I arrived at the White Stallion Ranch in Arizona late November and stayed for a one week horse vacation. It was part of a travelling adventure I was having in USA. For two months I'd been visiting places that I'd always dreamed of going to; now I was about to embark on something that I'd only seen in American movies - to ride western-style.
The last time I'd been on a horse was when I was ten years old. I used to spend my Sunday mornings learning how to ride English-style but a nasty fall early on put me off before I had progressed beyond a gentle trot. Thirty years on, the challenge was not only to get on a horse, but also to learn how to canter - or, as the Americans say, lope.
|Riding through the desert; horses on the ranch; me on Dusty |
My horse for the week was a beautiful sandy-coloured pinto called Dusty and I had no trouble getting into the saddle. She was a joy to ride. Each day we had a choice of slow and fast rides that lasted about one and half hours. Some mornings began early with a ride out into a sheltered eating area where we were served a hearty breakfast of eggs, pancakes and coffee while sitting in the desert looking out to the mountains before returning to the ranch. I also enjoyed an all-day ride into the Saguaro Park, where we stopped for 45 minutes to have lunch, and then continued up into the mountains. From 9.30am to 5.30pm, we were in the saddle, and while I did get a little saddle sore, it was well worth it for the scenic views and the experience of riding up - and down - steep mountain paths (without falling off Dusty!). I also had a couple of one-hour lessons during my stay, and by the end of the week, I was loping! I half expected Robert Redford and Paul Newman to emerge from the mountains and gallop alongside me! Yahoo!
The one thing I didn't have a go at while I was on the ranch was cattle penning. For the more experienced riders, there was the chance to be a real cowboy and get a taste of what it's like to work on a cattle ranch. Two teams of four riders competed on horseback to round up a calf and get it into a pen - in the fastest time. It was great fun to watch - very exciting and competitive.
Evening entertainment was varied with songs around a campfire, twirling rope demonstrations and a special presentation by a glass blower. In the ranch house there was also a comfortable living room and a Happy Hour saloon, complete with saddle seats as bar stools, as well as an area where you could play billiards. Meals were served either inside the dining room or outside on the patio - and the food was exceptional! Not just steak and burgers cooked on the barbecue, but also seafood (swordfish, salmon and shrimp), and a great selection of vegetables and desserts.
As for my accommodation, I had my own private hacienda with views looking out over where the horses grazed. The mini house itself was very comfortable well-furnished, clean and spacious with a double bed, walk-in closet, bathroom, and small patio.
My week of riding went very fast but, boy, was it fun. It ended with a rodeo, where the cowboys and cowgirls from the ranch demonstrated their skills by steer wrestling, roping and barrel racing. I was impressed by their riding abilities, but for me the highlight of my holiday was cantering in the desert - what a wonderful feeling!