We had just boarded the Feed Sleigh on our last day at Vista Verde Ranch, when wrangler Maddie, asked me what my favorite experience had been at the ranch. I thought about it and answered honestly, “Sitting in the hot tub each morning with a cup of coffee, watching the frisky horses play in the field.”
Vista Verde Ranch is located about 40 minutes north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We visited in early March and while I have no doubt that this place is alive with energy in the summer, the winter is a great time to plan a visit.
For one thing, the winter horse field is directly in front of many of the cabins, including ours, South Fork Cabin. Each morning, we would awake to horses just outside our bedroom window. I have always said that while I don’t want a farm, I’d love to have neighbors who have a farm, this way, I could enjoy the benefits without the work. That’s Vista Verde Ranch.
At the ranch, you don’t have to do horsey things, but if you’d like to do them, they are available in abundance, even in the winter. On our first full day on the ranch, Ryan and I went to a two-hour horsemanship and trail ride session.
I had never done any horseback riding in an indoor arena and ground work was foreign to me. James, our wrangler, had us do both of these things. I was assigned to May, a sweet dun-colored mare and Ryan got Aspen, an adorable gelding paint. A couple from Maine were the only other guests in the class.
Before getting on our horse, we worked with it on the ground. It establishes a bond between rider and horse. Once we ran through a few ground activities we mounted and rode around the inside of the arena. This work is intended and does, make a rider feel more confident on the horse. Each rider was allowed to work on their own thing in the huge arena.
By the way, we got home and watched “Buck” a 2011 documentary about a horse trainer who really knows his stuff. Buck Brannaman was a consultant on Robert Redford’s “The Horse Whisper.” During his clinics, he goes through some of the same groundwork that we did at Vista Verde. He has said, quite famously, that it isn’t the horse that usually needs fixing, it’s the human.
This was definitely my case as I struggled to show May my intentions. Stopping was the main problem because I wasn’t showing May what I wanted because of my own inability to correctly reign. Eventually, I got better and out on the snowy trail, when she quickened her step on the way back to the stables, I was able to keep her at a walk.
The next day, Ryan went back for more. He’s a naturally good horseman but the only opportunity he gets to do much cowboying is at the ranches we visit. This was a chance for him to learn tack and a little more about riding.
On the second day, he worked with wrangler Mary and Aspen, the painted gelding. This is the crux of what makes Vista Verde so great. They accommodate almost every request. If you’d like to learn to do tack, someone is there to help you learn to saddle a horse. Especially during the winter when things are a bit slower and the guest count is down.
Ryan loved his second session with Aspen. I really do think the horse liked him or at least respected him. On the first day, Ryan had Aspen follow him around like a puppy dog (no reins required).
There is something about having horses outside our cabin that was relaxing. I don’t know about you, but animals generally have that effect on me. If they have fur and slobber, I love them.
The horses at Verde Vista Ranch were frisky. Each morning, coffee cup in hand, we’d climb in our private hot tub for a morning soak. Our soaks were accompanied by spring bird calls and the occasional horse whinny. It was in the morning that these horses were most awake. Some would play together, gallop together, and seemed to be feeling their oats.
As we soaked, fascinated, I began reciting what was happening.
“Oh, those two are bucking! Those three are galloping. Look, those two are rearing up!”
Apparently, Ryan was not amused with my narration and said it was like he was listening to Horse Radio.
Well, sorry, not sorry. I think I’d liked listening to Horse Radio!
I’ll conclude my horsey story with the Feed Sleigh at Vista Verde Ranch. At 3:30 p.m. each day during the winter, two big Belgian drafts, Kiowa and brother Siska, are hitched to a sleigh made to transport hay and humans. That sleigh is driven to the horse field in front of our cabin and the hay is thrown to the eager horses.
It’s truly a sight, and the excitement doesn’t start at 3:30 p.m. At 3 p.m. the horses start making their way to the east side of the field. By 3:30 p.m. almost all of the 80 or so horses are milling around the gate, waiting somewhat impatiently for the Feed Sleigh to arrive.
As the sleigh comes into the field, the horses gather around, many taking mouthfuls from the still baled hay. The sleigh takes a sort of oblong course in the field and Ryan, with the help of a boy with a Vista Verde kid’s program staff member, threw out hay to the hungry herd.
Many of the horses chase the feed sleigh in a sort of frenzied race to their meal. In the end, however, every horse gets plenty to eat, so I think the horses that stand back and watch the chaos are probably the smart ones.
After two spins around the field, we had unloaded the hay. There aren’t many opportunities to ride in a feed sleigh, so I wouldn’t miss it. All the horsey activities at Vista Verde Ranch are a great deal of fun and an opportunity to learn. If I were you, I’d do them all.
More to come on Vista Verde Ranch.
Read my first post about the ranch: On the Road Again
Thank you to Vista Verde Ranch for hosting our stay.