Planning a dude ranch vacation isn't something to leave until the last minute! There’s a lot to consider, so follow Top50's top 10 tips to make sure you get the most out of your western riding holiday…
1. Best place for a ranch vacation?
Which country? Which state? Mountains or desert? The options are endless. Here at Top50 Ranches we showcase Canada guest ranches, USA ranch vacations, Argentina horse riding holidays, riding holidays in Mexico, Australia horse treks and New Zealand cattle stations – but your choice will depend on how hot you like it and the kind of riding country you’re after. For mountain riding, Colorado, Montana, Canada and Argentina are good choices. If you like hot weather, choose a ranch in the southern States and south America, which boast great weather all year round. Best place for winter sun? Australia, which of course has its summer during the USA/European winter. Taking the kids? Find a child-friendly ranch with a supervised children’s program.
2. Budget early on
The cost of a dude ranch vacation varies greatly, so it’s worth setting a budget early on – taking into account getting there (flights, care hire if applicable), spending money and tipping. If you know your limits, you won’t even be tempted to consider ranches you can’t afford and save yourself disappointment. And it might be that you realise an extra year of saving might be worth it if you do want to opt for some luxury dude ranches.
3. Getting cheap flights
To avoid a shock when it comes to booking flights, check when it’s cheapest to fly before you book your ranch. Book as far in advance as you can, as prices tend to rocket closer to the flight date. Don’t be tempted to go for the very cheapest flight if it means several tight connections – give yourself plenty of time in case of delays, so you don’t run the risk of missing your connections.
4. Pack sensibly
Pack lots of layers if the weather is variable, and remember your swimsuit! Pack plenty of comfy jeans for riding, low-heeled shoes/boots for riding, smarter clothes suitable for dinners in the evening, and a pair of sneakers will also come in handy for exploring the ranch on foot. Check to see if you need to pack your hard hat or boots, as some ranches provide these for guests. Padded underwear and a good sports bra will also come in useful for long days in the saddle!
5. Leave room in your suitcase…
for souvenirs, gifts for friends back home, and the western riding gear you’re sure to be tempted by at local western outfitters.
6. Money matters
Some ranches charge extra for certain activities and remember that tipping is pretty commonplace – especially in America – so take enough currency that you won’t need to rely on your credit card (complete with hefty fees for use abroad). And yes, you will want to buy that shiny new pair of cowboy boots!
7. Do your western riding research
You will of course get ‘Western Riding 101’ from the wranglers before they set you loose on the open range, but it’s worth getting familiar with the western riding aids – many of them verbal – and techniques such as neck-reining. We can’t promise your dressage schoolmaster will know what on earth you’re asking him to do, however! Really keen? Book a couple of lessons at your nearest western riding centre.
8. Car hire
Even if you’re not planning a road trip and your chosen ranch provides airport transfers, you might want to head off ranch a couple of times to see the local area – especially if you’re near Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks, The Grand Canyon and other famous landmarks. From the UK or Europe? Booking car hire from the UK/Europe is vastly cheaper than getting it while in the USA and Canada, so save yourself some money and sort it before you go.
9. Make sure you’re legal!
Immigration officers abroad are notoriously strict, so avoid a lengthy delay at airport customs by making sure you have the right documentation before you travel. For travel to the US, that now means applying for a visa waiver online and paying a small fee, which you can do online here.
10. Get fit for riding
You might already pack in several hours’ riding a week, but hard riding all day for up to two weeks on long cattle drives or pack trips can take its toll on your muscles. Avoid burning out after the first day by getting fit before you go – swimming is a great way to up your fitness levels and muscle endurance, and practise sitting trot as often as you can to prepare that bottom!