What’s Happening on the Ranch?

There’s always something happening at Vista Verde Ranch. Foals are born, new recipes are created, or the wranglers are playing tricks on each other. Come here to read the latest news!

winter vacation in Colorado article

Dallas Morning News – November 2015

We weren’t expecting this article, but our friend and writer Dan Leeth surprised me the other day with a link to the Dallas Morning News and a great article he wrote about his visit in the winter to the ranch.  It’s a really nice article, and I’m in love with the main photo he took from his cabin deck.  The timing is perfect as we are just about ready to open for the winter season, and are gearing up for guests to arrive for a winter vacation in Colorado!  Read more….

dude ranch life

Dude Ranch Life: Off-season comes to an end

With our winter staff rolling into the ranch this week, and orientation kicking off into high speed, the off-season has officially come to an end.  The ranch doesn’t open it’s doors for guests for a little while still, but the pace and activity level is at full throttle again.

During the last few weeks of off-season, those of us at the ranch have been busy getting the finishing touches on our many projects.  One of the exciting ones we have on the front burner right now is gearing up for a full remodel of our duplex to make it guest ready for next summer.  The other day Bill, Ben, and I spent the whole day at the interior decorator’s shop picking out tile, carpet, counter tops, fireplace stone, and more.  Now, you have to understand that none of us relish in this, especially Ben.  But, we gutted it out under the amazing guidance of Yvonne, and came up with some great picks.  The North Fork and South Fork units are going to be gorgeous and have a serene views of the Winter horse pasture.

In other exciting off-season news, Bill has been moving into his new house.  It’s been on his radar for years to move off the ranch and buy a home of his own, and he took the plunge this fall.  After over 20 years of living on the ranch, he’s finding all sorts of treasures as he packs up!

During a moment of weakness, Ben got talked into joining the board of the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association.  He’ll be heading to meetings throughout the year to help the board oversee the marketing, policies, and direction of the association, which is made up of about 30 ranches in Colorado.  It’s a great organization that encourages industry cooperation, and we’re proud to have Ben serving on the board.

Beka is a blur today as she gets ready for all our staff to arrive.  Grace put the finishing touches on the staff housing in anticipation of the staff coming in today.  The chefs are prepping dinner for our Welcome Dinner, and we’re having our first manager meeting of the season to regroup and get everyone back together again.

To top it all off, we got another 3 inches of snow last night, and there is more coming tonight.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Winter around here!


LiveOutdoors.com – December 2015

The folks at Live Outdoors got us excited about the start of our winter season in this article about the ranch and Steamboat winter vacations.  Vicki Cinebell writes about all the fun there is to have at the ranch in the winter, and also spends some time encouraging the idea of heading into the Steamboat Ski Resort for downhill skiing or snowboarding during your winter holiday at the ranch.  Read more……

back country ski touring vacation

What is Backcountry Skiing, and can I do it?

Many people know what cross country (XC) skiing looks like, but many of our new guests ask us “What is backcountry skiing?”  Backcountry skiing is the most popular kind of skiing at the ranch and one of our hallmark winter activities.

First off, it’s important to understand that backcountry skiing is a broad term that means different things to different people.  For some, this is an extreme sport that you might see in an epic ski movie.  That is not what we’re doing here!  Our version is probably better described as backcountry touring.

Imagine taking a hike through a pristine meadow covered with a blanket of untouched snow.  You cross the meadow and head into the trees.  The hush of the forest is disturbed only by the plop of snow puffs falling out of the trees.  You see fox tracks and keep an eye out for a moose or elk sighting in the distance.  Once out of the forest, you find yourself gliding across a lake that is covered in a thick layer of ice and frosted with fresh powder.  As you head back home, your stomach starts to grumble for lunch.  The hearty breakfast has worn off as you’ve been burning calories out in the woods, and it’s time to warm up by the fire.  That is backcountry touring.

From a technical perspective, what this looks like is a heavy duty pair of cross-country boots and skis.  Your heel is free, so the boot connects only at the toe.  This allows the kick and glide motion that propels you through the snow.  The skis are wider and heavier than a traditional cross-country ski, so you will float in the snow, which means less work for you to get through the powder.  Some backcountry touring skis have metal edges, which makes it easier to grip the snow on a side-hill, or make a turn if you are playing around with going down hills in the backcountry.

At Vista Verde, our guides first teach our guests the basics of backcountry touring.  We show our guests how to move forward as efficiently as possible, and teach how to get up and down small hills.  Most importantly, we teach how to get up when you fall down.  The great part of being out in fresh powder is it doesn’t hurt if you fall!  But you need to know how to get back up in the fluffy stuff, as it can feel pretty bottomless after a big snow storm.  Then, we head out to one of the areas where we like to ski.  With millions of acres in the Routt National Forest, our terrain options are extensive.  Most of the time our guided tours last 1 ½- 2 hours, but there are a few days a week that we pack up a lunch for the more adventurous skiers and head out all day.  Those are double dessert days!

We’d love to introduce you to backcountry skiing, so come play with us this winter!

funny visitors for a ranch vacation

Dude Ranch Life: A different kind of guest

We normally roll out the red carpet for our guests, and look forward to introducing new folks to the ranch.  This week, there was a surprising new group who showed up unexpectedly for a little ranch vacation.  Sheep!

The sheep were spotted off and on for a couple days earlier in the week just down the road.  Then, mid-week, they decided to make their presence official as they headed up the driveway.  Troy saddled up Caddy and rounded them up the other morning.  We’ve had to do some searching to try to figure out who they belong to: lots of phone calls, asking around at the Clark Store, and networking with other ranchers.  Finally, the owner was located and he’s coming to pick them up in the next couple days.  In the meantime, they are fun little pets to have hanging around and are providing a real shock for our horses.  They can’t quite figure out what these weird smelling animals are doing in their round pen!

It just goes to show that every day is a new adventure here at Vista Verde, and we love a good adventure.

barn loft for winter resort

Dude Ranch Life: Off-season projects

‘Tis the season.  For us, that means it’s time to get busy working on projects around the ranch.  It’s hard to tear the place up too much when there are guests here, so when the ranch is closed down, our work ramps up.  And there is always a lot to do!

Right now Bill is busy in the cabins, fixing all the little bumps and bruises that occur over the course of the season.  Banged up baseboard heaters, holes poked in screens, dings on the walls, and nicks on the furniture.  Later today I’ll do a walk-through to make a list of all the window coverings that need to be replaced or fixed.  The non-washable items are all at the dry cleaners, and new towels have been ordered.

Moving down to the Lodge, we tore out all the dining room carpet in anticipation of the arrival of our new carpet.  It was just time, as the old carpet wasn’t going to make it another season.  And, when I say “we” tore out the carpet, I should clarify.  Meagan and Devyn took office breaks last week and got their hands dirty ripping up the old carpet and pad.  Those two can do a lot more than just have a nice voice on the phones, you know!

Up in the barn, Nate has been working hard on the improved barn loft.  He has had help from “little” Ben, Tim, and Troy, as he encloses, insulates, and winterizes the barn loft this fall.  We’re excited to finally have a space to hold barn dances in the winter, as well as be able to spread out a bit for yoga classes in the colder months and when the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor yoga.  An official name for the new and improved Barn Loft is still undecided, but we can work on that as the snow piles up.

When Nate isn’t up in the loft, he’s multi-tasking by working on our new fitness room.  Now, we know that most of our guests never even touch the fitness center, and why would they when there are miles of trails to explore with amazing scenery and natural intervals?  But, for those who want to hit the elliptical or treadmill, we are moving the equipment to an air-conditioned spot near the Machine Shed.  This will allow us to move forward with adding a new unit for our guests.  Named North Fork and South Fork, these two duplex units will be ready for Summer 2016, and will be ready to accommodate smaller families by Summer 2016.

Lastly, Charlie and Ben took on the project of getting the ranch hands an official headquarters, where they can check in on any office work as well as hang their wet and dirty gear to dry in between shifts.  It’s not glamorous, but it gives them a home base to meet up and plan out their days.

So many projects, and so little time.  The beautiful weather made it a lot easier to work on these projects, but the snow rolling in now will scoot us along a little quicker to get them finished!  Because ’tis the season for snow to start piling up too.

dude ranch dining room remodel dude ranch staff off season project fitness room remodel at Colorado resort remodel at luxury resort

dude ranch chefs

Dude Ranch life: Off-season shenanigans

Chefs John (JT) and Cholly came back all excited from a “field trip” to Yampa Valley Farms.  Armed with photos and talking my ear off about the experience, he agreed to share their story with all of you.

As chefs, today was a very special day. We were able to find a totally unique product that is not only amazingly delicious and beautiful, but also local! Minimizing our carbon footprint is something we continuously strive to do by sourcing as local as possible from producers who share similar values.

We had the good fortune to meet with Josh Kilbane of Yampa Valley Farms. Josh is raising the most beautiful pork product we have ever seen. It was a breath of fresh air to see a farm of free-ranged pigs not confined to a concrete slab. The pigs are fed fresh prep scrap from local restaurants, as well as beets and turnips grown on the farm to encourage routing and self-feeding. Also, with two ponds on the lot we had a chance to see the pigs swim and wallow. Josh has made a special cross breed of Berkshire pig and Mangilitaz “Wooly Pig” to create what he calls the Colorado Mountain Pig. This cross allows the pig to be durable enough for the harsh environment of Northern Colorado. All the pork from Yampa Valley Farms is hormone and antibiotic free, as well as sustainably farmed and produced. The Berkshire pork, prized for juiciness, flavor and tenderness, is pink-hued and heavily marbled. Its high fat content makes it suitable for long cooking and high-temperature cooking. The Mangalitsa pork is exceptionally juicy, tender, and marbled, but with a darker red meat and larger more even fat cap making it perfect for charcuterie. Be on the lookout for the “Waygu of Pork” featured on our menus in the seasons to come.

Another exciting off-season project we started today is to “research” some beers for the new Colorado beer tasting being offered once a week this winter for a low impact, high flavor afternoon activity. It’s a tough job to go and explore breweries, sample beers, and come up with the perfect selections, but we’re willing to put in the hard work!  Just another day in the off-season shenanigans of a dude ranch chef.

yampa valley farms yampa valley farmsdude ranch animalsbaby dude ranch pigs

dude ranch staff

Dude Ranch Life: Happy trails, but not goodbye

The end of the season is always a bit bittersweet for most of us.  We’ve been working hard for a long period of time, and the break is exciting.  But, for some of the staff, it also means goodbye.  Since most of us (ok, so that’s me) don’t like goodbyes, we tend to subscribe to the happy trails, until we meet again theory.

There are some amazing staff members who were with us this summer (and some longer than that) who are moving onto their next step in life.  Katie and Michelle in the barn, Sarah, Shawnta, Trevor (Trev-bot!), and Kami in housekeeping, Chelsea, Olya, Kaitlyn and Mary Frances in the dining room, Ranch hands Gabe, Ted, both Dans, and the always laughing Matthew, Aaron who quietly washed dishes all summer, and Canipe and Rachel who have prepared countless meals in the kitchen.  All of these folks are the sugar and spice that made this summer so special.  Notably to me, my dear Talitha who came in with a smile and the willingness to run the dining room for the summer, and did her job with grace, confidence, and ease.  And then our sweet, sweet Melanie (photo above) who’s “I’m on it, and I’ll make it happen” attitude made us all happy to arrive in the office each day.  Her cautious enthusiasm to take on the day to day management of our social media platforms for the season was a gift to me, and a fun exercise in collaboration.  And lively Miss Mandy who’s love for the horses is as infectious as her laughter, which could be heard across the ranch.

As those of us who are here for the long run recharge our batteries and gear up for the winter season, we thank all the staff who threw themselves into helping us connect heart with home.  For the ones who are coming back for the winter, we look forward to seeing you after your break.  And for the ones moving on, we thank you for your hard work, dedication, and commitment to this funny and wonderful community we all love so much.  It’s been a pleasure having you all as part of the Vista Verde family, and I speak for all of us when I say thank you, and we can’t wait to see what your futures hold!

dude ranch fall ride

Dude ranch life: One last ride

Sunday, October 18 marked closing day for the season, and it was a flurry of activity.  Our last guests checked out after breakfast, and then we had a chore list a mile long.  From deep cleaning the kitchen to moving all the picnic tables into storage to taking screens off all the windows, there wasn’t a lack of jobs for anyone!

As those chores were wrapped up, the staff moved on to cleaning up and moving out of their homes.  Some of them will stick around for much of the off-season as there are projects to finish before winter, horses to feed and train, and the office doesn’t shut down when we’re closed.  But some are moving onto the next step in their life, and some are just heading off for a break before the winter season.  The office crew had struggled to find a time to do any sort of get together over the course of the summer, so we took advantage of this quiet afternoon to grab some horses and head out for one last ride.

Mother Nature did a grand job of providing us with spectacular weather right up to closing day.  Although it was much appreciated, we never expect that.  October can be the most beautiful month, but we can also get plenty of weather.  Well, she timed it well as around mid-day the first rain started to roll in, and it was off an on all afternoon.  That didn’t stop us on our ride.  We just put on the big, yellow slickers and kept going!  The company was wonderful and the scenery was gorgeous.

Now it’s time to start gearing up for winter.  Nate and a small crew are working on the barn loft to winterize it so we can have barn dances in the winter.  Yes, you heard that right Wanda!  Kelli will also be able to accommodate larger yoga classes with the loft being enclosed and heated.  And there are plenty of other uses for that area that we’ll work in over time.  KP, Sam, and the wranglers are preparing some horses for a sale we’re having this weekend.  We’re hoping to find forever homes for some of our four-legged staff members who aren’t a great fit for dude ranch life.  Beka is busying wrapping up all the hiring for the winter season.  And Meagan and Devyn are rounding up the reservations for the Christmas break as well as other winter stays.  Ben, Charlie and myself?  Oh, we’re just kicking back eating bon bons by the pool.  Or, put otherwise dealing with the exciting back end parts of the business like insurance, credit card fees, website maintenance, and financial statements.  Yee haw!

Rumor has it we have an El Nino headed out way, which means lots of snow!  So, we’ll hopefully open up in mid-December to a gorgeous white blanket of snow and a lot of excited guests.  We hope you can be one of them.

horses for sale

Herd Dispersal Sale

Toward the end of each season we go through our horse roster and identify horses that aren’t the best fit for our herd.  There are various reasons a horse doesn’t work out for our herd.  Some horses need a one person home, rather than having different riders each week.  Some aren’t physically built to hold up to the hard riding we do here, and we don’t want to hurt them by trying to make it work.  Some need a more experienced rider consistently, which is tough as not all of our guests have much riding experience.  Some just need to have a retirement home as they’ve worked hard for us, but now need a more quiet life.  With that, we have 8 horses we are trying to find homes for this fall.

On Friday and Saturday, October 23 and 24 we will have the horses available to view and try out for any potential buyers.  The Brand Inspector will not be available on the day of the sale, so horses may be picked up after they are inspected with purchaser’s information Tuesday, October 27.

Here is the rundown of who is being offered in the sale.

Cisco Cisco– 9 yo Dun Gelding, 16h. He is big and well built but needs a job.  Cisco is not the best to shoe.  Experienced rider. $1,100




JohnnyJohnny– 17 yo Sorrel Gelding, 15h. He is a nice friendly gelding, any level rider can ride him, but he’s best suited for intermediate to advanced riders. Slight stifle issue, but he’s ok to use for light work. $900




GusGus– 9 yo Red Dun Gelding, 15h. Gus is a smart and athletic gelding who needs a job.  He’s suited for an intermediate to advanced rider only, and he is great on trails. $900




Kapua– 7 yo Red Roan Mare, 15h. She is a very beautiful and athletic mare, and needs to be put to work.  Kapua is good on trails, and she is smart but not always willing so she needs an experienced rider. $1,200

Cali GirlCali Girl– 5 yo Chestnut Mare, 14h.  She is a smart and athletic small mare. Cali will watch a cow and would make a great cow horse or reining prospect. She is great in the arena. Intermediate to advanced rider. $2,200




RienaRiena– 4 yo Bay Mare, 14.2h. Riena would make a nice reining or western pleasure prospect. She has a slight hock issues so she’s not suited for heavy duty use. $2,200




sparkySparky– 19 Grey Gelding, 14.2h.  Sparky is cute and stocky with a lot of go so he needs a strong rider who can contain him.  He’s ok on trails but will jump things instead of step over. He’s great in the arena and can go English or western. $800




Arrow_H (400x300)Arrow– 25 yo Grey Gelding, 16h.  Arrow has been one of our great kid horses, but he has asthma and needs a retirement home.  He would be great for a little girl that would just want to love on a horse or a pasture buddy. Free to good home.

If you have questions about any of these horses, please fill out the Contact Us form and KP will follow up with you.

luxury dude ranch article

Denver Life – October 2015

As Kristin Miller from Denver Life Magazine puts it, “There’s ‘no roughing’ it at Vista Verde Ranch,” and she goes on to explain why in this article.  She also writes about “the fact that this luxury dude ranch has a high percentage of repeat guests who often book their future stays a year or more in advance? That speaks volumes about just how special it is.”  Read the article…..

dude ranch wine tasting

Ranchseeker.com – September 2015

Just as guests were getting ready for the wine tasting, this article popped up on Ranchseeker.com about wine tasting at dude ranches.  What ironic timing!  Our weekly wine tasting is a really popular event, especially for those who are worn out and ready to relax a bit.  Sipping wines with Chef Cholly is a perfect way to spend an afternoon when you’re worn out, and want to explore the world of wines.  And, it always ends up with lots of laughter.  Ashlie at Ranchseeker explores two ranches that offer wine tastings in her article.

Read the article…..

we're one of the top 5 dude ranches

FoxNews.com – September 2015

The wonderful folks at Gayot.com included Vista Verde on their list of Top 5 Wild West Ranches in America.  And then Fox News picked up the story.  Knowing that they are picking from the best dude ranches in the US, we don’t take it lightly that we made the list.  It’s quite an honor, and we’ll keep working hard to live up to the honor!

Read the article…..

cattle round up at a luxury dude ranch

An autumn adventure and a office pass for the day

As if following the cues of the calendar, on the day that was marked as the first day of fall Mother Nature graced us with the bluest sky dotted with white, fluffy clouds, and the sun shone through the golden aspens leaves so they almost glowed.  On that same day the board that declares the state of the union at the ranch each day was tipping off on one side, the column marked “All-Day Cows” was filled with names, while the rest of the columns sat sadly vacant.

an autumn vacation at a Colorado dude ranch “Oh no!” said the wranglers.  “What shall we do with so many riders wanting to go out and find cows?” they asked.  Goose and Isaac looked blankly at them, trapped in their fishing waders and unable to trade them for jeans and boots.  Kelli moved from downward dog into warrior pose as if to fend off the suggesting looks that she might turn into a wrangler for the day.  And the housekeeping fairies (and ninja) stealthily slipped by the corral with their cleaning supplies in hand, avoiding eye contact with the desperate wranglers.

From the back office nook, a figure slowly emerged.  Who?  What?  Is that Steph reaching her hand out for the office pass?  With a quick change into one of Devyn’s plaid shirts, she throws on her hat, dusts off her chinks, and fills up her water bottles.  And that, folks, is how I got to go ride for cows on this most brilliant first day of fall.

My riding companions were cheerful, not realizing the relic of a wrangler they were heading out with for this ride.  But the day unfolded into an epic adventure riding through the hills, jumping over streams, navigating downed trees, and scaling the sides of mountains while rocks tumbled down into the ravine below.  It was epic.  Epic-ally void of any cows.  Not one.  Not even a sign of fresh cow poop.  Nada.  Zip. Zilch.

It turns out that our ride wasn’t the only one to have a gorgeous ride through the mountains only to strike out on rounding up cows.  One group did bring home 4 reluctant bovines.  Another saw plenty of cows, but couldn’t get a lick of them to cooperate, as they squirted off into the trees at the first sight of humanoids.  And one more saw nothing but tall grass, golden aspens, and gorgeous mountains.  Nonetheless the smiles were wide as the dinner bell rang tonight.  Because there is always tomorrow.  And, if you end up riding over hundreds and thousands of acres of mountains, rivers, and forests for the day without spotting a cow, it is still something to smile about.  Watch out cows…..we know you’re out there.  And, we know where you’re not now too!  We’re going to hunt you down, round you up, and bring you home.  But, that story will be someone else’s tomorrow as this rusty wrangler hangs up her office pass and goes back into the corner nook.

Happy trails to you, until I ride again.

Christmas vacation at an all-inclusive resort in Colorado

How to have a stress-free Christmas Vacation

Some people just love Christmas, and some dread the holiday with all the expectations and pressures.  Want to know how to have a relaxing yet festive holiday?  Spend the week at Vista Verde Ranch and enjoy a Christmas vacation without the stress!  One guest put it well to me recently when she said, “We give each other photographs instead of stuff for presents.”  In other words, let the year be the year you make memories with those you love instead of giving gadgets.

What does Christmas week at Vista Verde look like?

  • Arrive at the Steamboat/Hayden airport where we’ll be waiting to pick you up in a ranch Suburban.
  • Settle into your luxury accommodation with a fridge stocked with drinks, snacks on the counter, and then light a crackling fire in your wood burning stove as the snow falls outside.
  • Sit back at dinner while our friendly and attentive staff treat you to an amazing culinary experience.
  • Soak in your hot tub with a view of the stars before snuggling up under your cozy comforter for a long winter’s rest.
  • Wake up refreshed and ready to get outside and play in the snow.
  • Following a hearty breakfast in the Lodge, head outside with a guide to try back country skiing or snow shoeing.  Or, hop on a horse to ride in the snow or take a horsemanship clinic in the indoor arena.  Or, giggle like a small child as you zip down the tubing hill before being pulled back up by a snowmobile.  Or, join our talented chefs for a wine tasting or cooking class.  Or, there’s a kid’s program, yoga, and the list goes on!
  • Sing carols around the roaring fire in the Great room at night.
  • Create home made decorations with your family to decorate the trees out in the yard.
  • Take a sleigh ride with jingling bells…..yes, this is the time to break out into that song.
  • Indulge in a bountiful feast on Christmas day with all the guests and staff to celebrate the joy of the Christmas spirit.
  • Relax with your loved ones in your cozy cabin to reflect on what Christmas means to you, and savor the quiet moments.
  • Head home at the end of the week refreshed, recharged, and full of memories.

Christmas week at Vista Verde runs Saturday, December 19-Saturday, December 26, 2015.  Join us for an all-inclusive Christmas vacation and savor the Colorado winter wonderland at it’s best!


Sweet Potato Gnocci with Short Ribs, prepared by the chefs at Vista Verde Guest Ranch.

Chef’s Corner: Bison Short Ribs with Sweet Potato Gnocci

If you want a fun fall dish to impress all your friends, try this one from Chef Cholly!
Red Wine Marinade:

2 carrots

1 leek

1 yellow onion

1 small celery root

1 tablespoon salt

1 bottle (750mL) red wine


1. Clean and roughly chop the vegetables.
2. Cover with red wine and simmer for 4 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and cool together, then strain and discard vegetables and reserve liquid.


Marinated Short Ribs:

Red wine marinade (recipe above)

2 pounds boneless short rib

1 head garlic, halved

1 yellow onion, quartered

2 carrots, peeled

8 quarts beef stock, hot

1 rosemary sprig

2 tablespoons salt


1. Pour cold red wine marinade over the short ribs and let sit for 2 days, rotating meat twice a day.
2. After the second day, remove the beef from the marinade and place in a roasting pan with the garlic, onion, and carrots. Cover with hot beef bouillon; add rosemary and salt. Place a sheet of parchment paper over beef and weigh down slightly with a 10” plate. Place in a 250° F oven for eight hours.
3. Once beef is fork tender and almost breaking apart, remove from bouillon onto a draining rack. Save bouillon for a great soup or your next beef braising dinner.


Sweet potato Gnocchi

1 ½ pounds Roasted and Pureed sweet potato

6 ounces “00” Flour

1 egg


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil on the stove. Peel and Cut the sweet potatoes in half, season well and roast until tender.
2. Dry the sweet potatoes thoroughly and run through a food mill or potato ricer.
3. Sift the flour and incorporate with the egg into the sweet potato and taste for seasoning.
4. When the water has come to a boil, roll the dough out into a long cylinder about a half inch in diameter and with a knife cut one inch long pieces and plunge into boiling water until the gnocchi begin to float.
5. Skim the floating gnocchi off the water and into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
6. Drain all the gnocchi onto a towel to dry.
7. Heat a sauté pan on the stove, sauté the gnocchi in olive oil until crisp on all sides.
8. Serve.

riding lessons before horseback vacation

Riding lessons before or after your ranch vacation

So, maybe you just got back from your dude ranch vacation and realized you caught the bug?  Or, maybe you’re gearing up for your upcoming getaway and want to get a little jump start on riding before you spend a week in the saddle.  You’re not the first to have either of these ideas!  If you have a ranch vacation in your future, riding ahead of time will help you be more comfortable on day one, as well as alleviate some of the soreness that is inevitable with using muscles you don’t normally use for hours on end, day after day.  Our hut tubs help a lot, but riding before you arrive will help even more.   But, it’s hard to know where to start, who to go to, and to know what you’re looking for.  Here are some tips on finding the right place to take lessons and the right trainer who can help you improve your horsemanship skills.

Understand the different types of riding. Western, English, Reining, Cutting, Jumping, Hunter, Three Day, Trail, Dressage…..what are all these options?

Western and English are the most broad terms for riding styles.  Western riding got its start on ranches as early as the late 1770’s. Much of the equipment was influenced by the early Spanish vaqueros and designed for comfort, function, and necessity.  English is the more traditional European and Eastern style of riding with a more close contact saddle, and more contact with the horse at all times via leg pressure and rein pressure.  Under those two disciplines there are more specific types of training and riding, so just because two people ride Western, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing the same thing with their horses.  One might be performing cattle work and one might just be trail riding, or one might be barrel racing.  And, with all of these different styles within a discipline, there are opportunities for competition at various levels.  If you’re intrigued, check out this Wiki article showing all the different styles of horseback riding.  There were several I had never even heard of before!  At Vista Verde we teach Western riding with a working ranch horse focus in our training techniques.  That gives us a horse that is handy on cows, willing and safe on the trail, and capable of doing whatever work is required around the ranch (although we’re still working on their dish washing skills!)

Find someone who teaches to your level. For most people without a lot of horse experience, you need someone who can teach you the basics, get your comfortable, and get you some mileage in the saddle.  Many horse trainers are focused on high level competition.  These type of trainers are still great at teaching, but will be more inclined to teach experienced riders and refine their skills for competition.  We would recommend looking for someone who focuses on general horsemanship and beginner riders.  That person is going to have more practice teaching to the novice rider, and will be better at communicating the hows and whys of horses and riding.  You wouldn’t go to the astrophysicist for tutoring help in basic biology, so go to a horse trainer who’s main goal is to get people comfortable and competent on horse, and wants to foster a love of equines in all people.  This trainer might not be at the flashiest stable, and might not have the flashiest horses, but they are going to give you the foundation you need to move up.  If, at some point you want to move on to competitive riding, then maybe the more renowned riding stable will be a better fit.  But, my experience is that often times, the less flashy trainers are the ones who really teach you how to ride, and just just prop you up on a fancy horse and let the horse do all the work.  After all, you want to learn to ride and not just be a pretty passenger, right?

How often? Weekly lessons for a couple months would be a great start.  If you find yourself or your child falling madly in love with riding, then it’s time to step it up to a couple days a week so you can progress more quickly.  But, for starts, once a week is great as you’ll have a chance to get over being sore, process what you learned before your next lesson, and come to the following lesson ready to step up to the next level.

Ok, I’m ready.  Now what? So, you know what you want, now how do you find it?  Well, I wish we could say we have a great database of inspected and approved riding instructors.  But, many of our guests have checked out some of the pros, and here are a couple recommendations from them.  Not in your area?  Check out the American Riding Instructors Association or the Certified Horsemanship Association for a list of instructors in your state.

One of our guests, Michele,  recommends Gillian Muir for dressage (a subset of English) if you live in the South Florida area.  Michele shared that she feels Gillian really teaches from the ground up, which means she focuses on the whole horsemanship experience, not just sitting on the horses back.

Elizabeth suggests Mikia Parker at the Arvada Indoor Equestrian Center for those living in the fine state of Colorado.  According to Elizabeth she is smart, encouraging, an excellent communicator, and absolutely loves her horses.

For those in the Kansas area, Vicki recommends Vaught Family Natural Horsemanship.  This family team offers lessons and clinics with a focus on natural horsemanship.  Their goal is to provide a harmonious relationship between horse and rider.  Sounds pretty good to me!

Lastly, if you live in Southern California, Lucy had high words of praise for Nicole Bankhead at River Valley Equestrian Center.  She teaches English riding, and they have beautiful trails to explore nearby, but there is also has a polo field at the Center, so you can try out polo!

At Vista Verde, we pride ourselves in teaching people how to ride, not just tossing them on the back of a horse as a passenger.  It’s exciting to see people learn about horses and horsemanship, improve their skills over the course of the week, and leave excited to ride more.  Our horses appreciate that we teach guests to ride to, as it makes their lives more comfortable, and we keep our horses tuned up by training our guests to ride properly.  It comes full circle as the horses become more responsive and more enjoyable to ride with the consistency from their riders.  So, get out and ride!  And, if you’re looking for an intensive horsemanship experience, don’t forget that we host special horsemanship clinics at least once a year.

adventure vacation gear

A few of our favorite things

Kelli and Steve are not only our ace guides and outdoor enthusiasts, but they are also our resident gear-heads.  Kelli recently put together a list of some gear that they are loving these days or is on their most wanted list.

The Salomon Quest Origins GTX hiking boot is a great Gore-Tex boot that gives support of a full hiking boot but feels as light weight as a running shoe.  Even though it only comes in Men’s sizes, both myself (Kelli) and Bridgette (Chef) have purchased them (as well as Steve) and love them. Just follow their size guide and the fit should be right on.

Rail Riders is a great company who boasts having the “Toughest Clothes on the Planet”! Although inspired from the sea, this clothing is great for all adventurous pursuits.  Steve and I are pretty keen on the Adventure Tops, so lightweight and breathable but great SPF protection for our aging skin J.  Steve also loves his Bushwacker Weather Pants.  Super tough, reinforced knees, butt, and back of ankles yet fashionable enough to host dinner at VVR!

As the mornings and evenings turn a bit cooler, Steve is turning to his Breakaway II Hoody from Ibex.  It’s a lightweight climawool™ softshell hybrid jacket ideal for aerobic pursuits in cooler weather.  A great transitional piece and I do believe it is on sale right now!

I have been hiking in Sierra Design’s Stretch Trail Pant on cooler days.  They are designed to wear with a pack, sporting a stretch knit waistband that feels like a pair of tights so there is no bulk under the waist strap.  I also like the water resistance patches on the knees and bottom.  Plus they are stretchy, so super comfy, and have a feminine fit.

The Salsa Bucksaw is redefining boundaries with its Fat Bike design and go anywhere attitude. Steve is loving its ability to be an all season bike.  Great for the shoulder seasons, riding in variable mud/snow mix without damaging trails. And its ability to float over obstacles and grip the trail with incredible traction in summer time fun.  It is on our wish/drool list!  For all our fellow bike geeks, you gotta check this one out!


Simple yoga poses to help you transition from “carefree summer days” to “school day routines”

By Kelli

Transitioning from impromptu BBQ’s with the neighbors, pool parties with the kids, and summer vacations to VVR, to homework, after school activities and the early morning hustle and bustle can be exhausting and give you a sense of chaos!  Change can be bumpy, so here are a few yoga poses to keep you grounded and help smooth out the transition to Fall.

“Easy” Pose

I put parenthesis around the word easy, because for some of us, sitting crossed legged is anything but easy.  If you happen to be one of these people, sitting on a blanket or cushion will help.

Begin by crossing the legs and feeling both “sit” bones connected to the ground, sit up tall so that you are not rounded through the low back, bring a gentle awareness to the core, and keep your shoulder blades down the back, chest open.

Hold the pose for several minutes, feeling grounded, following the breath. Better yet, take this pose to the yard and enjoy watching the leaves fall.  I love this pose! You can do it anywhere, like watching soccer practice, and no one even has to know you are “doing” yoga.

Warrior II

Practicing Warrior II pose not only stretches and strengthens the legs and shoulders but also increases stamina. And who couldn’t use more stamina!

  •  Place your feet three to four feet apart and raise your arms parallel to the floor with palms down.
  • Turn your right foot slightly in and your left foot out 90 degrees to the left so the toes are pointing away from your body. Align your left heel with the right.
  • Bend your left knee over the left ankle, causing the shin to be perpendicular to the floor. Bring your left thigh parallel to the floor, creating a 90- degree angle in your knee. Straighten your right leg and press your right heel out and down into the floor.
  • Stretch your arms out, keeping them parallel to the floor. Imagine you are increasing the space between your shoulder blades as you spread your arms. Turn your head to the left as you look out over the fingers of your left hand. Keep your spine straight and perpendicular to the floor.
  • Hold this pose for 30 seconds to one minute. When you are ready, come out of Warrior II Pose. Reverse your feet and repeat with the right side.

After practicing your Warrior II pose, you will have the courage to face the challenges of the day, knowing you have grounded yourself in strength, flexibility, and stamina!

Mountain Pose

A truly easy pose to practice anywhere, and at any time.  Who hasn’t picked the “wrong” line at the grocery store, always when you are in a hurry to get somewhere else?  Instead of feeling anxious and impatient, surrender to the moment and use the time to bring a calm, unshakable steadiness to the moment.  Allowing you to let go of the anxiety and to respond with the fortitude of a mountain!

Stand with your feet at hip-width apart with equal weight on balls and heels.  Draw energy up the quads and bring awareness to the core. Draw shoulder blades down the back, feeling an open chest.  Practice a few deep breaths, especially if the shopper in front of you has just sent her kid to aisle 85 for a new carton of eggs!

Corpse Pose

Viewed as one of the most important poses in yoga, corpse pose rejuvenates and clears the mind providing you with the tools to deal with stress and emotions in your life. Practiced on a regular basis, its benefits are…

*Lowered blood pressure

*A decreased heart rate

*Slowed rate of respiration

*Decreased muscle tension


So the next time you need a “pick me up”, skip the cup of coffee and go lay in the backyard! Enjoy the cool grass, watch the clouds go by, and treat yourself to 10 minutes of relaxation.  You are worth it!

Enjoy the last few months of Fall before Mother Nature closes up shop and covers the ground with a blanket of snow!