After almost 30 years in business in its current location, it’s fair to say that The Ranch and its owners have a story or two to tell! But the story didn’t start here in Georgia.
The true story of The Ranch starts many years before, back in 1975 when German born Inge purchased her first farm in Indiana, later named ‘Valhalla Farms’…the name to grace many horse registration papers since and is still in existence today; only now, in Georgia.
Soon after purchasing the property, Inge bought her first three horses; Geronimo, Zorro and Skipper, with no real intention of getting into the horse business. That was, until she met Lance’s father, Dick Van Rheenen who was trading horses himself at that time.
This soon became a partnership; over the next 10 years they successfully sold and exported over 2000 horses to Europe, where there was high demand for paint and quarter horses. Recognizing their increasing need for a good sire, Heirloom came into their lives in 1983, and to this day still remains the largest equine purchase Inge has ever made.
Her smart investment paid off when Heirloom was named APHA Reserve World Champion in 1986, and went on to sire 143 foals until his untimely death just before the purchase of what is now Southern Cross Guest Ranch in the fall of 1991.
The decline of the European horse market, coupled with the loss of Heirloom triggered a need for a change. Inge, at natural born hostess, decided to make tourism her new source of income. Having hosted horse buyers in her home for days on end and already nearing 100 head of horses (plus some cows!), the idea of a guest ranch was born.
With a saturated market of “Dude Ranches” out West and an abundance of Bed & Breakfasts in the South, Inge decided that a hybrid of these two things was the direction she wanted to go in. The temperate climate of Georgia leant itself to easier Winters and year round riding opportunities.
After months of searching for the perfect location, it was a chance meeting with a realtor from Atlanta that finally lead Inge to The Ranch in Georgia. The ranch property, historically cotton fields and later a compost factory/ mushroom farm, was purchased by the previous owners as a private residence. When their life circumstances changed, Inge was quick to act upon the chance to purchase and in the fall of 1991, The Ranch was hers; now the real work began….
At that time, the property was largely unfinished with the only three habitable guest rooms located upstairs in the main house (now the The Cattle Baron, Mint Julep and Plantation rooms) – one of which was occupied by Inge and her son Lance, then 9 years old. Back then, the Charleston room was a family sitting room, and it’s bathroom a formal dining room. The basement rooms were just that – an unfinished basement. After much paving, fencing, landscaping, blood, sweat and tears; by 1993, they were ready to welcome their first guests. In the beginning, clients came through word-of-mouth. Then, Lufthansa Airlines featured The Ranch in their vacation catalog, keeping the place booked with mostly German tourists for the next three years.
When this ended, another big opportunity landed at their feet. In 1996 the Summer Olympics came to Atlanta and Germany’s biggest newspaper bought out the whole ranch for three full weeks. They held a contest with a huge advertising campaign—massive photos of The Ranch were plastered on billboards throughout Germany.
This gave the ranch a much-needed boost to their dwindling reservations. In 1997 this little thing called the ‘internet’ came about…Inge’s son, Noel (who by then had moved to Georgia), published their website and within a matter of minutes was already fielding calls from people around the country looking for ranch vacations.
By 1997, it was clear that expansion was needed and the house was extended, adding an additional three rooms to their inventory. With more occupied rooms, came a greater demand for more dining space, so the dining hall was added, leading to another 3 rooms upstairs becoming available to guests.
2003 brought more changes, with the addition of a beautiful new 40 stall barn and further expansion of the dining hall that had already been outgrown. All the while, the ranch continues to offer our guests a warm cozy bed, home cooked meals and the chance to create wholesome family memories.
For many of our guests The Ranch is a second home, their place of escape and a place where many horse dreams come true.
Today, Southern Cross Ranch remains a family affair involving all three of Inge’s children. Her daughter, Yvonne, has found her niche in the kitchen creating specialty desserts. Noel, her oldest son, who played a pivotal role in the ranch’s early triumphs continues to push forward his mother’s legacy with the help of his brother Lance, who focuses mostly on the breeding program and his daughter-in-law on business development. With Inge’s eldest grandson Weston already running the day-to-day equine operations there is yet another generation of grandchildren waiting to become a part of the ranch’s story in the future.