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Backpacking and beaches were the order of the day – until I discovered how kick-ass life on a real ranch is! This was my first taste of a Top50 Ranches ranch vacation… but it certainly won’t be my last…

As my golden horse, Hank, loped across the blue-green grass, through a small valley flanked with pine trees and beige boulders towering to the sky, I could see a cow and her calf break away from the herd, and turn to run in the other direction. I pushed Hank into a canter and we soared up the gentle slope, round the edge of the herd, then turned towards the errant cow-calf pair. Mum quickly spun, heading back into the crowd. The calf stopped, eyed Hank and me pushing towards him, and suddenly whizzed round, back into the sea of black to find its mother. Adrenaline shot through me as we pulled back to a walk – we’d done it! I’d successfully returned my first cow-calf pair to the huge herd of 300, in my first-ever cattle drive and we continued up to the higher pastures.

Having the chance to spend time on a real working ranch was a bucket list dream come true for me. Spending my teen years showjumping in the UK, I’d always loved the idea of switchin’ up the riding style, sinkin’ into that Western Saddle, and riding for miles over plains and ranges, into the wilderness, so I couldn’t wait to don my Ariats, Wranglers and rhinestone rodeo shirt!

I hadn’t ridden for five years so I was fully prepared to end up walking like John Wayne. This didn’t put me off in the slightest and, once in the saddle, I couldn’t believe how at home I felt – why on earth I hadn’t tried riding Western before, I don’t know. Four hours later, sweaty, thirsty, dust-covered and a slight feeling of rigor mortis setting into the thigh area, we returned to the ranch to the most enormous steaks I’ve seen in my whole life, much needed after my first cattle drive.

The week flew by – lovely long days in the sun, learning how the ranch is managed and maintained, and absorbing the absolute peace and quiet surrounding the buttes, trees and valleys. I’ve never had a vacation quite like it, I’ve always favoured beaches and backpacking, but now I’ve experienced a Top50 Ranches ranch vacation for the first time, my appetite for more of the same has been seriously whetted. For starters, Montana is simply stunning. I was completely unprepared for the sheer rugged beauty and enormity of the place; the ranch I stayed on was 18,000 acres alone!

There is so much opportunity for adventure on a ranch vacation, too, not just ‘Cowboying’! I learned to shoot a handgun, smelt the wild sage, bathed in hot springs, road-tripped through Montana and into Yellowstone, climbed to the high point overlooking the farm, rode the ATVs and experienced real down-home, family ranch life. You can do as much or as little as you like on a ranch vacation; choose real luxury or quirky glamping on a dude ranch, or simple, rustic charm on a real working ranch. Go wild with adrenaline-fuelling activities, or relax in a guest ranch spa setting – the opportunities are almost endless.

My vacation aspirations and horizons have certainly been broadened, I’m already dreaming about my next cowgirl adventure, my first ranch vacation certainly won't be my last and I can’t wait to go back!

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