New Year Escapes

Horseback Riding - Hualapai Mountains, Arizona
By Kid Cody
  |  Gorp.com

After five weeks of holiday feasting and fatty party foods, it's generally time, by the year's end, to join Weight Watchers or forsake solid foods. But there's an alternative to this boom-and-bust routine—a way to lose those love handles and gain a little knowledge in the process. Some would call it work, but for those who love horseback riding and care to learn the mechanics of a working cattle ranch, visiting Arizona's high country might be your post-holiday solution.

Now granted, you can find plenty of choices at Old West Dude Ranches, but for those seeking something really authentic, we recommend the Horseshoe Ranch, where guests are immersed in the working ranch experience. Each day you rise early for breakfast, saddle up, and head out to search, gather, drive, sort, rope, brand, dehorn, and doctor the 1,700 head of cattle grazing over 100 square miles of beautiful snow-free highcountry. Out of the saddle there are always fences to mend, eggs to gather, fruit to pick, and nearby canyons to explore. Run by rancher Dick Wilcox, the opportunity is only offered to those who "feel comfortable in the saddle," and though each visitor is teamed up with a full-time "cowboy," they are expected to learn the ropes and assist with the chores from the get-go.

Located on the stunning southern edge of Arizona's high plateau (temperatures average about ten degrees cooler that Phoenix), the ranch is set amid small mountain ranges in chaparral and scrub-oak country. This is prime cattle land, and part of Wilcox's learn-as-you-go philosophy includes explaining cattle psychology and how to run a ranch. Though the cowboys handle all the in-saddle roping, Horseshoe offers evening clinics for those learning to wield a lasso.

Of course the ranch isn't shy about feeding the guests either—the family-style meals are hearty and abundant—but somehow, after a day in the saddle poking cows, those calories don't seem to add up so quickly.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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