Two Sisters Share Their O.T.O Ranch Experience

The O.T.O. Ranch main lodge
The O.T.O. Ranch is Montana’s oldest dude ranch. Photo courtesy True Ranch Collection, O.T.O. Dude Ranch

Care to join an exclusive pop-up dude ranch experience where proceeds go to benefit ranch preservation?

We thought so.

One Ranch, Two Sisters, Three Days

Saddle up and ride along with Stacey Adams, president of Active Riding Trips, as she sends North Carolina’s horse-loving Instagram and TikTok influencers (and sisters) Madison and Reagan Ibach of @IbachMedia out west and into history with a three-night stay (August 6-9) at Montana’s oldest dude ranch: the O.T.O. Ranch, at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The Ibach sisters, Madison and Reagan, of Ibach Media
Madison (left) and Reagan (right) Ibach are passionate about horses and sharing their experience with their followers. Photos courtesy Madison and Reagan Ibach

Madison, 23, and Reagan, 21, have been documenting daily equine interactions on their social media accounts for over a decade and have amassed a dedicated following. In addition to Ibach Media, Madison and Reagan manage the social media accounts for Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC)

The greatest goal with their audiences, says Madison, is to promote a unifying love for horses and riding, regardless of experience, discipline or financial means. For the sisters, a passion for all things horse is enough.

“We are counting down the days until our trip to the O.T.O. Pop-Up Ranch in Montana,” Madison says. “With ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron’ being the first movie to bring a tear to my four year-old eyes, and getting hooked (like the rest of the nation) on the TV show, Yellowstone,’ this experience is sure to bring my western dreams to life. Beyond saddles and boots, I can’t wait to be immersed in Yellowstone National Park – a bucket list item I’ve been eager to check off!”

The Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park
The Roosevelt Arch marks the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Photo courtesy True Ranch Collection, O.T.O. Dude Ranch

Passion for saving great western dude ranches is behind the True Ranch Collection’s O.T.O. Pop-Up Ranch produced by Ranch Preservation, in cooperation with the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

This is only the second summer since the original O.T.O. closure 84 years ago that dude ranch guests – including the Ibach sisters – will be welcomed to its historic grounds, and proceeds of this special pop-up event will be donated toward efforts to preserve and restore this historic ranch.

Historically, the O.T.O. lodge and buildings set the standard for what we think of as a western dude ranch, and likely influenced not only this design technique but the Arts and Crafts Movement utilized in nearby Yellowstone National Park as well. In fact, the O.T.O. was among the first commissions of famous western craftsman Thomas Molesworth, and some of his original pieces remain with the ranch today.

O.T.O. Ranch History

The O.T.O. Ranch operated as a dude ranch from the 1910s to 1930s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1887, its founder, Dick Randall, began driving stagecoaches in Yellowstone National Park, where he earned the nickname “Pretty Dick” for touring the wealthiest and most prominent figures through Yellowstone. This led him to become a notable outfitter, leading hunting and pack trips and setting the stage for the “dudes” he would host.

The main lodge at O.T.O. Ranch
The main lodge at O.T.O. Ranch reflects its rich history. Photo courtesy True Ranch Collection, O.T.O. Dude Ranch

In 1898, Dick and his wife Dora purchased land in the mountain valley along Cedar Creek where they began cattle ranching and, not long after, hosting so many guests for hunting and pack trips that they started building cabins for them to stay in. In 1912, the ranch officially opened to dudes, and construction of an expansive lodge, shower house and more cabins followed.

Dick and Dora made promotional trips back east promising a western-style experience full of recreation that included horseback riding, one-day pack trips for fishing, and an escape from urban life while helping with ranch chores like round-ups, milking and gardening. They enjoyed dining on food produced on the ranch, and ranch entertainment from music to dancing to storytelling. Other highlights included the Livingston Rodeo and riding in the rodeo parade with the Randall family.

1934 marked the retirement of Dick and Dora Randall and, while the years between the 1930s and ‘40s are seen as the heyday of dude ranches, the cumulative effects of the Great Depression, rise in automobile travel, and changes in tourism as the country entered World War II led to the industry’s decline. The O.T.O. ultimately closed to dudes in 1939 – which makes this dude ranch’s pop-up revival now, for only its second season in more than 80 years, such an exceptional experience to share.

What Does O.T.O. Ranch Stand For?

And no, it’s not a dumb question, because the answer is: it doesn’t stand for anything! The story, according to founder Dick Randall, goes: “We had a brand at the ranch; it was OTO and didn’t mean anything in particular. Each ranch has a brand put on all livestock and the simpler a brand, the better. This one didn’t blotch and I could make it with an iron ring and a straight bar. If I was out on the range and saw one of my critters wasn’t branded, I could make one with an iron ring, a pair of pliers, my case knife and a little brush fire.”

Pop Goes the Riding

The three-night itinerary that Active Riding Trips and True Ranch Collection have put together for Madison and Reagan’s August trip starts, like any good adventure, with a map…

“The O.T.O. does not have an official mailing address (it’s been closed since 1939 and is in the National Forest), so we provide arriving guests with a document that has the driving instructions and hyperlinks for Apple and Google Maps. The written instructions describe a yellow house,” Stacey says with a wink. “That’s really helpful to know about to spot the turn up to the ranch.”

Once they’ve settled in (check in isn’t until 2 p.m.), the sisters will have their choice of classic dude ranch adventures, from riding through the Montana wilderness, to sport shooting, archery and hiking, plus special events and evening entertainment.

“There’s fishing at Cedar Creek, one of the least-fished mountain streams in Paradise Valley,” Stacey adds. “Plus, off-ranch activities like whitewater rafting, or visiting Yellowstone Hot Springs, just a few miles north of the north entrance to the park.”

Mountain views at O.T.O. Ranch
There is no shortage of mountain views on trails throughout the ranch. Photo courtesy True Ranch Collection, O.T.O. Dude Ranch

Of course, western riding is a main attraction and Brook Grobosky with True Ranch Collection says the O.T.O. has horses for every level of rider, plus wranglers who know their equestrian matchmaking. (Hint: Madison says she’s a “mare person,” and Reagan, coincidentally, has a horse called Cowboy.)

“Each week, our head wrangler will take this information and assign each guest an appropriate horse. Our goal is to keep our guests on the same horse through their entire stay, so they feel like it’s their horse,” Brook explains. “We can take into account any concerns our guests may have. For example, if we have a really nervous rider, we make sure they’ve got a really steady, trusty horse.”

The history of Montana’s first dude ranch, says Bridget Brussels with True Ranch Collection, is both fascinating and, until recently, was elusive as a western unicorn.

“There wasn’t much to be found online about the O.T.O., so we were excited last year to learn that Custer Gallatin National Forest has an incredible archive of old texts and documents, artifacts and photos from the ranch’s history. So last summer, we worked with the U.S. Forest Service to create interpretative signage for a display with historic artifacts in the lodge of the O.T.O., where Reagan and Madison will be able to see it in person.”

Reagan says that deep-rooted history only makes the trip all the more special.

“The preserved pieces of the past offer a strong dose of perspective and appreciation,” she says. “This is especially true for the amazing animals that will guide us through these breathtaking landscapes and take us into lifelong memories, just as they did a century ago.”

“While we emphasize our appreciation for social media in its ability to bring people together, ultimately it is the love of the horse that unites us all. The O.T.O. is a perfect example. After more than a century, it continues to serve as a gathering place for horse lovers from across the world.”

Both sisters — eager for their adventure — are incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

“We are deeply appreciative to Active Riding Trips for giving us the opportunity to experience the O.T.O. Pop-Up Ranch,” they say. “Stacey and her team have been so kind, accommodating and helpful. From travel coordination and trip itinerary to the striking destination and beyond, we’ve experienced nothing but ease and excitement in the planning process.”

“The experiences offered by Active Riding Trips are incredibly unique – there’s truly something for every person, occasion and bucket list!”

If you’re interested in your own stay at the O.T.O. Ranch, learn more and book here.

This article about Madison and Reagan Ibach’s stay at the O.T.O. Ranch is a web exclusive for Western Life Today magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Stacey Adams

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