Cowboys at 56! Why a dude ranch horse riding holiday in the USA should be next on your list

Jill Line and her husband had never ridden before but undeterred they booked an adventure of a lifetime; a horse riding holiday in a dude ranch in America. By Linny Bartlett

A cowboy-themed 50th birthday party of a good friend was the catalyst for our holiday of a lifetime.

My husband Alan and I noticed a photograph of the birthday boy, wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson, sitting astride a handsome horse. Our host told us it was taken on his riding holiday in the USA. He talked about what an incredible time he’d had, and he must have seen the glint in my eye.

“You should go,” he told us. “You won’t regret it.”

We booked it the following week. My initial enthusiasm propelled us into action, but Alan was happy to do the research and make the booking. He found the perfect destination: Red Rock Ranch at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Taking up horse riding in your fifties
Red Rock Ranch holiday. Photo from duderanch.org
On trail with the Red Rock guides. Photo from duderanch.org

At 56, the thought of falling off my horse, or having said horse suddenly gallop off into the sunset with me, was nagging away at the back of my mind. Alan’s older than me but he’s more relaxed about trying new things.

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Even so, we thought it would be a good idea to take a course at a local equestrian centre. Most of the guys at the stables thought we were crazy to book a holiday with so little riding experience, but they also couldn’t wait to hear about Wyoming. Within a couple of weeks, we were off!

Riding holidays in the US
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The jaw-dropping vistas of Wyoming. Jill and her husband were novice riders

The first thing that struck us was how beautiful Wyoming was. The terrain is just like in a cowboy film. Alpine meadows and wide open plains, with steep paths that make the heart beat a little faster.

Lucky for us the horses knew exactly what they were doing and it helped that we were all matched to the right horse for our own ability.

I was given Poncho, who was great to ride and safe, but did challenge me a few times. I needed to keep my wits about me and have good rapport with him.

Navigating an obstacle, he decided to take the easiest route (for him) and chose to walk under a tree. It was a split second decision – lie back as flat as I can or get knocked out of the saddle by a branch. I just about made it, and found out how supple I still am.

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The bears are not a problem. Oh yes, there are bears. But we were assured that they are black bears and are not particularly threatening.

Sadly we never got to see one, even on the day we rode out to Grizzly Lake for a picnic. Still, seeing a few eagles and coyotes helped make up for it.

We were in small groups headed up by a wrangler. They were safety conscious but it was never so overdone that it impacted on the fun aspect of the holiday.

We rode every day but the pace is gentle so that we could make the most of the incredible scenery and chat to the other riders. It’s a relaxed way of meeting new people and hearing some great stories about their previous travels and lives back home.

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Jill herds the cows in the Wild West games at the end of the week

Red Rock is a ‘dude’ ranch where the horses are ridden for pleasure, but to help us get into the whole Wild West vibe, at the end of the week there were competitions against the clock.

We were put into teams and tried herding cows into pens or up to the other end of the corral. I had huge fun, racing up and down like Annie Oakley and feeling incredibly proud when our team won one of the challenges.

There were other things to do like trap shooting and playing pool and we enjoyed an afternoon fly fishing. From the ranch, visitors can take a day trip to the affluent town of Jackson Hole, and the Grand Teton National Park.

The weather can be changeable. Bright sunshine will suddenly be replaced by dark skies, rain, hail and even snow, but we found it all adds to the drama!

We got caught out by how chilly it was and should have packed warmer clothes but our holiday was in the very last week of the season, which incidentally is reserved as the adults’ only week.

Red Rock Ranch Wyoming
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Red Rock Ranch has lodges for guests to stay in, stables and a pool

The food and accommodation is great. We stayed in a clean and comfortable log cabin, furnished in a cool homespun cowboy style. There are no TVs and no radios so it’s the perfect digital detox.

In the evenings, I would sit in a rocking chair on the porch; my feet up on the hitching rail, watching the sun go down. Or sit by the log burner and read a book. It was all so beautifully simple.

We had such an amazing experience that we’ve booked to go to Red Rock again in 2016.

Some of the people who were on our course in the UK thought we were crazy. They wondered how two ‘oldies’ would cope with being in the saddle for hours on end, day after day. But now they’ve seen our pictures and heard our stories, they talk about going one day themselves.

It’s so easy to lose spontaneity as you get older, and to let the ‘what if’s’ take over, those fears we all have about doing things outside our comfort zone.

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But now I think, what if we hadn’t taken that chance? We would have missed out on an experience that we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives.

Being away from the stresses of UK life allowed Alan and I to feel even more connected to each other. We both love the outdoors, and although the countryside in the UK can be wonderful, the wide open spaces of Wyoming really take your breath away. It is some of the most amazing landscape on earth.

We’d now definitely be up for other sorts of adventure holidays and this experience has really shown us that life is for living to the full.