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Dude ranches in California, visiting with kids and advanced riders

With the pandemic happening this year, we have had to cancel our big oversea trips. While we were all quite disappointed it, we ended up coming up with other ideas to getaway. With our daughter being so interested in riding, we found out early in the summer that visiting dude ranches was a good way to get out while staying safe (being on a horse all day guarantees social distancing in the outdoors). As it turns out, we were able to fill in some summer weekends to visiting dude ranches and we have had the chance to visit 3 (and since then, another ranch called Alisal) ranches over the course of this year. Below is what we learned about dude ranches.

First, they are all amazing in their own way and we met people who had been coming to these ranches for years and have enjoyed every minute of it. If you like horses and the outdoors you can't go wrong with any of these. All of these ranches offer daily rides (usually morning and afternoons) for different levels. Once or twice a week the ride goes to a creek or nice area in nature for BBQ lunch or dinner. A nice way to participate in a longer trail ride and enjoy nature.

This is my daughter's favorite; she came to the ranch for horseback riding and she was not disappointed. Long rides mornings and afternoons, beautiful scenery. She thought that the advanced rides were interesting and exciting. I took the beginner rides and thought they were nice, but didn't offer as much variety. I guess that you get access to more trails with a higher level.

Besides riding, Greenhorn ranch offers plenty of other activities. They have a dedicated staff member for non-riding activities and they offer skeet shooting, archery, mountain biking, etc... (although most activities are for 12+ years old). The ranch itself has a pool, a pond for fishing, lawn games, a kids teepee with games and stuffed animals and a gold panning area, which turned out to become my 7-year old's favorite activity of all. They also have a little playground outside of the main lawn.

The ranch typically offers an evening program, which includes karaoke, line dancing, stories by the fireplace, etc... but they had to cancel this year for safety reasons.

Accommodations are nice and food was good.

This is my 7 year old's favorite and it's easy to know why. They teach trotting and loping (cantering) to the beginner group on day 2 and he loved being able to canter in the meadows! The horses are very well trained and you get to ride - and feed- the same horse throughout your stay so you really get to know your horse. We also got to participate in a cattle ride, which was a big highlight for the kids as well.
Hunewill offers stays for specific dates only and all the guests arrive and leave at the same time. This allows for the same riding progression throughout the week, and for guests to enjoy introductions at the same time. That said, this also adds more constraints to trip planning.

The scenery of wide plains surrounded by beautiful mountains is exceptional and I really enjoyed the views there.

The ranch doesn't offer many activities outside of riding, although there is a small playground, lawn games and a fun evening program (talent show, bingo, etc...) when all the riding is done.

Accommodations are nice and food was good.

This is my favorite when I think of the scenery and the overall experience. I personally enjoyed the riding because the surroundings are beautiful (plains and beautiful hills) and the trails offer a variety of experiences and viewpoints. The rides are short (1 hour max) and you can not trot or lope in the afternoon rides because the horses are tired (they do multiple rides with multiple riders throughout the day). For my advanced daughter, it felt like the riding experience was too limited.

But Rankin Ranch makes up for the limited riding with a fantastic overall experience.When not riding, kids have many options to be busy: a farm/petting zoo, pool, lawn games, creek. There is a kids program with counselors dedicated to the kids most of the summer. This was a big plus for the kids.
The evening program was also fun, with games and prizes offered every night.

One thing to note for busy people is that the wifi is limited to 2 hours/day (3-5pm) and only by the office. While I understand the benefit of reconnecting with nature, it seems quite limited especially when the time spent riding is so short.

Accommodations are very comfortable (although spread out over a large area) and food was truly amazing.

If you have riders in your family and are considering visiting a Dude Ranch, I hope you will find these tips useful.


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