America’s Premiere Destination For Upscale, Fun Adventures

Nestled in Ulster County, Rocking Horse Ranch Resort represents a dream brought to fruition. The proud bearer of a rich family history, it opened Memorial Day weekend in 1958 by founders Gloria and Nathan “Toolie” Turk who were joined in 1962 by Toolie’s brother, Bucky. Although both Toolie and Gloria were born in New York City, they shared an affi nity for horses. Combining their love of the noble animals with their keen business acumen, they felt that families who shared their interest would love a ranch that catered to their needs, so they began searching for a property they could convert into the first family-friendly dude ranch. 

About 90 miles north of New York City, the couple found the only place they could afford. It was called Friedman’s Shady Lawn Rest Hotel. Built in the late 1800s, it was one of the oldest hotels in Ulster County and had been closed for 20 years. 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. 

By 1968, after developing a regular family clientele, business was booming. Rocking Horse Ranch was becoming a famous name in the tri-state area. It was the first and only dude ranch 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 his and Gloria’s dreams were brought to fruition. In 1969, a new wing of 40 rooms was added, bringing the total room count to 90. 

After a tragic fire struck on January 2, New Year’s weekend of 1971, nothing of the hotel remained standing, save for the chimneys and stone walls they had lovingly built. The Turks were left with the shirts on their backs, a smoking foundation, and minimal insurance money to rebuild. But within two weeks, the indefatigable couple decided to do it all over again, having succeeded before with less. Rocking Horse and the environment it created remained their driving force. 

This time, the Turks designed the new Rocking Horse Ranch from the ground up. With good credit and a history of success, they were able to borrow enough from the bank to begin building. An architect was hired and construction began in March 1971. Needless to say, the ranch opened to a full house of guests in that same season. Indeed, so successful was that season, 24 more rooms were added the following year. 

In 1980, upon graduation from college, Toolie and Gloria’s son Steven joined the operation, earning the title of director of operations within fi ve years. 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 gracious and professional leadership, the ranch earns outstanding reviews, awards, and has gone through a complete investment transformation and upgrades. At nearly 120 horses strong, Rocking Horse is the largest year-round guest horse operation in the nation. As Steve loves to boast, “Our barn is the ‘Home of the Greatest Herd in the World!’” 

“What makes the ranch unique is its intimate, all-inclusive boutique-style hospitality. As a family-owned business, we put the focus on our guests,” says Steve. “Every stay at Rocking Horse Ranch is designed to provide an upscale and fun family adventure. With only 113 guest rooms, you’ll never have to wait to enjoy any of the countless amenities included with a tour stay. That’s why families have been coming back to the ranch for generations.” 

The true stars of the ranch are the horses. With nearly 120 horses on site, Rocking Horse Ranch is truly the “home of the greatest herd in the world.” Unlimited horseback riding is included with a stay. In addition, there are horse-drawn wagon rides and horseshoeing demonstrations for the entire family to enjoy. There’s mountain tubing, kayaking, and paddle-boating (on their private lake), as well as daily organized activities and nightly entertainment, and, of course, the Big Splash indoor waterpark. 

For Steve and Shelley Turk, the ranch is more than a business; it is a labor of love. “The most rewarding thing about managing the team at Rocking Horse Ranch is seeing the smiles on our guests’ faces every day,” Steve shared. “Being able to provide lifetime memories for families is the reason we do this, and those smiles are a constant reminder of our success.” 

As a resort with such a long, rich history, the biggest challenge is staying relevant as family dynamics change. To that end, they are constantly looking to improve and add new experiences for their guests to keep them coming back again and again. Indeed, the feedback from their guests is overwhelmingly positive—so much so that TripAdvisor has named Rocking Horse Ranch as the #2 family resort for the second consecutive year. Consider the following accolades that are representative of the more than 2,000 reviews of Rocking Horse Ranch on TripAdvisor’s website. 

“This family resort never disappoints,” commented Michael Benjamin. “Kids can’t get enough. A consistently well-managed family resort with excellent customer service. It has many great features, but I would say the always-friendly, courteous, and professional staff makes this place extra special. On checkout we always book the next visit.” 

“This is the ultimate destination for a family vacation,” shared T. Hale. We went for a celebration of our 50th anniversary. Three generations, ten people, all had a fabulous time, including a toddler. It was the ultimate family vacation. The facilities are incredible. The grounds are magnificent. The employees are all cordial, professional, and helpful. I cannot say enough positive. Kudos to Steve Turk and his family.” 

“My family and I just got back from the ranch; once again, it was an awesome time had by all,” wrote Philip Bach following his family’s Labor Day stay at their favorite adventure destination. “The kids loved it! We will defi nitely be back soon! Miss it already…we had a wonderful time…wish it was longer!” 

Steve and Shelley Turk and their team cordially invite you to join them for Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos at the ranch. “We will have delicious Spring Valley brand prepared meals for our guests over Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos and a sukkah on site,” said Steve. “We are offering special rates and, as always, stand ready to accommodate you in every way to ensure a festive and memorable stay.” 

With fall and winter fast approaching, a plethora of unique activities await you at the ranch. In the fall, they offer apple picking at a local farm, Dubois Farms. In addition, guests can experience the ranch’s Fall Fest event, which includes the best of this season’s local harvest. When winter arrives, guests can enjoy skiing—equipment and instruction included—and take advantage of their learn-to-ski guarantee. They also feature the not-to-be-missed timber chute snow-tubing lanes, ice-skating rink, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Simply stated, Rocking Horse Ranch is the ultimate family-fun adventure throughout the year. 

You’d think Steven Turk and his team would be content to leave it at that; however, these consummate professionals are raising the bar in upscale fun experiences yet again. Presently, they are in the process of building a completely new aquatic adventure that will feature 95° mineral springs for year-round enjoyment, as well as a brand-new outdoor pool and slide complex for summer family fun. 

“Rocking Horse Ranch is the perfect getaway for families,” says Steve. “There’s plenty to do for all ages and the best part is that it’s all included. We look forward to celebrating the festive chagim with treasured past guests and new mishpachah.” For reservations or more information regarding Rocking Horse Ranch, please refer to their ad in this issue of the 5TJT. 

Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Read more of Rochelle Miller’s articles at