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Personality profile: Bayard Fox, Bitterroot Ranch, Wyo.

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“In seventy years of riding I have been privileged to know some superb horses,” says Bayard Fox. “They are a glorious part of my life and have enriched my existence immeasurably.  If I ever get to heaven, it could hardly be that great a place unless horses are there too.”

You gotta love a guy that loves horses. That’s Fox riding through the picture at left (in front, in the dark blue shirt). And it’s not a terribly surprising sentiment, coming from a dude ranch owner like Bayard Fox, who has since 1971 operated the Bitterroot Ranch outside Dubois, Wyoming.

It’s the rest of the story that you almost can’t believe. Horses, career accomplishment, and a passion for adventure are woven through the fabric of Bayard Fox’ incredible life. Hollywood screenwriters could not have made this tale up—you’d never believe it. But it’s all in his bio. Read on…

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 variously as a seaman, a forest fire fighter, and a longshoreman in Alaska before graduating from Yale in 1951.  He did some work as an advertising model (in a DeBeers ad, shown below), and learned to fly fish (bottom right). Bayard_Kane_FoxHe 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.

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 had a life-changing accident. His horse cartwheeled on him, smashing up 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, that was simply a motivation to work hard to recover. Along the way, he set up a langouste fishing business in the Solomon Islands. Of course—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.

In 1971, Fox bought the Bitterroot Ranch. With his family, Fox runs Black Angus and Highland cows plus horses, including purebred Arabians which they raise and train.  In due course, Fox and his family began running it as a dude ranch catering to an international mix of guests. For 25 years, the Foxes also ran a wilderness hunting camp behind the ranch. Today, the Bitterroot is “more a destination for equestrian vacations than it is a typical dude or guest ranch,” says the ranch website. “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.”
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Soon, the Foxes found new projects. East Africa was a logical place to grow new aspects of the business, since Bayard’s wife, Mel, grew up on a farm near Mt. Kilimanjaro, worked in Kenya’s national parks, and speaks fluent Swahili. In 1980, Mel and Bayard embarked on a new horse-related venture, escorting a group of former 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—now the largest riding tour company in America. Headquartered in Dubois, Wyoming, Equitours organizes and sells rides in 30 countries today.

Ask him how his international travel has influenced him and he’ll say it has, for one thing, helped him be a better dude ranch owner/host. It also inspired him to start 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 dude ranch business,” he says, “because I often ride with folks I’ve met on my travels.” Fox, his wife Mel, son, and daughter-in-law 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. One thing he learned on his travels that has helped his dude ranch: “There’s more to riding than what most other classical Western dude ranches offer,” Fox says.

The international ride the he finds most inspiring? “The first ride, into Kenya’s Masai Mara (for advanced riders),” he answers, calling it the best not only for wildlife, but the ride itself, past the colorful Masai tribes and for the splendid polo ponies who at times race the wild zebra and wildebeest.

One of Fox’ main concerns now is with the future of dude ranching, especially in a society more involved with the virtual than with the real. “Video games, computers, TVs those don’t let you get connected to the land,” Fox contends. “A visit to a dude ranches 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.”

And for ranchers wanting to attract more of the international crowd, Fox suggests learning another language or two, educating themselves on foreign cultures, add website translators, and find good overseas tour operators.

Fox’ point of view about computers and gadgets on the ranch is understandable; he carved out a life that emphasizes the real over the virtual in every sense. Bayard Fox has lived a life of adventure, travel, and accomplishment. Through it all, he made sure he was never too long out of the saddle. In fact, the dude ranch owner estimates he has spent over 40,000 hours on horseback, riding enough miles to circle the globe six times or more. “People more likely to accept you when you ride up on a horse,” Fox contends.

With a life like that, the guy should write his autobiography. We hope he is. Thing is, it may be tough to find a title that adequately sums up Fox’ incredible life. The title would have to include words like “Joie de Vivre” to convey his zest for life,  “Quest” or  “Adventure” to convey the Indiana Jones nature of his roaming, and both “Fearless” and “Hospitable” to convey his personality. And then the title should somehow work the ideas of family, ranching, Wyoming, and world traveling into the title. Oh heck, maybe the Bayard Fox story should just be called The Man Who Loved Horses.

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