If your dream is to move to the country and buy rural land to turn into a horse or cattle ranch, you know you have your work cut out for you.
Unlike hobby farming or homesteading, ranching typically requires a large tract of land, plenty of know-how, experience, time and a good bit of cash to break into and sustain.
Yet despite the obstacles, people are still drawn to the romance, hard work and satisfaction a home on the ranch can offer.
It can be done.
And one of the most popular and affordable places to find land and set up a ranch is in the wide-open spaces of rural Texas.
Jeanne and Bobby Schlenk of Aunique Ranch in New Waverly, Texas, have done just that.
Aunique Ranch is true to its name: a unique ranch that is thriving due to its diversified business model which includes: Cob Gypsy Horse breeding and sales (a rare breed of horses with exceptional beauty and calm demeanor), a haying operation, cattle and tourism business.
In today’s article, Jeanne shares how they found their perfect ranch property and turned it into an oasis for their beloved Gypsy horses while creating the home and business of their dreams.
The Search for the Ideal Ranch Property
The Schlenks have a long history of horse ranching.
“Our original ranch was located in La Porte Texas and had Quarter Horses and Arabians,” Jeanne says. “After our first Gypsy Cob purchase, the gentleness of the breed steered us to expand our herd. As our herd grew, so did the need for more hay and then more land so we searched for property in the country.”
The couple chose a 700-acre property in New Waverly because of its ideal proximity between Texas A&M and La Porte.
“A quick internet search for land led us to New Waverly, and once we saw the land, we knew this was the place for our herd.”
Tip: If you’re looking for land to start a ranch in Texas, read our article, How to Buy Land in Texas.
From Small Horse Farm to Large-Scale Ranch
When they bought the property, it had a 6-stall barn, a living trailer and a hay barn. It was a good start, but the Schlenks had a much bigger vision.
“In three years, we landscaped the ranch and added 90 stalls, a 66,000-foot pipe cross fence, 14 stallion runs, an equipment barn, a 24-stall foaling barn and a covered arena,” Jeanne says.
How did they pull off that level of building and expansion in three short years? Connections, hard work and experience.
“There is a saying: a smart man knows everything and a shrewd man knows everyone,” Jeanne says. “Bobby is a shrewd man. He found subcontractors from different skilled areas, and Bobby acted as the contractor for the most part. Our prior ranch taught us what to build for an easier set up.”
When asked what features make the property the beautiful place it is today, Jeanne replied:
“Landscaping, beautiful horses, comical turkeys and a willingness to open up your life to others.”
Meet the Gypsy Cob Horse: One of Nature’s Most Beautiful Breeds
Though the Schlenks had always been horse people, it was the discovery of the Cob Gypsy Horse breed -- with their long flowing manes, incredible smarts and calm demeanor -- that led them to their New Waverly ranch.
The Gypsies first arrived in the United States in 1996 and are still considered a rare breed in this country.
Their uniqueness combined with incredible beauty, sweet and docile temperament, and versatility make them the main feature of Aunique Ranch.
“The Gypsy Horse was bred by the Gypsy People in Ireland, also known as ‘Travelers,’” Jean explains. “They wanted a flashy breed to pull their Vardo or Living Wagon, yet one that was docile and could stay with their wives and children while the men went off to work.
“On our tours, the horses come right up to you to say ‘hello’ and ask if you brought them treats. They are very versatile and will do nearly anything with a willing heart if you have a bond with them. This breed is by far the gentlest horse breed I have ever known—and I have been around horses all my life.”
The deep love and respect the Schlenks and their ranch staff have for the horses is obvious in the way they care for them. The horses receive daily hands-on care and riding with an emphasis on gentle handling.
Jeanne says her ranch’s Gypsies are especially unique because of their bloodlines, coloring, and how easy they are to handle.
An example of Aunique’s Gypsy’s calm nature can be seen on their website, where viewers can witness Gypsy stallions, being ridden together calmly with no signs of aggressive behavior.
What Makes a Perfect Gypsy-Owner Match?
Owning and caring for a horse is a big commitment: it takes time, it takes land, and it takes a willingness to care and provide for the horses on many levels.
Here are some keys the Schlenks look for in an ideal Gypsy Horse-owner match:
“Owners need enough property for a horse -- two acres per horse. Proper fencing and shelter are important factors in the new home conversation, too.
“I have found that preretirement and retired individuals are the best owners of the Gypsy Horse. That makes up a big contingency of Gypsy owners in Texas. They drive their horses for sport.”
Jeanne adds that young girls absolutely adore the horses, and they can be an ideal horse for new owners.
How Diversity Works for Aunique Ranch
Ask nearly any successful rancher or sustainable farmer how they make a good living off their land, and they will tell you: we diversify.
The same holds true for Aunique Ranch.
Though the Gypsy Horse breeding and sales operation is their main draw, they also grow and sell their own hay, run cattle, provide internship programs and run a successful ranch tourism business.
“We started diversifying little-by-little -- at warp speed!” says Jeanne. “The different components of the business are all, for the most part, seasonal. When one area slows down, another picks up. We have always been diversified in all our businesses and found it works best.”
The Schlenks started their haying business after Texas suffered a severe drought and hay shortage a few years back. This ensured their horses would have all they need to eat, while they profit from the rest.
The tourism business runs during weekdays and weekends and includes overnight stays, private and group tours, corporate team building events, a turkey show, and wagon tours, which include nighttime firefly tours and date nights.
“The Gypsy Horses are the big tourism draw,” Jeanne says. Our tourists come from all over the world. We have had guests from China, Turkey, Russia, Scotland and Australia and more, as well as local people. Some of them book the trailer for overnight stays and others come for the day tours. They find us through word of mouth and the internet.”
Life on the Texas Horse Ranch: “Living as Close to Heaven as Possible”
With great risk comes great reward. The Schlenks took a chance on their horses, their ranch business and their dreams by moving to small-town New Waverly, Texas.
Taking that risk rewarded them in the best possible way:
“Sometimes I feel this is as close to heaven on earth as you can get,” says Jeanne. “Through the eyes of a tourist, I am taken back to the first day I laid eyes on these majestic horses and reminded of how very fortunate we are to have been in service to them.”
To those in the dreaming or early planning stages of creating the ranch of their dreams, Jeanne offers this nugget of advice:
“Be willing to share your life with others and forget privacy. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes an army to raise a herd of horses. And when there is no army, there are some hard-working people with a lot of hours on their time card.
“Find your passion and head in that direction, learning as you go. Life is a journey, rein your horse into the sunshine and enjoy the adventure.”
To learn more about Aunique Ranch, view their videos, stories and more photos of their Cob Gypsy horse herd and farm tours on their website at: www.auniqueranch.com.
All photos courtesy of Aunique Ranch.