If there’s ever been a time to herd up your posse and mosey on down to a dude ranch, it’s now. The benefit of being (mostly) unplugged aside, riding a horse for the first time is pure childhood magic. And the gobs of fresh air, stellar desert scenery, fantastic food, laid back vibe and campfire camaraderie? They’re pretty awesome, too.
Thinking of saddlin’ up? Here are 10 reasons to unleash your inner Dude at Arizona’s fantastically authentic White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona.
1. The Horses
Regardless of your riding ability (or lack thereof), trust that White Stallion Ranch has a perfect horse to suit. Expert wranglers carefully select an ideal match for each rider from their 120 horses, and help guests choose which rides – slow, fast, half-day, all-day, team penning – to undertake based on their style and duration preference.
Rides take place from Monday to Saturday, and private and group lessons are also available for an additional fee. Children ages eight and older can take the rider ability test to qualify for fast rides and team penning, kids five and older can sign up for slow, scenic rides, and children under age five may ride horses at a walking pace while on a lead line.
2. The Ranch
An all-inclusive dude ranch? Yes, really. Guests have 41 well-appointed rooms and a spacious 4-bedroom Hacienda house to choose from, as well as on-site ranch facilities that include a heated pool, hot tub, tennis and basketball courts, petting zoo, movie theatre and game room with fooseball, ping pong, shuffleboard, air hockey, board games and a pool table. Three daily meals and access to an all-day drink and cookies-and-fruit filling station are included in your stay.
3. Food & Drink
While kid-pleasing favourites are plentiful, the family-style meal setup offers delicious, innovative fare that goes beyond what you might expect from a ranch.
Each meal offers a variety of options accommodating meat lovers, vegetarians and everything in between. Breakfast features a cook-to-order menu and large continental buffet while lunch features two entrees, a sandwich bar and several side dishes and salads. Dinner also features two entrees (the main is often grilled outdoors) with a variety of side dishes and an ever-changing dessert option.
Yes, riding is the main event, but the fun doesn’t stop there, pardner. Hayrides, rodeos, natural horsemanship demos and cookouts are available, as are easy nature walks or challenging climbs to the top of Panther Peak in the Saguaro National Park. The ranch also offers soothing massage and body treatments at an extra cost.
Want more adventure? White Stallion offers climbers age 10 and up beginner, intermediate and advanced climbs for an additional $75 fee. There are eight different 25’-35’ foot climbs and participants are provided all the necessary climbing gear. Children under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult.
5. Team Penning
Ever dreamt of saddling up your pony and herding some cattle, Bonanza-style? Here’s your chance. In groups of four in the rodeo arena, riders work together to separate and move three calfs from the herd into a pen. Teams have three rounds of penning and are timed each round (but just for fun), with wranglers riding alongside to offer instructions and sub in on teams if needed.
6. The View
An endlessly blue sky, the Sonoran desert as far as the eye can see, and views of rock mountains that literally inspire awe. You may never want to go back home.
Whether your crew is brimming with rookie riders or not, lessons are a great bonding opportunity for parents and kids to learn or hone skills together. Hour-long lessons are done in the rodeo arena, have an additional fee of $20 per person, and are available to kids ages 5 and up.
8. Nightly entertainment
Following happy hour in the communal room (take a pic on the saddle stools!) and a tasty dinner, guests are treated to after-hours entertainment most nights. End the day with a water colour paint class, moonlight bonfire with a cowboy crooner, astronomy show with large telescopes, line dancing lessons, animal and nature programs, and the super-cool Loop Rawlin’s Wild West Show of Tricks, Roping, Whip Cracking and Gun Spinning.
9. Rides with meals
Now you can say you’ve inhaled a freshly cooked meal in the desert. Sign up for the Breakfast Ride, where, after meandering through cacti-ridden trails, you’ll arrive to the sweet smell of hot coffee, eggs, sausage and homefries. Also not to be missed: The Wine & Cheese ride and the Beer & Cheetos ride.
10. The Horses
Spending time on these beauties while they’re working is one thing; visiting them after-hours is something different altogether.
Ranch wranglers are more than happy to provide pint-sized horse lovers with a grooming brush and horse treats once the work day is done, so don’t be shy about asking to set up time for such endeavours. Have a cowboy/cowgirl who craves even more horse time? Follow the fences around the property. With 120 working horses to choose from, there are myriad opportunities to pet, feed and nuzzle up to these gentle giants.
Liz Bruckner is a writer, editor and mom to three boys. She loves adventure travel and intends to do more of it when she wins the lottery.