Rocking Horse Ranch History

In The Beginning

Rocking Horse Ranch Resort opened Memorial Day Weekend 1958 by founders Nathan “Toolie” Turk and Gloria Turk. In 1962, they were joined by Toolie’s brother, Bucky. Although Toolie and Gloria were born in New York City, their love for horses developed at an early age. Gloria began riding at various stables in the Bronx, while Toolie’s introduction to horses came from icemen who actually delivered ice by horse and wagon throughout the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The Turk brothers were first-generation Americans, their parents having emigrated from Europe. Although they went to school and held jobs in the city to support the family, their weekends were spent upstate working at dude ranches around the Catskills to earn extra money and occasionally ride horses. Toolie eventually began managing the Triple Lake Dude Ranch in Succasunna, NJ, where he met Gloria.

Dude ranches were different in the 1950’s, without the frills that an all-inclusive resort has to offer. It was primarily just horses; accommodations were rustic and facilities weren’t family-friendly. Toolie and Gloria thought that families would love a ranch that catered to their needs, so they began searching for a property that they could convert into the first family-friendly dude ranch.

About 90 miles north of New York City, Toolie and Gloria found the only place they could afford. It was called Friedman’s Shady Lawn Rest Hotel. Built in the late 1800’s, it was one of the oldest hotels in Ulster County and had been closed for twenty years. In fact, during the 1930’s and Prohibition Era, it was even used by the infamous Jack “Legs” Diamond, Irish-American bootlegger, as his headquarters. To transform the aged hotel into a modern resort, they became carpenters, electricians, and stone masons during the week, while catering to guests on the weekends. Occasionally, guests even exchanged their working skills for a stay at the newly established Rocking Horse Ranch.


Business Was Booming

Rocking Horse Ranch 1970

By 1968, after ten years of developing a regular family clientele, business was booming. Rocking Horse was becoming a famous name in the tri-state area. It was the first and only dude ranch in the country to have an indoor and outdoor pool, water skiing, snow skiing, a nightclub, and dozens of other facilities and activities. Toolie knew that these investments were a gamble, but ultimately he and Gloria’s dreams were coming true. In 1969, a new wing of forty rooms was added, bringing the total room count to ninety.

Tragedy Hit

On January 2nd, New Year’s Weekend 1971, tragedy struck. About 300 guests filled the nightclub when a fire broke out. Even with four feet of snow on the ground, each and every guest and staff member were able to get out safely. Within a matter of hours, Toolie, Gloria, and Bucky watched their life’s work go up in flames. There was nothing left standing except for the chimneys and stone walls that were lovingly built. The Turk’s were left with the clothes on their backs, a smoking foundation, and minimal insurance to rebuild. But, within two weeks, they decided to do it all over again. Having succeeded before with less, Rocking Horse and the environment it created for families remained their driving force.

Looking Ahead

Toolie and Gloria’s son Steven joined the operation upon college graduation in 1980, coming on as the Food and Beverage Director. Within five years, Steve earned the title of Director of Operations, and in the fall of 2001, Steve and his wife Shelley purchased the entire operation from his father and uncle. To this day, Steve and Shelley continue to make Rocking Horse one of America’s premier family destinations. Under their leadership, the Ranch earns outstanding reviews, awards, and has gone through a complete investment transformation, including upgrades and improvements such as Boulder Bay Heated Outdoor Pools And Waterslides, Eldorado Hot Springs, Big Splash Indoor Water Park (with signature 250 foot Gold Rush water flume), state-of-the-art snowmaking system, new ski lift, beautiful gardens, continual guest room renovations, and new dining facilities. New just this year is an upgraded Laser Tag experience. Lastly, of course, our anchor attraction, the horses! At nearly 120 strong, Rocking Horse is the largest year-round guest horse operation in America. As Steve loves to boast, our barn is “Home to the Greatest Herd in the World!”

Sadly, after 45 years of dedicating his life to Rocking Horse Ranch, Toolie passed away in the spring of 2002. Gloria remains active as ever, riding and feeding the horses and greeting families daily. The guest list at Rocking Horse now includes the children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren of the very first families Toolie and Gloria greeted. Memorial Day Weekend 2023 marked Rocking Horse’s 65th Anniversary.

Over the past sixty-five years, the Turk Family has devoted themselves to serving guests, and both Steve and Shelley look forward to hosting your family’s next big adventure right here at the Ranch.