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WIDE-OPEN SPACES ON THE LAZY RT: It's a laid-back, but busy, life on the ranch

Published Jul. 26, 2005
Updated Mar. 25, 2008

The Lazy RT Ranch unfolds along a two-lane road on the outskirts of Dade City, past hayfields, cattle ranches, horse pasture and Florida sky so big and in your face it seems possible to climb the steep summer clouds.

Tiffany Styck guides her horse at a dead run around a series of barrels in a dirt arena.

At 19, she dreams of becoming the world's greatest barrel-racing champion, riding her bay gelding, Skidboots, to victory just once so she can see what it feels like.

"After that I'd want to give others a chance," says Tiffany, who has already qualified to compete in world championship events.

If she does it at all, she will no doubt do it on Skidboots, a 5-year-old quarter horse with heart, speed and one blue eye, who helped her ride again after a rollover accident in her Ford Explorer almost killed her a year ago. Two months after the accident, she was back in the saddle, albeit gingerly, riding out in the fields near the barn.

"He's what heals me," she says of the horse bred on the ranch owned by her parents, Therese and Richard Styck. "I love him with all my heart."

Therese and Richard Styck also have a dream: that someday their 30-acre farm will be known for producing the best barrel-racing horses in the business. Horses with speed.

"And," Therese says with the conviction of a true believer, "a lot of heart."

The Stycks bought the first 20 acres 12 years ago, at $6,000 an acre, with the idea that the family would live and trail-ride for pleasure on the property. The gentle hilly landscape of oak and cedar trees and a large, scenic pond sit in a part of Pasco County still so rural it feels like the middle of nowhere. With its compound that includes a custom house, barns and outbuildings, all wrapped in a ribbon of three-board wooden fence, it looks more like a tony Ocala horse farm than a barrel racer's Mecca.

Richard, who owns a concrete and masonry business, used to come out to the property, once a citrus grove, and ride his tractor-mower around for hours. Sometimes he would sit at a picnic table and sketch out plans and think.

"I wanted to figure out how we would lay things out," he recalls, "how we would do it."

One thing was for sure: The family wanted to grow their longtime interest in horses from hobby into something bigger.

High school sweethearts from the Chicago suburb of Lansing, the Stycks have been married 35 years and have three children, all young adults. They moved to Pasco more than two decades ago after Richard studied the area and learned that it was going to grow exponentially.

"I did a lot of research and according to everything I read, Pasco was going to be a fast-growing Florida county," he recalls. "Plus, I'm in the construction business and in the North, you can really only work in the good weather months."

The Stycks were among the first residents of the Aristida subdivision in New Port Richey. They lived on 2{ acres that backed up to Starkey Park, and they kept a couple of horses just for pleasure.

Tiffany learned to ride almost as soon as she could walk. Her interest in riding, particularly barrel-racing, burgeoned over the years. And as her skills sharpened, the need for a competitive horse became apparent.

"Most people are not going to sell you a good horse if they're going to be competing with you next week," Therese explains. "At this point, we would never buy a horse from anyone else."

When they made the decision to get into the breeding end of the business, they also decided to embrace horse life head on and live on their ranch.

Three years after buying the land, the Stycks built a 3,800-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bath home with a horseshoe-shaped swimming pool. The horseshoe is the symbol for the Lazy RT brand that appears on the back left hip of all their horses. Inside, the house is every horse lover's dream: wagon-wheel furniture, china plates on the walls depicting famous thoroughbreds, collections of horse figurines and Breyer horses, cowboy hats, boots, cowhide throw pillows, horse-head kitchen canisters, horse paintings, horse quilts, throws and rugs.

Horses are etched into the glass front door panel, horseshoes in a transom and hall mirror.

"We just went with horse everything," Therese says, laughing.

Still, the demands of the farm don't allow Richard and Therese and Tiffany _ who still lives at home _ to spend much time in the house. "We basically sleep, eat and shower here," Therese jokes. "And occasionally, once a month, maybe, watch a movie _ a horse movie _ as a family."

Three loyal employees work for the farm helping with everything from barn chores to bookkeeping.

But the Stycks religiously adhere to their 24-7 "hands-on" philosophy, rising before dawn, grabbing coffee and heading to the barns. Richard, who says the ranch helps him "forget the problems of the city," typically brushes horses after a long day at a Tampa construction site; Therese rarely leaves.

"This is not some backyard operation," Therese says, "It's part of our lives."

Tiffany, well-spoken and mature beyond her years, was homeschooled during high school because she was spending so much time barrel-racing. There's no place she'd rather be than home on the Lazy RT, she says.

"I'd rather be around my horses than with friends or at parties. I love being around my horse and my parents," she explains. "My parents mean the world to me. They're my rock, my everything."

Ranch life, they believe, keeps a family close because of the inherent demands of the land and animals.

Even sleeping through the night in the house is sometimes a problem if a brood mare is about to give birth, an event the family closely monitors from the bedrooms on closed-circuit television.

Mother, father and daughter have delivered many a foal together in the middle of the night. "We know when it's time _ Tiffany and I look at each other and say, "let's get out there.' Richard usually runs out in his boxers," Therese says. "We start imprinting the foal at the moment of birth, touching, talking, stroking it. It's absolutely so fulfilling; I don't care how many times you've seen it."

Horse owners who bring their animals to the Lazy RT for breeding purposes can hang out in a lodge-style lounge outfitted with a pool and poker table, popcorn machine and fully outfitted bar complete with jars of peanuts, pork rinds and Michelob Light on tap. Comfortable sofas surround a large screen TV where Tiffany often watches a taped performance of her latest barrel run.

On a quiet Tuesday morning, country music plays in the clean, airy barns that smell like heaven to horse lovers: hay, leather tack, sawdust and the earthy, sweet smell of the horses themselves.

Veterinarian Doug Davenport stops by to perform ultrasounds, check on pregnant mares as well as on an injured colt.

"It's a laid-back kind of life," he says of his work on the Lazy RT and neighboring ranches. "If I've had a bad night, I can pull my pickup under an oak tree somewhere and get refreshed."

Davenport stood in the cool of the barn one hot July day as Tiffany led Skidboots in by his silver and leather show halter.

The horse watched a posse of visitors curiously, flicking his tail a little, standing close to Tiffany. Though still recovering, Tiffany is finally beginning to ride competitively again, the dream of a barrel-racing championship, even corporate sponsors, perhaps, no longer out of reach.

A broken femur, a crushed hand and severe barbed wire injuries sustained after she was thrown from her car, might have kept her out of the saddle forever. But, she says, she has a horse with "a big heart."

Bred at the Lazy RT.

It's home to a family that loves its horses, land and each other.

"This ranch is a big part of keeping our family close," Therese says. "Seven days a week, we have to be here. And I hardly ever want to tear myself away _ not even to go to the grocery store."