ wall tent and some lumber. With help from some friends I set the tents on wood platforms, the smaller ones were for sleeping, the large one was for cooking and hanging out. The tents were set among Ponderosa Pines on a hill overlooking a secluded valley.


The next Spring, I advertised as a “Working Guest Ranch”, offering a real cowboy experience. Lots of places in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado were doing it but no place down here. I placed advertisements in small regional horse magazines and papers across the country. I couldn’t afford the big magazines.


It worked! The phone started ringing and we had 14 people that first summer.

Our guests had a good time; a few came back the next year and a few told some friends. The next year we had over 50 people and got hooked up with some tour outfits in Europe and things really started moving along.


People were loving what we were doing... real cattle work in amazing country, camping out with a chuck wagon and range teepees. It was the real deal.


I threw in with some neighbors who had low country and we ran our herds together; up high on my place during the summer and down low on theirs in the winter. I leased a ranch headquarters down there and continued the guest operation almost year-round, running about 700 mother cows.


In a few years we were having 450 guests a year come through. Our corrals now held 50 nice riding saddle horses. We had a stallion and a band of 25 good mares. We sold a lot of great horses to guests who rode them for a week and took them home. I employed four full-time hands and several college kids in the summer.


The trickledown economics from our operation was felt throughout the community - fuel, feed, food, parts, repairs, ranch supplies, everything was done locally.

In 2002 we leased a hay farm 3 hours from the ranch, more employees, more equipment, more hours added to already long days… And more debt.


Fixed monthly expenses were a couple grand over $20,000. Cash flowed in and cash flowed out, at the end of each month I still had the same two or three thousand in the bank. Never more and often less... My employees made much more than I did.


We were always on the edge of financial disaster.


In 2006 bookings dropped. I thought I needed to advertise more so I increased my ads in Western Horseman, American Cowboy and Horse and Rider, spending thousands a month on print advertising. Bookings still slipped.

I had a loyal base of clients who came every year and I started hearing from them that they couldn’t afford a trip this year - their business was slow too.


Most of our guests were married to a spouse who didn’t ride. So, a trip out here was “their trip”, an extra vacation other than the family vacation. The spouse was often off on “their trip”- a golf vacation or a week at the beach or some other interest.


When the family budget gets tight the extras go first, so we felt the recession coming on long before most people, but I failed to understand what was happening.


2007 bookings were down by 60% and horse sales were nonexistent. I had to lay off all our employees and fire-sale dozens of horses at auction.


Things didn’t get better... 


2008 bookings were so few that overhead was twice that of the guest income, so we were forced to stop with the guest operation. By the end of the year we were selling good producing cows to meet expenses, credit had dried up and the recession was really starting to roll.

I’m not an office person, I wasn’t keeping on top of things as I should have. My bank notes were being passed around from big bank to big bank like a bottle of Ripple on skid row.


Next thing I knew a bank I had never heard of, in Rhode Island, held my biggest note and I was months behind... and they wanted money. Yesterday.


When the dust settled the cattle were gone. The grazing land was gone. The hay farm was gone. Most of our private land was gone.


We were left with our 160-acre headquarters in the heart of the Gila National Forest which included 8 cabins, the old cookhouse, a few barns and a hand house. We also had a dozen horses left... and still plenty of debt to keep us motivated.

We started doing weeklong horseback excursion through the National Forest... 


Many of our old clients supported us and we got some new ones, but it was a very limited market we were targeting.


We only had guests about half the weeks we were open, losing money the other weeks.


I was able to keep some part time help employed and most of the bills paid, but it was tough.


In 2015 a woman called and asked if she could bring her own horse, stay in her trailer but use the corrals, cookhouse and shower house. We had nothing going on that week so – sure, why not...


She and two friends came, they had a great time and it was a good deal for us.


No driving 5 hours to the airport to pick people up, no spending hundreds of dollars on food and hours cooking it, and no waste.

"How can I find more people like those?" I wondered... People who traveled with their equines and would want to “Rent The Ranch”.


I had just recently joined Facebook and did a few group searches. Right away Horse Trails & Camping Across America (HTCAA) came up.


There were just a few hundred members at the time, but I got a good feeling about the group and liked the way it was managed.


I contacted the gal who started HTCAA, Shannon Schraufnagel, I told her about my situation and asked if I could post about my ranch in HTCAA. She told me to grab a handful of great photos that showed off our ranch and post about them every day...


I made a few posts and the response was immediate!

The next season, 2016, we had enough groups booked that half of our season were our regular all-inclusive weeklong rides and the other half was “Rent The Ranch” weeks.


The more we did, the more we learned, and the more I liked it.


I’m no young colt. I’ve spent the last 45 years working from my saddle and I needed to slow down. This seemed it just might be the ticket to be able to slow down, but still keep the ranch going...


The guests had a great time and in return, they posted their adventures on HTCAA - word got around so fast!

In 2017 we stopped doing our inclusive rides all together, and jut started booking “Rent The Ranch” weeks.


We starting taking reservations in November for the following season. Six months later on opening day in May 2018 we were booked for the entire season...


What a thrill! It had been years since we had a full season.


Being full when the season starts means we know what our income will be for the year. That peace of mind is not understandable unless you too have been on the edge.


(Also, in 2018 HTCAA opened up their official memberships to help support the organization of then 65,000+ Facebook members, which is now over 77,000 - I became an official Business Member of HTCAA as soon as I could. I think it was $120 to join… well worth it.)

2018 was another great year, with nearly all our business coming in as a result of HTCAA!


People posted photos and stories on HTCAA and they sure got around. Then people started calling and messaging to book a week for 2019, but I take things one year at a time, so I told them to contact me in November...


I opened the reservation book for 2019 on November 1st, 2018 at 7:00AM… The season was fully booked four hours later!


I would never have believed Facebook or HTCAA would have change our lives, but they sure did. There is no other way I could reach my specific group of potential customers. Printed advertising costs a bundle and is out of date, reaching only a very small portion of the riding world.


HTCAA reaches a huge majority of the traveling equine community.


And HTCAA has helped so many small businesses directly and indirectly... Just as an example, there is a small Horse Hotel in Roswell New Mexico about 7 hours from us. So many of our guests use them as a stop over to and from the N Bar that they are now full every weekend.


HTCAA is a group of good people sharing their favorite trails, and helping others find adventures with two and four legged friends, across this great country...


And all of this makes me smile. HTCAA (Shannon & Kelli, along with the HTCAA Posse) change lives every day.


HTCAA - Thanks so much for being there!

N Bar Ranch, NM

If you’d like to find out more about NBar Ranch in New Mexico check out their Facebook Page and Website!




Also, if you’d like to find out how to become an official Member of HTCAA or a Business Member of HTCAA check out our memberships  click JOIN in the upper right hand corner!


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