It’s not often you hear life stories so amazing you couldn’t make them up. Rancher Bayard Fox, owner of Bitterroot Ranch, shares with us the incredible adventures that led him to far-flung corners of the globe and eventually to the rugged wilds of Wyoming.
For the love of the horse
“In 90 years of riding I have been privileged to know some superb horses,” says Fox.
“They are a glorious part of my life and have enriched my existence immeasurably. If I ever get to heaven, it won’t be that great a place unless horses are there, too.”
You gotta love a guy that loves horses. And it’s not a terribly surprising sentiment, coming from a guest ranch owner like Bayard Fox who has, since 1971, operated the Bitterroot Ranch outside Dubois, Wyoming.
Photo credit: Archie Boiselle
It’s the rest of the story that you almost can’t believe: Horses, career accomplishment and a passion for adventure are all woven through the fabric of Bayard Fox’s incredible life.
Hollywood screenwriters could not have made this tale up – you’d never believe it!
But it’s all true and Bayard is happy to share it, and inspire others with their life stories. Read on…
Into the wild
Long before Bitterroot Ranch, Bayard Fox began life in 1929 on a farm in Chester Country, Pennsylvania. Then in 1943, Fox headed west for a horse packing trip through Yellowstone Park and southern Montana.
Soon, Fox began a pattern of cramming several lives into one, working as a seaman, a forest fire-fighter and a longshoreman in Alaska, before graduating from Yale in 1951.
Bayard took on some work as an advertising model for De Beers and learned to fly fish, a passion for which he still has to this day.
He also biked through Europe, lived and worked in Germany, France, Switzerland, Poland, Iran, Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya and the Solomon Islands; becoming fluent in many languages along the way.
A life-changing accident
In Iran (while working as an agent for the CIA), Fox spent a couple of years riding and hunting with the local people.
It was while practicing lancing from horseback (for some pig-sticking with the Bakhtiari) that Fox suffered a life-changing accident.
His horse cartwheeled on him, smashing his left hip and the lifelong horse-lover was left to move about on crutches for two years, unable to walk or ride.
For some that would mean tragedy, but for Fox, it was simply motivation to work hard to recover.
Along the way, he set up a langouste fishing business in the Solomon Islands. Of course – and luckily – swimming was something he could still do.
Fox spent over two years roaming about the remote parts of the Solomons, diving for langoustes with the natives.
Because he was swimming so much and working in the water, he eventually began to recover.
Tentatively at first and then with greater strength, he began to walk and ride.
Bitterroot Ranch, Wyoming
In 1971, Fox bought the Bitterroot Ranch. In due course, he and his wife Mel began offering ranch vacations and running Bitterroot Ranch as a guest ranch, catering to an international mix of guests. For 25 years, the Foxes also ran a wilderness hunting camp behind the ranch.
Today, with his family (wife Mel, son Richard and daughter-in-law Hadley), Fox runs Black Angus and Highland cows, plus horses – including purebred Arabians which they raise and train.
According to the Bitterroot website, the ranch is:
‘More a destination for equestrian vacations than it is a typical dude or guest ranch. We focus on providing our guests with quality riding and are especially proud of our Arabian horses, many of which have been raised and trained on the ranch.’
The evolution of Equitours
With Bitterroot Ranch up and running, soon the Foxes found new projects. East Africa was a logical place to grow new aspects of the business, since Mel grew up on a farm near Mt. Kilimanjaro, worked in Kenya’s national parks and speaks fluent Swahili.
In 1980, Mel and Bayard Fox embarked on a new horse-related venture, escorting a group of former Bitterroot Ranch guests on a riding safari.
Their venue: the spectacular Masai Mara in Kenya, Africa’s famed game country.
The excursion was a smashing success, heralding the creation of Equitours Worldwide Riding Holidays.
Headquartered in Dubois, Wyoming, Equitours organizes and sells rides in 30 countries today, and is now the largest riding tour company in America.
Ask Bayard how his international travel has influenced him and he’ll say it has, for one thing, helped him be a better guest ranch owner/host. It also inspired him to start the hugely successful Equitours.
“One of the things I appreciate the most is travel on horseback,” notes Fox.
“You see things from the back of a horse you can’t see any other way. Equitours fits in well with the guest ranch business,” he says, “because I often ride with folks I’ve met on my travels.”
A diverse approach to horsemanship
Fox and his family have all traveled and experienced various riding techniques and riding gear from all over the world; so much so that it has expanded what they know about riding, beyond what’s practiced in the American West.
L-R: Bayard's son Richard, wife Mel, daughter-in-law Hadley and Bayard himself
One thing Bayard learned on his travels that has helped his guest ranching business is: “There’s more to riding than what most other classical Western guest ranches offer,” he says.
The international ride he finds most inspiring? “The first ride into Kenya’s Masai Mara (for advanced riders),” he answers immediately, calling it: “The best – not only for the wildlife – but for the ride itself, past the colorful Masai tribes and for the splendid polo ponies who, at times, race the wild zebra and wildebeest.”
The future of guest ranching
One of Fox’s main concerns now is for the future of guest ranching, especially in a society that is increasingly more involved with the virtual than with the real.
“Cell phones, video games, computers, TVs don’t let you get connected to the land,” Fox contends.
“A visit to a guest ranch requires real participation. I’d like to see more ranches go back to the old style horse and cattle ranch, and emphasize riding over heated swimming pools and TVs in every room.”
His point of view about computers and gadgets on the ranch is understandable having lived a life that emphasizes the real over the virtual in every sense.
And for ranchers wanting to attract more of the international crowd, Fox suggests learning another language or two, educating themselves on foreign cultures, adding website translators and finding good overseas tour operators.
Fox's next venture
Bayard Fox has lived a life of adventure, travel and accomplishment, and through it all, he made sure he was never too long out of the saddle. “People are more likely to accept you when you ride up on a horse,” he muses.
In fact, the guest ranch owner estimates he has spent over 40,000 hours on horseback, riding enough miles to circle the globe six times or more!
L-R: Mel, Bayard, Richard and Hadley
With a life like Bayard Fox’s, it was only a matter of time before he was encouraged to pen his epic memoirs and excitingly, this much-anticipated story will soon be hitting the shelves.
'Fisherman, Rancher, Horseman, Spy' heralds the epic story of a man who learned to love riding horses, shoot, hunt, immerse in wild places, travel and learn foreign languages in his youth.
It leads the reader into tales of espionage, escape and adventures in the oceans, rivers, mountains and more... it truly is the epitome of an amazing life story.
Available in hardback softback and on Kindle. Or, if you want a signed copy, go visit Bitterroot Ranch this summer, pick up a copy from Bayard and get it signed by the legend himself!
Get your copy from Amazon today
Original article written by Sara Widness, Widness & Wiggins PR
Co-written, edited and created by Kate Hammaren; luxury and adventure travel writer, editor and world traveler.