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Spending a vacation high in the Colorado Rockies, riding horses and relaxing at a sumptuous guest ranch would certainly be the adventure of a lifetime for most. The ultimate adventure, however, would be to buy the ranch and live there forever.
That’s precisely what Detroit couple Cheri and Jerry Helmicki did. Back in the 1990s, Jerry had a high-stress, high-pressure job with a Detroit auto parts supplier. By forty-three, Jerry says he was simply burned out from the work. Meanwhile, Cheri worked as a secondary school teacher and coach. She loved her job, but yearned for something that would make them both happy, something that ultimately involved their shared passion for spending time in the outdoors and riding horses.
Jerry scoured the country looking for a western guest ranch. After not finding a “just right” situation, the pair very nearly pulled the trigger on a sporting camp in Maine. Then, they discovered the Bar Lazy J, a historic guest ranch located on the Colorado River not far from the majestic mountains that form the Continental Divide. The couple paid a visit to the ranch on the Fourth of July weekend and fell in love with it. By November, they were the new owners of the venerable Colorado guest ranch that had been in continuous operation since 1912.
“It needed some TLC, but it was basically all there,” said Cheri, looking back. “Jerry moved to the ranch right away, and I continued to teach, spending holidays and summers there.”
Once the ranch was established under the Helmickis, a process which took about three years, Cheri was able to quit teaching and join Jerry in Colorado. The couple have been operating the ranch side-by-side ever since. A lifelong horsewoman, Cheri takes particular pride in the ranch riding program.
“I started riding as a young kid and did a lot of riding for many years. After we were married, I got a horse for Christmas and Jerry and I became weekend warriors,” she said. “We wanted the ranch to have an outstanding riding program in regard to safety, instruction and enjoyment.”
Cheri’s educational and coaching background shines, for example, in the children’s programs in which kids learn to groom and care for horses, saddles and tack, plus the basics of roping. And, of course, plenty of time in the saddle. And Cheri’s coaching skills help keep teens and young adults excited about and engaged in their work as wranglers, activity leaders and hospitality staff.
Cheri says that one of the best benefits of owning a guest ranch is not having anyone but themselves to answer to. All the decisions are theirs. Aside from this (and the beautiful setting) the couple is most pleased with the transformative effect that the ranch has on the people who come there to vacation.
“In today’s society everything is rushed and hectic,” said Cheri. “This ranch gives people a chance to really relax. We feel there is a little magic here at the Bar Lazy J, and a chance to do something completely different.”
(Originally published in the January/February 2013 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).