Southern Cross Guest Ranch in Madison just celebrated it’s 25-year anniversary this past weekend. Owner Inge Wendling and her sons, Noel and Lance, run the ranch. Around 200 horses are stabled on the property, which provides not only a unique getaway for guests but also allows people to ride the horses through miles of trails whether or not they stay overnight. To celebrate their quarter-century marker, outdoor and horse-related activities were abundant.
Friday held a horseback scavenger hunt and movie night by the pool for guests. Saturday saw a full day of games, music, and events that were open to the public with around 300 people in attendance. The weekend ended with a ‘paint your pony contest’ and s’mores by a campfire on Sunday.
Hay rides, pony rides, lawn games, bounce houses, seven-foot unicorn sprinkler, corn hole, life-sized checker board, live entertainment, as well as arts and crafts vendors from as far away as Beaufort, South Carolina, filled the yard on Saturday. There were also arena demonstrations that included equine massage, a farrier, Piedmont Equine Associates, horse training, mounted shooting, barrel racing with a timed race between a horse and a motorcycle, and a competition for the trail guides to see who could saddle a horse the fastest while blindfolded.
“One of the most special parts of the day was the unveiling of a storyboard on the history of the ranch for Inge,” stated Assistant Manager Karen Roggenkamp. “We had a special plaque designed and then presented to her by Philipp Von Hanstein, who is a county commissioner, and Ellen Sims, from the Madison-Morgan Convention & Visitors Bureau, commemorating the 25-year history here.”
Wendling was born in Bieber, Germany, in 1944. Wanting to be a veterinarian, she was discouraged from that path by a friend of the family who worked in that field and was regularly bitten. Instead, her mother directed her to study at the Berlitz School of Languages to become an interpreter and foreign correspondent. However, she never spent a day in that line of work. By the time she was 20 years old, she wanted to move to either the United States or Australia.
“America was closer,” Wendling explained. After spending her youth in boarding schools, living away from her parents and outside of Germany was not difficult: “I don’t know what homesickness is. That’s a disease I’ve never suffered from.”
After establishing a ranch in Indiana to breed and train Appaloosas, Paints, and Quarter Horses, European buyers would travel to her home to select their horses in person.
Wendling recalled, “They’d come and pick out their horses and stay. I would have 14-15 people in my house bringing friends and family with them, and I thought, ‘I have to do something different.’”
Within six months of searching for the right location, a connection through Wendling’s brick-layer shared information about a 200-acre property for sale in Madison in December 1991. The ranch house was still under construction and the land had been on the market for two years. Wendling’s offer was accepted, but many challenges lay ahead. She began work on completing the house and selling her horse farm in Indiana. It took two years to sell, so she was forced to get a loan in the meantime. However, both eventually happened.
Over the years, the house has been built and remodeled, additions made – including a larger kitchen to service three meals a day, the barns repaired and modified, another guest house built in the back with more rooms added later on to it as well.
“This place is where the people come over and over again,” Wendling happily related. “Almost everybody who stays here has been here before. They always say when they come through the gates they are in a different world. Lots of friendships form here. Guests who have met each other on one trip plan to come back again at the same time.”
The guests at the ranch over the weekend were largely repeat visitors, some of whom have traveled to the ranch more than twenty times over the years. That’s no surprise when guests and staff are all treated like family, and multiple members of staff literally are!
If you haven’t seen Southern Cross for yourself, visit their website, schedule a trail ride, or reserve a spot at the table for lunch or dinner – yes, “walk-ins” are welcome to do that! You might just end up returning again and again.