The view from Dunrovin: changing of the guard

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Danielle picks up the reins as manager of the Dunrovin Ranch, picking up where Jamie left off.

By SuzAnne M. Miller/for MISSOULA CURRENT

Yes, it is a bit chaotic at Dunrovin these days as long-time ranch manager Jamie departs and we ask Danielle to pick up the reins. Danielle has much to learn, and she is already at a full gallop. Her year with us as a wrangler, her degree in journalism and her experience supervising shift workers at a local brewery prepare her well for the many different tasks at hand.

Guest ranches have more than a few moving parts. Unlike many businesses that can close the doors and let everyone walk away, guest ranches are home to many large animals that require constant and consistent care, feeding, training and exercising. Animals are hard on the property. They destroy fences and can ruin pastures. Barns, trucks and trailers, irrigation systems, tractors, chain saws, automobiles, and guest apartments all need maintenance and repairing. Summer camps and children’s programs need organizing and marketing. Weddings need to be serviced. Roads need to be graded, riding arenas fluffed, and gardens and orchards tended. It is relentless.

Life at a guest ranch is lived close to the land, the animals, and nature, susceptible to whatever forces are in play – the weather, the seasons, the time of day, the health of animals, the number of guests and their individual desires. Emergencies interrupt. Days rarely go exactly as planned. We’re a place of births and deaths, joys and sorrows, celebrations and memorials, forest fires and thunder storms, sunny days and beautiful sunsets. Guest ranch work is all encompassing and responsive; flexibility is essential. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual efforts are all required. And therein lies its attraction and its reward. It is exhilarating.

Danielle has all the right characteristics to be very successful. Physically strong and energetic, calm and thoughtful, smart and well organized, personable and generous of spirit, she has only the specifics to conquer. After a long talk about the business with Danielle in the truck as we drove our mare to the Ninemile Valley to be bred, I asked her to step up into the manager’s position, and gratefully, she said yes.

We have immediately set ourselves to making the transition. Jamie has been very generous in her departure, passing the baton gradually by giving us a couple weeks of part-time work instead a abruptly disappearing. It is clear that Danielle is embracing her new job full heartedly. Several remarks have revealed her tendency to be thinking about it during weekends and off hours, striving to comprehend all the various pieces and pulling them together in ways that suite her own perspectives.

As it turns out, we share a love of lists, check lists in particular. We have already begun to institute a greater emphasis on using check lists to ensure that all those many moving parts don’t walk off and that all of our employees are operating with the same set of priorities. This new emphasis belays the fact that Danielle inherits a different place than Jamie did. Jamie helped me build a strong foundation for a very new business, taking Dunrovin from a startup to a well established community enterprise. Danielle will help me build on that foundation to expand Dunrovin into new areas and transform us into a smooth, mature operation.

Danielle’s accepting the ranch manager’s position has made a huge difference in my reaction to Jamie’s departure. Instead of being totally dismayed and focusing on the loss, my eyes are turned to the future. I feel much like I did when I drove down the road after completing collage – confident that something good lies ahead and enjoying that in-between moment, when big changes take place and years of hard work begin to pay off as new opportunities rise to the surface. It is a time for choices, for evaluating old habits and leaving some behind, for walking through new doors and setting out for new horizons.

It may be a bit chaotic at Dunrovin right now, but it is the type of chaos that inspires creativity. Good things are defiantly ahead.

SuzAnne M. Miller is the owner of the Dunrovin Ranch in Lolo. Her column appears regularly in the Missoula Current. Visit her websites at www.DunrovinRanchMontana.com and www.DaysAtDunrovin.com.