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Posted on November 26, 2012
If you are considering riding holidays in the USA, make sure you read our blog to find out more about the various choices available!
MONTANA is one of my favourite places in the world and it was actually the first place I visited when researching worldwide riding holidays and setting up In The Saddle. With some brand new business cards in my pocket and a fairly vague business plan in my head, I flew to Montana in July 1995 to research riding holidays in the USA. That was before the ‘worldwideweb’ and so my pre-trip research had consisted of ploughing through tourist board listings of ranches and phoning them to say I would be in the area.
For me, riding in Montana is all about getting into the mountains; to areas off-limits to vehicles. I’ve never felt the need to ride fast; it’s the being there that’s important and often you ride on very narrow tracks and switchbacks up and down mountain sides. At other times you might ride through meadows where “the grass is a high as an elephant’s eye” or at least brushing your stirrups. Since most of Montana’s moisture is snow melt, it’s not until late June/early July and the ground has warmed that the grass is green and you see beautiful wild flowers like the crimson Indian Paintbrush or delicate tiny orchids. Most of the guest ranches are near to the Continental Divide, where the rivers either flow west to the Pacific or east onto the great plains. These are where you will see the most spectacular Montana views and wish you were a billionaire film star and could afford your own ranch to enjoy for the two or three months of the short Montana summer.
WYOMING has many guest ranches. It also has most of Yellowstone National Park and Cody, a town which hangs onto its wild west history with a re-enactment of a shootout in the high street every afternoon and later a rodeo every night. Butch Cassidy was a cowboy on a number of ranches in Wyoming and the famous Hole in the Wall gang took its name from a high escarpment in central Wyoming. There was a gap in the escarpment, which became the hole through which the gang would escape and hideout. In this area, in a town called Ten Sleep (so named by the Indians because it was a journey of ten sleeps from Yellowstone) lives a wonderful woman called Belinda Daugherty who guides riding expeditions for the experienced rider. You could just imagine Butch Cassidy and his gang appearing from behind any of the bluffs. You can also still ride to the saloon and tie up your horse outside with the ride back home later being one of the hairier of the week! Sleep in a cowboy tepee which is a largish tent with a central pole in the middle, pegged out at the corners.
COLORADO for us means cattle work and Colorado Cattle Company. Many many Americans (and Europeans too) yearn to recreate the life of the cowboy. The re-release of City Slickers (the movie) as a collector’s edition DVD includes a 10 minute feature on Colorado Cattle Company in the extra features section titled “The Real City Slickers” which tells the story of a day in the life of a guest to the ranch. At this working ranch some 12 – 16 guests spend the days with cattle work and the job to be done will depend on the time of year. In spring the ranch will be busy with calving, branding and moving pairs to summer pastures. In autumn there are several cattle drives a week before cattle are shipped to winter feedyards. In the afternoon there is the opportunity for Cowboy School – learn the correct way to handle a rope from a horse and how to read and work cattle.
SOUTH DAKOTA’s Fortune Ranch offers the chance to be a part of the real thing because the rancher takes just one or two guests at a time who live as part of the family, riding alongside the family. This close experience wouldn’t suit everyone but for those who go, they get to see and work cattle in much the same way as their forefathers did with horse, rope and neighbour helping neighbour. About the main thing that has changed is that rarely now do cowboys camp out overnight. We’re always getting asked if we know of any cattle drives involving overnight camps, but cowboys just don’t it that way anymore. All prefer the comfort of their own bed and trailer the horses to and from the cattle each day. But that’s about the only aspect that’s not how you would imagine it to be if like me you grew up with Little Joe and Hoss Cartwright (and if you are curious Bonanza ran for 14 years between 1959 and 1973) and perhaps showing too many hours in front of afterschool TV, my first thoughts on visiting Fortune Ranch was that it was just like “Little House on the Prairie”.
ARIZONA in southern USA is much warmer than the northern Rocky States like Montana and Wyoming and so the guest ranches can be open all year round, although it’s mainly only the British who would visit in July and August when it’s really far too hot to enjoy any horse riding. Here we also find one of the most famous resort ranches in the USA. Tanque Verde Ranch has been taking “eastern dudes” since 1908. It has over 70 luxury rooms and nearly 200 horses. Riding is still the main activity although you can also play tennis, swim, go mountain biking or hiking or relax in a luxury spa. The ranch is undoubtedly very popular with families but suitable also for experienced riders who must pass a lope test before being allowed out on the fast rides.
CALIFORNIA is the home of Lari Shea, one of the most famous American endurance riders who won the Tevis Cup in 1989. She first moved to the north California coastal town of Mendocino in 1968 and since then has completed well over 6,000 miles in 50 and 100 mile endurance races, with top ten completions in 94 of 106 rides. Lari has offered her Redwood Coast Riding Vacations since 1985 and as such it was one of the first riding holidays on the international market. Getting there is an exciting drive over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and north through famous wineyards, then roads lined with majestic Redwoods until you reach the wild Pacific coastline. Lari has a wider selection of horses than you would typically find at a ranch and they include Arabians, Akhal-Teke, Appaloosa, Thoroughbred and Quarter horses. They are all super fit so it’s a fun fast ride galloping along the endless beaches and winding through forest tracks. Her currently competing horses are given to guests and when Lari is guiding throughout the day she shares her immense knowledge of getting horses fit for competition and successful completing an ER. She is keen to retire from the riding holiday business and so if you want to ride with her don’t delay; and if you want to take-over a successful riding holiday operation then she would be very keen to hear from you.
This is just a short summary of the wonderful riding opportunities in a few US states. Western riding should come very easily to endurance riders who are used to controlling and turning their horse with a slight change in their weight. And of course the typical ranch Quarter horse is so well trained that even a beginner can quickly feel in control. It’s clear that when choosing a vacation in the US you need to think carefully about what you are looking for. Is it scenery, fast riding, cowboy life? Being part of a larger fun group or visiting somewhere which takes only one or two guests? Accommodation can vary from beautifully furnished log cabins to a bunkhouse shared with five others. Horses have been key to the development of America and on a riding holiday you can experience a little of the way early settlers travelled and how the cowboys lived and worked.
Riding holidays in the USA can be booked through In The Saddle.