White Stallion Ranch, Tucson, Arizona, late January 2013.
Playlist: By the Time I get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman, Rhinestone Cowboy . . . basically anything by Glen Campbell!
Dress-Code: Jeans, R.M. Williams boots and cowboy hats. The more denim, the better.
Destination: White Stallion Ranch, Tucson Arizona
The Hermosa Inn might have had us dreaming of cowboys, but the White Stallion dude ranch in Tucson, Arizona had us turning those dreams into a reality!
Growing up in Australia, lazy Saturday afternoons were often spent parked in front of the television watching old Western movies*. Set in the American Old West, I was endlessly fascinated and seduced, not so much by the storylines, but by the beautiful, vast landscapes in a country so far away (and so different) from Australia. And then of course there was the horse riding. Man and faithful steed, riding out together under scorching blue skies, over desert plains dotted with cacti and tumbleweeds under the shadow of formidable rocky mountain ranges. Having spent a couple of years when I was maybe 10 or 11 taking horse-riding lessons, the dream of one day riding out over that very landscape never left me. So when the opportunity came up to stay on a dude ranch in Tucson Arizona, the setting for many of those Western movies, I saddled up and booked our flights faster than you can say giddy-up**!
Still, arriving at the White Stallion Ranch (an easy 90 min drive South from Scottsdale), I think we were both feeling a little nervous. Neither of us had ridden a horse for around 15 years (yikes!) and, with fashion month just around the corner, I had thoughts of trying to use my camera with one arm in a sling or hobbling around on crutches . . . things you never tend to worry about when you are a teenager! Thankfully we had no time to dwell on the wisdom of our decision: a quick welcome from the friendly ranch staff, followed by a short questionnaire (to match horse and rider and gauge your level of experience . . . I chose beginner since I hadn’t ridden for so long) and suddenly we found ourselves in the corralling area while the wranglers saddled up our horses. Mine, an affable, sturdy draft?!/quarter horse named Packer immediately found a special place in my heart. At 14.3 hands, Packer was not the biggest horse on the ranch, but over the days we spent riding together, I think he had the biggest heart (although I could be biased ;). Mounted up*** and we were off on our maiden ride at the White Stallion Ranch.
A little about the Western style of riding at White Stallion Ranch which differs somewhat from the “English” style that many of you might be familiar with. Western riding was developed in the American West to meet the needs of cowboys who spent long days in the saddle, often in difficult terrain, roping and mustering cattle. In very basic terms, the Western saddle is a lot heavier, deeper and bigger than an English saddle (kind of like sitting on a big ‘ole leather recliner), stirrups are worn long, reins are held in one hand (so that the other hand is free for roping cattle, gun slinging,
taking photographs), and the horse is
directed via neck rein. When jogging (trotting) you are not suppose to rise to
the trot (or bounce!) but remain seated and move in motion with the horse –
this is much easier said than done *well howdy
long-lost stomach muscles –I can certainly feel you now!*! And cantering in
Western style is called loping . . . my preferred method of travel on Packer
other than walking ;)
The first ride gave us the chance to familiarise ourselves with our horses, the Western style of riding and breathe in the exquisite beauty of the 3,000 acre property owned by the True Family. The Sonoran desert landscape truly is breathtaking: Big blue skies contrast against the soft brown and beige tones of the arid desert floor, abundant cacti (including the magnificent Saguaro cactus with its almost humanlike characteristics) punctuate the landscape as far as the eye can see, longhorn cattle poke lazily about in the scrub keeping a watchful eye on the horses as they pass, and in the distance the rugged peaks of the Tucson mountains rise majestically. It is not hard to understand why dozens of movies, commercials and stills have been shot at the White Stallion Ranch over the years: it is the unspoilt terrain of my wistful childhood dreams.
All rides at the White Stallion ranch are led by an experienced wrangler, and are divided into slow rides (peaceful and relaxing, perfect for enjoying the beautiful scenery), fast rides (tighten the Stampede string on your cowboy hat for exhilarating loping across the desert plains), mountain rides (this was our personal butt-clenching, sweaty palms Man From Snowy River moment: with the horses picking their way down rocky Movie Pass in what felt like a near-vertical descent!), half and full day rides (I did an afternoon half day ride into the Javelina Canyon – it was incredible. Loping back to the ranch on Packer as the sun was setting was truly magical) as well as a wine and cheese ride (with lovely wines and cheeses served mid-ride under the shadow of the mountains), beer and Cheetos ride (which we didn’t get to do unfortunately) and the wonderful Breakfast ride (blueberry pancakes with whipped butter and syrup, sausages, eggs, camp potatoes, and strong coffee all served up in the desert. I could almost read poor Packer’s mind when I mounted up again…right after loosening my belt a notch! He certainly made his point with a judgemental look in my direction and a snort of his nostrils ;). The ranch also offers lessons plus team penning and barrel racing, and a rodeo on Saturdays.
While the White Stallion is a working longhorn cattle ranch, you won’t need to roll out your swag and sleep under the stars. Accommodation is in comfortable casitas (ours was a deluxe suite), with a small terrace and sun loungers out front where you can read, watch the sun go down or just collapse after a long day in the saddle. Meals are served in the old Adobe ranch house in the middle of the property and are taken “family style” so you grab a plate, load up with mouth-wateringly delicious food (Mexican night was my favourite), and pull up a seat next to your fellow guests to eat, drink and discuss the day's activities. That was one of the best things about the ranch: meeting people from all over the world (U.S.A, Sweden, Canada, Australia and the U.K. were all represented during our stay), of all ages, with wildly different backgrounds and riding experience. Some guests had their own horses back home and were extremely experienced while others had never ridden a horse before. It didn’t matter: we were all there to enjoy the horseback riding and embrace our inner cowboy/cowgirl in this slice of Tucson paradise.
Apart from riding, the White Stallion Ranch offers guided hikes, a pool and hot tub, tennis court, petting farm for the littlies, and a games room. The ranch is also close to golf courses, Old Tucson studios, museums, and Saguaro National Park (which is adjacent to the ranch). Bottom line: if you are going with someone who doesn’t want to ride or who only wants to ride occasionally, they will find plenty to do.
I could go on and on about the awesomeness of the White Stallion Ranch – we absolutely loved our experience and didn’t want to leave when it came to saying goodbye. If you read the reviews on TripAdvisor, clearly we are not alone in our sentiments. Guests rebook year after year (I think I read that one guest was up to 50 or so return visits!), a testament to the hospitality of the True family, the wranglers and the ranch staff. Will we be making the trip back to the White Stallion Ranch in the future? Yes siree! And you might just see me in a fringed jacket, chaps and rhinestone cowboy hat yet ;)
*I distinctly recall this during my high school years – sneaking time in front of the television, procrastinating, instead of revising ;)
**Note that I did not hear anyone use giddy-up or yee-haw during my stay at White Stallion Ranch. I think that only happens in the movies or in my imagination ;)
*** The ranch is well equipped with mounting blocks so for those who don’t ride all the time, or who are maybe a little less flexible than they used to be (me!), don’t fret, you won’t have to mount your horse from the ground. Before I went, I had visions of having to cart a stepladder around with me at all times!
Note: The ranch provides riding helmets for those who wish to wear one instead of a cowboy hat.
Our stay was hosted by the White Stallion Ranch.