CASTLETON Pond Hill Ranch in Castleton is about as close to open range as it gets up here in Vermontana. While the Green Mountain State may be about as far east of the Mississippi as you can go in many ways, the fact is that horses and cattleeven cowboys and sheepmenhave always been a part of Vermonts northern-frontier heritage. Dating back to the early 1900s, Pond Hill Ranch was founded by the ORourke family and began as a draft horse and cattle operation. Nearly a century later, it remains an ORourke operation and has grown to become a genuine 2,000-acre ranch complete with free-roaming broncos, unusual cattle stock, and weekly rodeo shows. Harry ORourke, Jr., and his wife Josephine expanded the original family ranch during the 1930s; they added horses and more acreage to the spread. Today, five ORourke siblingsDebbie, Dick, Judy, Harry and Colleen and familiesmanage the ranch. Theirs is the states largest commercial horse ranch providing healthy, happy horses for individuals, resorts, and farms throughout the Northeast. The ranch also boards horses and provides other services for horse owners, both private and commercial. We primarily buy and sell horses, said Harry ORourke, so we buy and sell animals and also lease horses to camps, resorts, etc. We do a lot of traveling for the ranch. Currently, over 800 Pond Hill horses are scattered across the region providing pleasure riding for tourists and other enthusiasts in New England and New York. New England has an English riding tradition, said ORourke, But our tradition here is Western although we offer both styles of horseback riding. At the Castleton ranch, visitors can go on an exciting trail ride, view an operating ranch close up, or simply shop at the ranch tack shop for a new Stetson or a pair of boots. In addition to providing Vermonts best trail ridethrough open meadows, woods, and across a Taconic mountain ridgePond Hill Ranch boasts Vermonts only professional rodeo, part of the American Professional Rodeo Association and National Rodeo Association. The ranchs rodeo show had its start at Lake Bomoseen back in the 1960s, but was subsequently moved onto the ranch to better accommodate growing audiences. Eight rodeo events, held each Saturday evening at 8 oclock, are offered between July 4 and Labor Day for up to 2,000 visitors. While the rodeo season is short up here in northern territory, roping, riding, steer wrestling, bull riding, and much more, are offered to eager audiences. Many rodeo attendees are either repeat visitors or curious first-timers. If youve never seen a rodeo event, chances are a Pond Hill show will make you a lifelong fan. The ORourkes handle all aspects of ranch operationsfrom livestock to live entertainment. For example, Harry and his siblings can often be seen on horseback either checking out riders, giving riding lessons, inspecting cattle and horses, or working cleanup at Saturday rodeo events. If youre simply a fan of westerns, country and western music, want to ride a horse, or are just curious about rodeo, Pond Hill Ranch is close to home, and its guaranteed fun for the whole family. So, saddle up and head westto Pond Hill Ranch! Hours and directions: The ranch is open daily during the summer 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rodeos are held every Saturday, at 8 p.m., between July 4 and Labor Day. The ranch is located in Castleton just south of Castleton State College, off old Route 4, at 1683 Pond Hill Ranch Road. For details or the arrange a trail ride, call the ranch at 802-468-2449 or 802-468-0578.