I giggled a bit at the title of this blog post. If anyone could truly answer that, they’d be worth a lot. Or at least they’d have a lot of dude ranchers for friends. Every dude ranch owner that I know struggles with this- finding great horses for their guests to enjoy. You see, every year we have to retire some horses as they can’t keep going at the pace we go at in the mountains and need a little more leisurely lifestyle. Then, there are the horses that just don’t cut it. They might be great horses, but they are horses who need a single owner and not different riders each week. When all is said and done, we end up needing new horses every year. And, there lies the challenge.
Buying horses is an art. First you have to consider age and training. Some really young horses are calm and collected, but many are still a little “green” as we call them. For our guests, we want horses who are trustworthy and safe first. But, we don’t want horses that are too old as we need them to be able to handle the many miles we put on out on the trail. We pride ourselves in taking care of our horses with healthy feed, monitoring them for needed rest, proper hoof care and vet care. But, even with all that, our horses need to be like a strong athlete and able to perform to the task. Next up is size and confirmation. Put into car terms, if they are built well, they will run longer and with fewer trips to the mechanic’s shop. Finally, how are they trained, and what is their temperament? Are they kind? Are they responsive? Do they have enough good training to be soft, supple and easy to cue? Will they overreact to a scary situation or stay cool and calm?
Ok, so we’ve laid out the criteria, but it’s not like there is a superstore of horses out there and you just go and pick them out. We go to sales, we watch the classifieds, we spread the word among our horse friends, and then we drive around and try out a lot of frogs before we find our princes. And, once we find them, we have to bring them back to the ranch and get to know them. Sometimes we find out that our prince wasn’t as much of a prince as we thought on first glance….so then we have to find a better fit for them with someone else.
All said, it’s a process that requires long hours in the truck, a critical eye and a sense of understanding a horse’s heart. Ben, Nate and Mandy are spending their spring doing just this. So far, we’ve found 3 who we think will be keepers. They are settling into their new home and we’re getting to know them. As you can see by the fact that he hopped on with no halter or bridle or saddle, Nate is pretty confident this guy, “Dusty”, will work out well.
Wish us well in the shopping process. If you’re coming for a dude ranch vacation this summer, maybe you’ll get to try out one of these new rides!