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Cowboys tame the wild Emmental

Emmental cowboy prepares for a shoot-out swissinfo.ch

Among the green hills and grazing cows of the Emmental, cowboys and Indians are fighting pitched battles along the western frontier.

This content was published on July 8, 2002 - 10:41

Cowboy Adventures

In this Wild West, the visitors are the cowboys. The adventures kick off with a relaxing game of horseshoe throwing, near the tepee. But this is quickly interrupted by the neighbouring Indians, who introduce the cowboys to "a real man's game" - throwing the Tomahawk at a painted target.

Things soon turn sour and the action moves from the forecourt to the barn, where you have to escape across a "canyon", swinging by a rope from one bale of hay to the next.

You then get a job in a rodeo, where participants sit on a painted block of wood suspended on wires, which the guide obligingly shakes until you fall off. The other cowboys are jealous of your abilities, and a fight breaks out, at first with straw bags but later with guns loaded with paint balls.

You end up going to jail, breaking out, and getting a job on a farm, where you have to lasso wooden bulls. As the sun begins to set, meat sizzles on an open fire and there are enough cold drinks in the Longhorn Bar to quench the thirst of 100 cowboys. All this without the Wild West horse flies.

They are visitors to the ranch called "Binzberg Land" - a tiny slice of the Wild West in the heart of Switzerland. It's not more than 900 metres as the crow flies from the medieval castle of Burgdorf, but the two are worlds apart.

This becomes clear as you approach the ranch and see the giant tepee and brightly coloured totem pole in the yard.

Over the entrance, a wooden nameplate swings in the breeze. Country and western music is piped out to the stables where cowboys tether up their horses before helping themselves to a bottle of the ranch home brew in the saloon. And if you need the "Rest Room", watch out for the fearsome Indian Chief staring down from the wall.

It's a kind of theme park cum adventure playground, with an entrance fee of SFr25 per person. A certain amount of role playing is required on the part of participants. Daniel Moser, one of the partners in the project, worked out the scenarios with the help of Eigervision, an ideas company in Grindelwald.

A dream comes true

The ranch belongs to Renata and Hannes Gasser, a carpenter by profession. Hannes has worked on farms with horses since his childhood, and has always dreamed of having his own ranch.

The Gassers spend most of their holidays in the United States, and feel drawn to the never-ending windblown plains of Arizona. In 1996 they got planning permission to take over an old disused farm, which had fallen prey to squatters. They now have 14 ponies, two foals, and a petting zoo with goats and pigs. Not that everyone likes to pet pigs, but it all helps to generate a real farm atmosphere.

"There's a bit of cowboy in everyone"

Daniel Moser is also a fan of America. On a recent visit to Tombstone, Arizona, he was inspired by the re-enacted Battle of Wyatt Earp - the classic shoot-out of the "Old West".

What amazed him was not the quality of the acting, but the amount of money it generated for the organisers. Daniel spotted a business opportunity based on his belief that "there's a bit of cowboy in everyone".

Daniel and his partner Kathrin Oppliger run a restaurant near Burgdorf called Gasthaus Hirschen Kaltacker. Together with the Gassers, they sank SFr20,000 into Binzberg Land.

Two weeks into the project, the hot weather has rather stifled demand for the cowboy experience, but Daniel is expecting a bumper season in September. Meanwhile, he's working on his Tomahawk-throwing and lassoing skills.

by Julie Hunt

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