A MILITARY COUPLE CREATES LODGING FOR THE HORSES AND THE PEOPLE WHO CARE FOR THEM
Photography by Justin Lister
Families face obstacles and opportunities each time their work or family obligations require them to pack up and move across the country. And when members of a family include horses, the process of moving takes on special challenges. Such was the case for Wayne and Julie Darsow, who have created a horse and human hotel in the middle of Kansas to help others move across the nation with their horses.
Each time the U.S. Army transferred the Darsows from one location to another, including Maryland, Texas and Colorado, the family required special planning and accommodation to safely relocate their beloved horses. Most often, they would find separate facilities in which to board their horses overnight. After feeding and exercising the horses, the family would travel farther on to find human accommodations. In the morning, they would travel back to the stable, feed and exercise their horses, then load them back into the trailer for another day of travel.
“It was a long process just to get in a place overnight and back out the next morning. It took up a lot of time,” recalls Julie. “It was difficult finding a place on a main route and a place where people could stay, as well as horses.”
Occasionally, the family found places where both horses and owners could lodge together, but such places were few and far between. During their travels the family frequently discussed what an ideal horse and human lodging facility might look like. In their vision, such a facility would not replicate their experiences where a horse that had been in a trailer all day would then be transferred into “a little box stall” for the night.
When Wayne neared military retirement, the couple selected Fort Riley as their final duty station. Both grew up on Midwest farms (Wayne is from Minnesota and Julie is from South Dakota) and “wanted to be back here, in the Midwest.” The move would also give the family, which includes son Jacob, then age 12, the chance to realize their dream of opening a horse-and-human hotel.
While Julie and Jacob were still in Maryland, Wayne began searching for a location convenient for both horse and human travelers. Eventually, the family purchased a home and 17 acres of land along I-70 in Dickinson County. They added a barn, stables, parking, and landscaping before opening the Pretty-Horses Motel in 2002. Just outside of Chapman, the motel features two turn-out pens, eight runs with shelters, and two indoor stalls for horses. While Wayne completed his final deployment in Iraq (2005–2006), Julie and Jacob renovated the first floor of their house into a two-bedroom guest quarters for horse owners to enjoy some relaxing downtime with their horses nearby.
Guests feed and care for their own horses and are able to continue along their journey with both humans and horses well-rested. The Darsows take care of the rest. “Our job is to clean up the pens after guests leave and provide clean, sanitized feed and water containers,” says Julie. “I also sanitize the horse lodgings between appointments and check each horse’s health papers.
“We rarely have guests for more than one night. Most of our customers are people traveling with their horses,” Julie explains. “Our largest group of clientele are casual riders who are either passing through for trail riding events or to cross-country destinations. Our second largest group includes people moving across the country. We also have guests who are traveling to horse clinics across the country and snowbirds traveling between their winter and summer homes. We don’t see too many rodeo folks since they usually bring their own travel trailers and stay with their horses at local fairgrounds.”
The Darsows enjoy meeting people who care about horses as much as they do. Their guests have included Pat Parelli, a national horsemanship trainer from Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and Cindy Roher, owner/operator of Chariots for Hire on the East Coast. Rohrer transports large draft horses to competitions across the country, in which her children do vaulting on horseback. The Darsows have also hosted groups with polo ponies passing through for events in Denver and Aspen. While winter is their slow season, they typically host 8–10 guests per month during the summer. Occasionally, they host horseback hunters during the fall hunting season.
The horse hotel is only part of the Darsows’ lives. While helping Julie run the hotel, Wayne continues to work full-time as a public health nurse practitioner at Fort Riley, and Jacob studies biology at Kansas State. Recently the Darsows expanded their business to include long-term horse boarding. In order not to use up guest lodging spaces for boarding, they constructed a new barn, runs, a yard, turn-out pens and an arena.
The boarding stalls have brought in some new residents, such as the palomino paint Solar Cat and the buckskin Velvet Firefighter, who share the grassland and barn with Julie’s loud-colored paint, High Socks Sonny. It’s home for horses and for the humans who care for them—just as the Darsows intended.
HORSE LODGING IN KANSAS
(listings include Kansas locations with designated lodging for horses and humans)
Fontana | (816) 462-3320
BRANDED 5 STABLE
Hays | (785) 623-9566
Hiawatha | (785) 741-0201
Wakarusa | (785) 969-9139
HOME ON THE RANGE
Colby | (785) 462-3600
Chapman | (785) 761-5900
SLIDEONINN HORSE HOTEL
Edson | (785) 821-0199