Posts Tagged ‘working at a guest ranch’
Date: December 5th, 2009
I had never gotten on a horse before in my life. But after getting married in Beaver Creek, Colorado, my new husband and I started our all-American adventure in the sleepy city of Steamboat Springs, a quaint and charming town with lots of open land and a disproportionate population of horses. We had somehow wound up on very foreign territory at Vista Verde Ranch, a breathtaking and remote retreat where we were expected to ride and wrangle with the best of them. (When did I agree to this?) Good thing I’ve always had a soft spot for cowboy boots and hats. Hoist me up and let’s get saddled.
When I told friends we were honeymooning at a “luxury dude ranch,” most people were understandably skeptical. I’m not really known for my athleticism, I’m allergic to large, hairy animals (my husband aside), and I’ve never, ever expressed any interest in horseback riding – let alone dude ranching. Their concern was well justified. But luxury is something I am familiar with, and I held out hope that the two contradictory travel genres would cancel each other out and land me somewhere on middle ground.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Stephanie, a genuine cowgirl training her horse and walking the grounds. She let us pet her kind-tempered companion and pointed us toward to our cottage where we’d be shacking up and playing house. “It’s our policy to leave everything unlocked around here so just walk right on in.” I laughed. Dan laughed… Oh, she was serious.
Our rustic two-story home away from home was anything but rough. This country-cute cottage was cozy and inviting with an open kitchen, large living area, master bedroom, two additional bedrooms, and two bathrooms. (At least if any intruders did sneak into our lock-free cottage, they wouldn’t have to sleep in bed with us.) The wood-burning fireplace made for cuddly, warm nights and the private patio Jacuzzi was a happy surprise. There are no TVs, but since our days were packed with vigorous activities, and our nights were meant for romantic rendezvous*, the lack of television was a welcome change. (*Read: we were so whipped from riding horses, hiking, and biking, that we’d pass out cold at 8 pm sharp.)
Have I mentioned I’ve never gotten on a horse before? I’ll tell you one thing: it’s a lot higher up than it looks. I sadly swapped my straw hat for a hard helmet. Safety over style, my friends.
The guests at Vista Verde – there were about 25 during our stay – generally stay at the ranch for about a week. It’s a comprehensive course, where one gradually learns the basic and not-so-basic skills of riding, and ultimately leaves an accomplished jockey. Dan and I, however, would only be there for two days. So we had to cram a week’s worth of training into 48 short hours. Thankfully, I had DB as my partner in crime.
DB was the horse I was assigned to ride (not to be confused with Dan Boyce, my new husband). A sweet, gentle creature, my handsome horse was a total mush – much like my other DB (awwwww!).
After a few minutes atop my mild-mannered mustang, I felt completely at ease and surprisingly confident. I didn’t need to clutch the reins with all my strength or scream commands. DB and I could practically read each other’s minds; we were getting on like an old-married couple. (Apparently horses lick their lip when they feel good about mutual communication, and DB looked like a kid with an ice cream cone.) Our trainers taught us how to turn, trot, and maneuver, and in no time we were racing obstacle courses and galloping home. It was amazing. I was doing it! And if we had stuck around for the rest of the week, Dan and I would have learned to herd cattle with our fellow vacationers. (I’m still so jealous.)
Guests are also encouraged to take advantage of other on-and-off property activities – like fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and hot air ballooning. It’s a pretty spectacular destination for an action-packed (but admittedly exhausting) getaway.
Meal time at Vista Verde is an extraordinary experience. An all-inclusive, all-you-can-eat ranch, Vista Verde doesn’t want you to worry about expense, but rather enjoy the tasty morsels being served up morning, noon, and night. And after a busy morning “ranching,” the massive buffet-style lunch is a sight for sore eyes. There’s plenty to spare for seconds, and the comfort food couldn’t be any more comforting.
After a nightly happy half-hour, communal dinners are served in the deluxe dining room. Dan and I were lucky to feast on the delicious food and toast to our successful days at a table with our friends including a few incredibly cool staff members. That’s probably the best part about Vista Verde — it really is a community. You meet new people and make new friends and laugh, learn, and embrace life together. It takes you on an emotional journey on and off the horse. It’s unlike any other experience.
I was definitely disappointed when we had to turn in our saddles and part ways — and even sadder to say goodbye to DB. It turns out this city slicker has developed a love for life on the range. And my new cowboy boots are proof that you can take the girl out of Colorado, but you can’t take the Colorado out of the girl.
Vista Verde Ranch
Steamboat Springs, CA 80477
Date: December 5th, 2009
There is a big significance to weekends this time of year at Vista Verde. Because we are closed, all of us work (for the most part) Monday-Friday and take weekends off. Why is that significant? First of all, it’s significant because that means that we are all actually at work together 5 days of the week. Not only is that great because we all like each other’s company but also because we get a lot done when we can communicate more frequently! Second, it’s significant because we get just a glimpse of what it’s like to be in a “normal” job. Ok, I know that’s a bit of a stretch as ranch jobs are exactly normal in any sense, but it’s fun to just think we’re normal every now and then.
Once we open for the guest ranch season in 14 days, we get into a rotation so that there are very few days when all of us are working at the same time. It is a bit of a challenge to schedule a staff meeting when everyone has different days off, but we manage to find times here and there to make it work!
With that delightful bit of insight into life at VVR, I’m going to go back to the couch for a few minutes of reading the newspaper before my kiddos wake up from their nap!
Date: June 10th, 2009
To lighten the intensity of all the training and orientating the staff has been going through this past week, Dace brought them all into “the big city” last night for a little party at the Steaming Bean, a local coffee shop. We sipped lattes, shared stories, got crafty and competitive over card games and coloring books (hey, there’s a little kid in all of us) and had some great laughs. It was fun to see everyone away from the ranch letting loose a bit. Now back to the important things like how to properly polish the chrome on the sink, memorizing the names of the new horses, learning the best place to park at trailheads and of course, how to do dishes at a level that will keep even Rob happy!
The crew is coming together great and everyone is getting excited for our first guests to arrive. We are all hoping that the rain stops before they get here Sunday. It’s been great to get all this moisture, but enough is enough. As soon as the sun comes out for more than an hour at a time, the grass will grow faster than the horses can eat it down!
Wish us luck on opening day. We’re excited. We’re ready to roll.
Date: June 10th, 2009
Dude Ranch Vacations- Jamie Pearson wrote this great article on horse riding vacations after visiting Vista Verde Ranch in the summer. Here, she gives some advice on dude ranches for families.
Five things to know before you go
I brought a lot of things with me to my Colorado dude ranch vacation last summer, such as jeans, boots, a brand new cowboy hat, and really, really high expectations. With all that beautiful scenery and horsey fun, I just knew it was going to be the trip of a lifetime. Luckily, I was right.
If you’re considering heading out west with your family this summer (and you totally should), here are a few things to know before you go.
1. Find the right ranch
I know you wish the ranch fairy would fly down and just tell you which ranch is perfect for your family. I wished that too, but it didn’t happen. So I made a list of all the things we wanted (not too many guests at a time, a high staff to guest ratio, riding clinics at no extra cost, luxury accommodations, and river rafting), and then researched until I was cross eyed.
After talking to some horsey friends and Googling myself silly, I chose Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. If you don’t know a working ranch from a guest ranch and have no idea what you’re looking for in terms of amenities, I highly recommend you start with The Dude Rancher’s Association website.
Knowing your family helps. If you have shy kids, don’t choose a ranch with mandatory separate kid and adult activities every day. If you don’t care about anything but riding, don’t pay extra for activities you won’t try.
2. Book the right week
Once you’ve decided on a ranch, the next step is choosing a week to book. Weather is obviously a consideration and holiday weeks (such as July 4th) may cost more. We went the third week in July and were lucky to be able to participate in a cattle drive. Had we gone in June, it would have been too wet and boggy.
Also, call the ranch and ask who has already booked the week you’re considering. Ideally you want there to be kids your kids’ ages. I’d also recommend avoiding weeks with big family reunions—these groups tend to be very self contained, which limits socializing opportunities.
3. Bring a sports bra
I won’t go into too much detail on this one, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of trotting and galloping at dude ranches. Hours and hours of trotting and galloping, in fact. And running around with your kids. And mountain biking. And rock climbing. You get the point.
4. Pack more clothes than you think you’ll need
I travel extensively, often, and all over the place with my kids and I flatter myself that I know how to pack. I could have done a lot better on our dude ranch vacation, however. Every time we stepped outside the door of our cabin, we got really, really dirty. My husband and I could have used another two or three outfits each. The kids were so perpetually filthy (and happy) that I’m not sure that would have helped.
Dinners were casual, but I wished I had cuter clothes. Not to mention clothes that weren’t covered in dust and horse slobber. Laundry service was convenient and inexpensive, but I wasn’t willing to part with my favorite jeans to have them washed.
If you choose a ranch in Colorado, throw in a rain jacket for everyone too. It rained briefly (or threatened to) nearly every afternoon of our trip.
5. Don’t expect to relax too much
There are so many exciting things to do at dude ranches that it can be hard to relax. I wasn’t able to just sit down with a book and read because I felt like I’d be missing something fun. Worse, I felt like I’d be paying to miss something fun.
If you’re the kind of person who prefers to lounge around a pool or on a beach doing nothing for seven consecutive days, this might not be the right vacation for you. There are evening activities too, like campfires, rodeos, and barn dances, so you won’t go to bed early very often. Even the kids got a little worn out by the end of the week.