East and western: Madison’s Southern Cross wins top awards

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Girls pet a horse at Southern Cross. Photo by Leila Dycus

Girls pet a horse at Southern Cross. Photo by Leila Dycus

About the Awards Southern Cross Guest Ranch, of Madison, received two awards from DudeRanch.com this year. The ranch was named “Top Eastern Dude Ranch” and one of the “Top Winter Dude Ranches.” There were 14 ranches nominated for the “Top Eastern Dude Ranch” award. Voting occurred near summer’s end and Southern Cross received the awards in mid-August.

By Leila Dycus, Intern

Madison’s Southern Cross Ranch was granted a noteworthy award recently, as it was named “Top Eastern Dude Ranch” as part of DudeRanch.com’s “Signature Ranch Awards.”

Southern Cross was one of 14 ranches nominated for the award, recently announced online. Voting occurred at the end of the summer, and Southern Cross was given the prestigious prize in mid-August. Along with winning the “Top Eastern Dude Ranch” award, the local business was also named one of DudeRanch.com’s “Top Winter Dude Ranches.”

Kind of appropriate, too, given the coming change of seasons.

“We wanted to operate for 12 months out of the year, as opposed to less than 12 months a year, “ said Jim Fox, manager of Southern Cross.

Southern Cross made its debut in Morgan County in 1991, after the owner decided to make the move from Indiana to Georgia. In Indiana ranches are forced to deal with snow, but in Georgia, ranches can operate year-round. So, the ranch officially started accepting overnight visitors in 1995.

Southern Cross is well-known throughout the eastern United States because, well, there aren’t that many dude ranches on the East Coast. Southern Cross offers the Western dude ranch experience but right here in Morgan County. It’s is comprised of more than 200 acres, with 300-plus acres of area to trail riding.

“We don’t have much competition. There really isn’t anybody in Georgia that does what we do on this level,” said Fox.

Southern Cross has roots as a horse breeding business. Today, the facility is divided into three parts: the bed-and-breakfast aspect, restaurant and barn. The guest ranch has 16 rooms available for visitors, and staying true to its roots, the ranch still sells horses as well as offers boarding for local horses. In fact, Southern Cross is home to 200-plus horses.

While many visitors come from the U.S. east coast, people do travel from across the world to visit Southern Cross. In fact, at the very beginning, Southern Cross saw many guests come to the ranch due to owner Inga Wendling’s relationship with Lufthansa airline.

Wendling established a relationship with Lufthansa through her original business, selling horses internationally. The relationship with the airlines continued; Inga would get calls from the airline, acting more as a travel agent, telling her they had a certain number of guests that wanted to visit the ranch, stay and ride horses.

Then the airline decided to quit offering travel agency services and became strictly transportation.

“That was the mid-’90s, and her son said maybe we should try a website, so they were pretty early into that game. Jump ahead to now and you search dude ranches and we will come up on the first page of Google,” said Fox.

Currently, search engines are the number one way visitors can find out about Southern Cross. Referrals and European equine travel agencies also play a role in getting people to the ranch.

“Our place is more of a gigantic bed-and-breakfast with horseback riding,” said Fox.

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