Kelli Kozak with Her Horse Doc Photo: Courtesy of Kelli Kozak
Hello! I’m thrilled to be introducing myself as the new manager at Dunrovin Guest Ranch. Danielle left some big boots to fill, and I hope to do her proud. My visit to the beautiful Lolo, Montana, ranch in December, with the welcoming Miller family, its equines and canines, left no doubt that this is a very special place. It was surreal to watch the webcams one day and wave to my family from the actual ranch the next.
I’ll be documenting my journey from Washington State to Montana in my old Ford truck. She shows her age, but is as fit as a fiddle (fingers crossed). Accompanying me will be my three senior dogs, Inu, Aero, and Max… oh, and my younger brother, Scott, will fly out from Colorado to join us. SuzAnne has generously loaned me her two-horse trailer, so in early May, after the bitter cold has passed, I’ll haul my horse out here, too. Doc will live at Dunrovin, and I promise lots of adventures with the two of us at http://www.daysatdunrovin.com. The first thing we’ll do is get him settled and properly introduced to the herd. I wonder who his best friend will be? Who will have his back and who will put him in his place?
I’m a third-generation native of Los Angeles, California, on my father’s side. My journey with horses officially started at the age of two-and-a-half, when I stuck to a buckin’ bronc for a full five minutes. Granted, that very patient horse was mounted and on display at the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park. My love of BIG horses may have started then. Trust me: the view is magnificent, but the fall is far. The deal was sealed when I got a Welsh pony for my sixth birthday. I never looked back, starting riding lessons and competing successfully on my pony, Spooky; my Morgan, Mister Murphy; and my grade mare, Dolly. Many beloved horses followed in their hoof steps. Every up and down, every joy and sorrow in my life is attached to the name of a horse. I am blessed that these wonderful creatures continue to be the benchmarks of my life.
My dog, Aero, and I left our home state of California seven years ago for a promised live-work situation at an equine rescue in Colorado. I shipped Doc ahead of me with the understanding that he would be cared for until I arrived. That rescue was just a tax-dodge, and upon arriving, I found Doc bloodied and freezing. Thankfully, Scott took me in, Doc was moved to a nearby stable, and I stayed in Colorado with his family for a year. Returning to the West Coast was a combination of accident and destiny, perhaps. At the invitation of a friend from Los Angeles whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years, I moved onto her ranch in western Washington with Doc and the three dogs I now have.
For the past three years, I have lived on-site and managed a private, 88-acre horse ranch and livestock sanctuary 30 miles east of Seattle. It was a tremendous opportunity to learn the nuts and bolts of ranch management, daily and emergency animal care, and disaster preparedness. Living side by side, day in and day out on the Snoqualmie River with horses, cows, llamas, alpacas, turkeys, and chickens, was personally rewarding and, as with anything worth doing, not without hardship. The ranch flooded nine times in those three years, six of which required evacuation to high ground or completely off the property. I was a miserable failure during my first flood, although everyone survived. It is a steep learning curve when the water comes up and over the riverbanks in a matter of hours. I learned to rely on the wisdom of folks who had been through floods for decades, and on neighbors who leapt into action without being asked. Dealing with frightened animals requires Zen-like calm and absolute focus. When one of the horses panicked during that first flood evacuation, or a local dog attacked an alpaca, or a cow fell into a deep hole, I had to be a better person for them. With any luck, that better person sticks around and becomes even better the next time around.
How I ended up managing ranches is not surprising when you consider several factors. First, my maternal grandmother was from a wide-spot-in-the-road in Alabama, and her husband, my grandfather, from Glenwood Springs, Colorado. “Small town, outdoorsy” skipped a generation and landed squarely on me. Second, I’d rather be at a stable than anywhere else on the planet. Third, a two-week horse trek in Mongolia—one of the last remaining cultures built by and around horses—culminated in a nonverbal, gestured discussion of God, or Tengri, with my horseman, and after the flight home, a serious case of culture shock. Literally depressed at being surrounded by concrete and brick, I moved Doc and myself to the San Fernando Valley, to a quarter of an acre, where we could live together and explore the ancient connection between horses and humans. It’s an ongoing conversation.
The above-mentioned Mongolian horseman asked me to marry him, by the way. Knowing I was a teacher, I would instruct him in English and live with him and his wife in his ger. I briefly considered it. Very briefly.
I could have taught him English, as I’d been a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in Los Angeles for ten years. The most important thing that I’d wanted to impart to my students was the ability to empathize, so I invited a survivor of Auschwitz to visit us. The children divided themselves into groups and constructed projects of their own choice and design: a chess set in which the board on one side was stamped with swastikas and the other, yellow Stars of David; Anne Frank’s bookcase made of toothpicks; a three-dimensional model of a concentration camp. For African-American History Month, as it was called, I wrote a play dramatizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott. For the denouement, our young “Rosa Parks” came downstage from the shadows and quietly intoned, “I am Rosa Parks,” continuing with her hope for a kinder world. For Hispanic Heritage Month, my students invoked the United Farm Workers and performed an original play set in the hot, arid fields of central California. Armed with scissors and their imaginations, we soon had rows upon rows of tissue-paper lettuce. They formed short-handled hoes and hand-lettered signs. There was an overseer and a revolt. One by one, the “workers” rose up, lifted their signs, and shouted, “Si, Se Puede!”
The first day of classes always centered around Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. We deconstructed the poem, learning the vocabulary and deciding what it meant to each of us. Then we drew it. To a child, the two roads that “diverged in a yellow wood” were asphalt strips with a line painted down the center.
Gray herons, steller’s jays, and a regal pair of bald eagles soar over the dirt roads I’ve chosen to take. Flickers and pileated woodpeckers have been here across the miles courtesy of the Days at Dunrovin nest cam. Like you, I am transfixed by the osprey nest. I, too, eagerly await Harriett’s return. Nature may have other plans, however, and I know we’ll be thoroughly engaged in the Chat Rooms with whatever transpires.
It is written on the arched sky; it looks out from every star.
It is the poetry of Nature; it is that which uplifts the spirit within us.
We are a part of, not separate from, nature, after all. When we neglect that connection, we fail a part of ourselves. To remedy that, you are cordially invited to experience Dunrovin through my eyes and ears and heart in “Kelli Roves ‘Round Dunrovin,” a monthly article in Dunrovin Ranch Lifestyle Magazine. In it, I will share my adjustment to the lifestyle, the climate, and the myriad goings-on at the ranch. It’s quite a busy place. Lots of unforeseen things are guaranteed to happen. Triumphant. Embarrassing. Dangerous. You see, animals don’t care if we are tired or cold or hungry or just plain fed up. In situations that “go south” and require human intervention, despite a desire to stay snug in bed or enjoy a meal and a book, you have to tell yourself, “I’m becoming a better person, dang it… I’m doing this because I love you.” It gets you through.