Why You Should Take a Ranch Holiday (and what to expect when you do)

Published 23 September 2016

Emma Brisdion

Spending a week in the saddle might not sound like the dream relaxing holiday and sure, it’s not quite as blissfully peaceful as a sun-drenched beach, but that doesn’t mean ranch holidays should fall by the wayside. Humour me for a moment and consider this - holidays are a means to escape from daily life, to bag new experiences and come back with treasured new memories, and living like a cowboy in the American Wild West certainly ticks each of these boxes. Even if you’ll ache like mad.

Lassoing cowboy

For a different holiday experience

Take this opportunity to immerse yourself in a world far different from your usual holiday choices. Trading the Caribbean beaches for the staggering canyon lands of the USA’s Wild West is guaranteed to be a more enriching experience than an all-inclusive seaside resort break. Exploring some of North America’s most staggering scenery astride your trusted steed, you’ll learn more about yourself, exercise your mind as well as your body and maybe pick up a few new skills while you’re at it. You never know when you might need to know how to lasso.

Cowboys in the dust

To explore vast landscapes

There’s only so far you can explore on foot in a day. On horseback you can cover far more ground (and with far more ease) and get further out into nature. Sit back in the saddle and let your sturdy four-legged guide show you through his home territory. On a day’s ride you can clip clop through craggy canyon lands, pass under rocky arches and skirt around towering stacks before tucking into a picnic lunches in the middle of Arizona, without coming across another living soul.

 A cowboy herding cattle in Texas

To spend some quality time with nature

The beauty of the ranches of the American west is that not only are they often flung far into the wilds of the cowboy states, they also tend to own vast areas of land, so even your closest neighbours can be a whole day’s ride away. Here you can gaze out over vistas that stretch to the horizon without a single road weaving across the view, or a cluster of houses springing up amongst the scrub. Just endless wildernesses and the odd herd of cattle slip past as you follow trails carved only by previous rides. They don’t always have to be summer holidays either; many ranches are beginning winter programs that allow you to spend Christmas at the foot of snow-dusted mountain peaks.

Texas cowboy

To live like a cowboy...

There are many different types of ranch holiday available; dude ranches in Wyoming, Texas or Montana allow for all kinds of other activities and the ranching aspect is not the only focus of the holiday, while working ranches still act as an income-generating farm. At these, a ‘ready to get involved’ attitude is required, as you’ll have the opportunity to help herd cattle with the resident cowboys, muck out and saddle up the horses with the stable hands and even try your hand at lassoing stray cows.

Gaucho, Argentina

...Or a gaucho

Alternatively, spend some time on an estancia (ranch) in Argentina. You’ll live on fresh air, juicy steak, drink endless glasses of Argentine Malbec and spend your days cantering (or just walking) across wild Patagonian landscapes. Much like the US, in many estancias the ranch hands and gaucho can cater to all riding abilities. Polo is a huge sport in Argentina, so you're also able to opt for front row seats to world-class matches, and even give it a go yourself.

Texas Ranch

To improve your riding

Whether you’re a novice in the saddle or you’re comfortable spending all day on horseback, there’ll be room for learning on a ranch. Inexperienced riders can be taught to pick up the reins while more advanced riders can tackle differing terrain and experience how horse riding out in the wild west is not just a hobby, but a way of life.

Cowboys in Fort Worth, Texas, USA

For all kinds of adventure

Plenty of ranches understand that their guests might not be as mad keen on horses as their staff, so if spending every day riding doesn’t sound like your dream vacation but you still want to dip your toe into ranch-life and try out life as a cowboy, pick a guest ranch or a dude ranch. These easy-going ranches give you the freedom to ride as much or as little as you fancy and offer a whole host of activities for the rest of your break. Try out white water rafting, mountain biking and archery, or even just get out to explore the landscape with some good, old-fashioned hiking.

Hero - Texas Cowboys

But be warned – expect to be sore

No matter how fit and healthy you pride yourself on being, you will ache in places you didn’t even realise you had muscles the day after your first ride. It's a great workout though; even if it doesn't feel like you're exercising all that hard, and you’ll certainly sleep soundly each night. Thighs of steel and rock-hard glutes can be expected after a long stint on the farm with full days of riding and you’ll come away with a newfound respect for the hard-working cattle ranchers. Cue - returning to the office re-energised from all that fresh air.

If you fancy living the cowboy lifestyle, check out Round the World Experts' Cajun Cowboys and Texas In-Depth Journeys, which include stays on Texas' Wildcatter Ranch in Graham and the Dixie Dude Ranch in Bandera respectively.

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