Horseback Adventures at Saddleback Ranch
If you need something memorable to shake up your Steamboat experience, venture a little west of town to Saddleback Ranch for some horseback riding with an operation run largely by women wranglers and fourth-generation cowgirls.
About 25 minutes from town near Milner, the sprawling Saddleback Ranch and Double Dollar Cattle Company spread out over 8,000 beautiful acres. A tributary of the Yampa runs through it, and there are green rolling hills as far as you can see.
Our wranglers, Brittany and Shiloh, look like sisters but are actually lifelong family friends on a ranch with a story as long and intriguing as its winding trails. My horse Lucy (aka soccer mom) liked to meander from the group, so Brittany — 13-year-old great granddaughter of the ranch’s steadfast original matriarch, Lilly Taylor — rode behind and entertained me with family stories along the way.
Currently owned by three Iacovetto families, this gem of a property had its humble beginnings. In 1928, Lilly and husband, Harry, brought their six children here and literally carved out a hillside homestead on 50 acres. Her granddaughter Nancy Thompson McAnally, who greeted us at the barn, said Lilly used her grubbing hoe to clear the land and a plot to plant her potatoes and hauled their water from the nearby creek. After some changes of hands and many more land acquisitions, the ranch has grown to 8,000 acres. Nancy joked that with six young granddaughters still on the property, “One day, this ranch could be run by little gals on pink ponies.”
The world looks a little different from horseback. Somehow I felt more a part of the landscape from atop Lucy, taking in the scenery at her lumbering pace. It felt like time rolled back and the pace slowed, and it was easy to imagine a simpler, more grounded life here. You can choose from a variety of rides, anything from a shorter, low-key amble around the ranch to a three- to four-hour morning cattle drive if you are looking for more trotting, loping excitement.
Our crew chose the two-hour morning ride, perfect for novices and my friend Cindy’s kids who were riding for the first time. It’s good to wear jeans, light button-downs that cover your skin, hats and tennis shoes or boots, and tons of sunscreen.
Shiloh helped everyone hoist themselves onto their horses, gave us a few instructions, and we were off to explore. While roaming the wide-open, arid range, we passed a herd of wild cattle, a lift for winter tubers, work horses with hooves the size of dinner plates and a family home complete with swimming pond. I learned to ride out Lucy’s smooth trot and attempted to post (lift up and down in sync with the horse’s motion) like Brittany when the trot was rougher. Funny that I seemed to always get the timing exactly wrong and would smack against the saddle. But the horses are sweet and forgiving and used to newbie riders.
Shiloh and Brittany said how much they love to take their horses for full-on runs around the ranch when they have the chance. I caught a tiny glimpse of that kind of freedom. Their ranch survives in part because of agritourism, but a love for the horses and land is in the ranchers’ blood. Shiloh is in college in Cheyenne studying horse training, and she guesses Brittany will follow suit.
I’m glad Cindy convinced us to come along on her many Steamboat adventures with her kids this week. Her mission to make sure they love the place she lived for nine years was a huge success. Her daughter, Lily, already said the only thing she wants for her ninth birthday is to come back and have her party here in Steamboat this September. I totally get it.
Have a great week and look forward to the gondola opening this Friday!
Jessica Berg is a freelance writer and Suzuki Violin teacher. She first moved to Steamboat after college in the mid ’90s and, after a long hiatus, is happy to call Steamboat home again. She runs a private violin studio out of her Steamboat home and teaches violin with Boulder Suzuki Strings. She holds a degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University and loves blogging about mountain life.
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