Sitting under the shady oaks at Picosa Ranch, once the home of Texas Governor John Connally, I could imagine the ranch in its heyday in the 60s and 70s when Air Force One landed on the ranch airstrip and more than one President and First lady was treated to some Texan hospitality. These days the ranch is open to guests and I was lucky to spend a day there with my family, shown around by Governor Connally’s grandson, Bubba Ammann who is now Vice President of Operations at Picosa Ranch.
If you’re looking for a horseback riding vacation with a unique slice of Texas history thrown in, not to mention shooting, fishing and all the outdoor ranch activities you could wish for, then Picosa ranch could be the place for your luxury ranch experience. The Picosa team will tailor the activities for your group of family or friends to suit your interests, from horseback riding and rodeo for family groups, to clay shooting if you want to improve your skills ready for the hunting season, to a photo safari of the exotic animals such as zebra and eland that are found on the ranch.
I hope you enjoy the video of our day at Picosa Ranch below
The History of Governor John Connally and his family
Bubba Amman showed us around the Main House, in the area of the ranch known as ‘The Oaks’ , which was once the Connally family home, but is now available to be booked by guests at the ranch.
Bubba Amman at Picosa Ranch, with the Stetson intended for President Kennedy
The Main House is decorated in luxurious Texan style, which is to say that there’s plenty of leather and hunting trophies on the walls, as well as family portraits and ornaments from the Connally days. What makes the house special are the unique touches that John Connally’s wife Nellie added when the house was being built; the ornately carved doors and wrought iron staircase that came from the Japanese embassy in London; the rosewood dining table from a Mexican monastery and the specially woven rug that covers the living room floor with a design of wild horses, edged with the Connally cattle brand made up of John and Nellie’s initials.
Pool and Guest House at Picosa Ranch with the Magnolia Tree.
Bubba took us upstairs to see Governor Connally’s office which is filled with information and memorabilia from his years in the 1960s and 1970s when he served as Secretary of the Navy for President Kennedy and as Secretary for the Treasury under President Nixon. As the newly elected Governor of Texas, John Connally and his wife Nellie were both in the car in front of President and Mrs Kennedy, the day of the Dallas assassination in 1963 and Governor Connally was himself shot in the back. Bubba told me how there had been so much speculation over the years about the shooting, but that his grandfather had always told him that there were three shots and from one direction, despite some of the theories to the contrary. In the office we took a look at the tickets to the ball that was planned for that evening and the Stetson that was due to be presented to President Kennedy with his initials JFK in the brim.
Luxury accommodation at Picosa Ranch
The Guest House at Picosa Ranch, Texas
Behind the Main House is a lawn shaded by tall oaks where you can sit sipping a cooling drink and beside the swimming pool is the tall magnolia tree that was grown from a cutting presented to Nellie Connally by First lady Pat Nixon, from the tree on the White House lawn that was planted by President Andrew Jackson.
Beyond the pool is the guest house with four luxurious guest suites, that was originally designed in the 1970s by the leading architect, O’Neil Ford to house the cattle buyers that came to do business on the ranch. There’s a central living area with space for relaxing and working which is furnished with collectibles and antiques such as the carved screens chosen by Nellie Connally and the four bedrooms have plantations shutters, plenty of leather and equestrian artworks to remind you that you’re a cowboy at heart.
Your Horseback Riding Vacation at Picosa Ranch
There is plenty on offer for both novices and experienced riders at Picosa Ranch. If you’re like us and haven’t grown up around horses, the ranch hands will teach you how to saddle up and prepare your horse for a comfortable ride, or if you prefer your horse can be saddled and ready to go as you arrive at the barn. There’s a full-scale rodeo arena where beginners can practice in the enclosed area before heading out to ride on one of the many trails on the ranch.
Horseback riding at Picosa Ranch, Texas
A favourite with guests is to ride the horses on the trails down to the creek where you will pass under the thousand-year old oak trees and get a chance to see spot some of the exotic animals that roam the ranch. If you’d like to stop for lunch, the hay bales will be set out for a picnic or the Picosa chefs can prepare you anything from Texas BBQ and baked beans over the camp fire, to delicious gourmet fare. If Bubba is out riding with you, you might even hear some stories from his childhood, riding these trails, climbing trees, roaming the ranch, and sometimes getting into trouble! Bubba told me;
There’s one massive oak tree that we pass on the way to the creek which has so many stories to tell that you can see the history flowing through every branch
Depending on your riding experience and how long you’d like to be in the saddle, there are many different trails to follow around the ranch. You may even like to try the twilight ride that ends back at the campfire for a delicious dinner.
Shooting at the South Range Lodge
Heather Cowper takes aim at Picosa Ranch, Texas
In addition to the horseback riding there are plenty of more ranch activities on offer and we had a go at the clay shooting at the Wobble Traps that had been set up near the South Range Lodge. We took it in turn to hone our shooting skills ready for the quail or dove hunting season, as the clay targets were launched from both sides and different heights. Our boys already had some experience of shooting and I was happy to watch from the shady pavilion while they perfected their aim. When my turn came, I was thrilled that I didn’t disgrace myself and actually hit a couple of clays, thanks to the help of our endlessly patient instructors, Dan and John.
The Pool at South Lodge, Picosa Ranch, Texas
After the shooting we were invited to the shady sunken patio beside the lagoon pool, known as “The Pit”, for a barbecue lunch where Chef David was making delicious grilled chicken sandwiches to order. The South Lodge Guest suites were only built last year and the pool area and sun loungers were a wonderful place to relax and cool off with a swim, especially for families. Nearby, the old barn has been turned into a luxurious chill-out zone stuffed with hunting trophies, where the boys enjoyed shooting a game of pool and trying their hand at shuffleboard. Meals can also be served in the Main Lodge Barn for groups of guests and there are open fires for winter and air conditioning to cool you in the sweltering Texan summer, not to mention any amount of flat screen TVs so you never have to miss the big game.
Game viewing at Picosa Ranch, Texas
On the way between the Main House and the South Range Lodge we took a little game-spotting tour riding in one of those golf buggys where you could get a bird’s eye view from the high level seating at the back. In the different enclosed areas of the ranch we could see some of the exotic animals such as Oryx, Addax, Waterbuck and Zebra looking very much at home on the ranch. We even saw a cute baby zebra that had been bred on the ranch as well as the herds of Texas longhorn cattle, although there are no longer the thousands of head of cattle that were once kept on the ranch. If fishing is your sport, we passed one of the several stocked fishing pools on the ranch where you could hope to bring back a catfish, bass or perch to grill on the campfire.
Our day at Picosa Ranch was our introduction to the Texan cowboy culture and some real Texas hospitality. In England I might say that we were treated like Royalty, but in Texas I’d have to say that we received the full Presidential treatment.