ACQUIRING PROVEN STALLION GIVES BIG BOOST TO ELGIN PAIR'S LOST HORSE RANCH
Six years ago, Steve Russell put an ad in a newspaper to sell a gray mare. The seemingly inconsequential act would ultimately lead him to a brand new life.
"I joke about the fact that I tried to sell a mare and ended up with a wife," Russell laughs. "And I've still got the mare, too." Steve and his wife Carey both laugh at that one.
When Carey answered Steve's ad it wasn't exactly love at first sight for her, though.
"Not that there was anything wrong with him," Carey explains. "I just didn't want to go out with anybody right then."
But the persistent and goal-oriented Steve Russell spent three months trying to convince her to go out with him. Carey finally did and a year later the two were married.
The couple shared a common dream.
"Well, we were both around horses all our lives," Steve says. "From the beginning, we talked about owning lots of horses."
The vision of a horse ranch began to take shape and the two tried moving from Washington to Montana.
"I guess we moved to Montana for the same reason other people like us want to move to Montana," Steve says.
For a couple who admittedly "eats, sleeps and breathes horses," the Montana legend makes it seem like the perfect place to build a horse ranch. But the reality of Montana never lived up to the hype for this couple.
"I never unpacked," Carey readily admits. She hated Montana.
"People were unfriendly," she says without hesitation. Steve says the biggest problem seemed to be the people with lots of money who were attracted to Montana for the same legendary lure.
"But then they get there and want to change everything," Steve shakes his head.
Eventually they decided Carey should go back home to Walla Walla and spend a few days looking for property closer to home. After Carey saw Northeast Oregon, she told Steve she didn't want to go back to Montana. The Russells spent weeks looking over Wallowa and Union counties and Steve finally found exactly what they were looking for in Elgin.
They bought 160 acres on Valley View Road with a sweeping view of Indian Valley that neither one tires of. They moved in a year ago with a dozen
"We love it here," Carey says. "It's so beautiful and the people are friendly. Everybody treats us like we've been here 20 years."
Steve says his only concern is, once the word gets out, too many people will move in and want to change the western way of life in a valley he considers to be Oregon's best kept secret.
"Look at it," Steve's gaze sweeps over the ranch. "It's beautiful here."
After moving to Elgin, the dream that turned static in Montana has exploded in Northeast Oregon. Russell's Lost Horse Ranch is home to 42 quarter horses, including a half dozen mares expected to foal any day.
"I've been lucky. We've been lucky," he admits. "But, don't get me wrong. We've worked our butts off this past year."
Steve has come a long way since buying his first horse, Starbuck, and a $200 saddle, at age 18.
"He didn't even know how to saddle him," Carey says, urging Steve to tell the camping story.
It was fall. He and Starbuck headed for the woods all alone on a horse he'd hardly ridden and wasn't sure was saddled correctly. He planned to spend a couple of weeks in the wild.
"Man, I was dumb," he laughs, "dumb enough to not know any better. A lot of things could have gone wrong. But I was finally living my dream of owning my own horse."
When evening fell, Steve made camp next to a meadow. Not sure what to do with the horse, he tied Starbuck to a tree, then made a bed for himself by leaning back into his saddle propped up against the trunk of a tree.
"Just like Jeremiah Johnson," Steve laughs.
The next morning, Steve awoke to find Starbuck still tied to the tree and the bonus of seeing the high mountain meadow covered in mist, filled with grazing elk.
"I'll never forget that morning," Steve says. "I was hooked from then on."
Now 45, Steve has learned something about horses. He has spent more than 26 years breaking and training his own and, eventually, for clients. He has conducted various horse clinics, too. Their methods are simple and direct. He and Carey spend as much time as possible bonding and working with their horses. They know every horse by sight, each one has a name and a distinct personality.
"Just like people," Carey says. She will put a saddle on a six-month-old to get them used to the feel of it. When she walks into the pasture the horses all come up to greet her.
The horses of Lost Horse Ranch will be well-trained and people friendly, Steve says, even the studs. They will specialize in buckskin, grulla, dun and roans.
"We're producing quality color and breed," Steve says, "but we train them to know how to do everything a working horse needs to know."
Recently, an unexpected turn of events put Russell's in a position to purchase a proven stallion, Bronsins Legend, and six foundation brood mares from retiring horse breeder Charlie Reed.
Reed and his wife Jan have owned and operated Reed's Horse Ranch out of Rosalia, Wash., for almost 40 years. Steve remembers driving by Reed's Horse Ranch, admiring the operation, and dreaming of someday owning something like it.
Two weeks ago, Reed's silver buckskin stallion, Bronsins Legend, came to live at Lost Horse Ranch in Elgin. With him came Reed's six best brood mares already in foal.
"In one shot," Steve grins, "we advanced our program immensely. I still can't believe it." He tips his head back and laughs.
Now that Steve and Carey have substantially increased their herd, they're hustling to put up more pole fence, finish a 140- by 200-foot outdoor arena, and build Bronsin his own log bachelor pad up next to the house. Future plans include an even bigger indoor arena down near the lower 110 acres, and much, much more.
And, if all this isn't enough to keep them busy, this June Steve and Carey will host what may be Elgin's biggest private party on record the Lost Horse Ranch Cowboy Gathering, modeled after Steve and Carey's wedding party.
Although it may technically be a private party, the whole wide West is invited to the three-day event celebrating the cowboy way of life. Flyers are everywhere and the ranch's Web site, www.losthorseranch.net, is promoting the event to the world.
"We have people coming from as far away as California, Washington, Idaho and all over Oregon," Steve says. "It's just our way of saying thanks to Elgin and celebrating our new ranch and this way of life."
Steve and Carey have come a long way toward their goal in five short years of marriage. They make good partners, love what they do, and have a big dream for their 160 acres.
"Someday, when we can look clear to Middle Road and see horses in the pasture ... " Steve says, looking out across his dream and leaving the statement behind.
Who knows what will happen after the Lost Horse Ranch is filled with horses all the way to Middle Road?
A dream is only as limited as the dreamer, and Steve and Carey prove they know how to dream big.