Green pancakes and snowstorms. (Published in Farmer's Weekly)

My visit to Lost Valley Ranch in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, efficiently organised as usual by Ranch Rider, started fairly normally. I arrived on the Sunday and after settling down in my beautiful log cabin, woke up to fresh mountain air and the smell of horses. Excited because I would be riding every day for 3 weeks I woke early on St Patrick’s Day to find green pancakes on the menu! This is an example of the attention to detail at the ranch.

It doesn’t usually take me long to get used to Western riding but there is good tuition available at Lost Valley for beginners. They usually have two rides a day, about 2 hours long and if conditions are right a day ride with picnic lunch gives the opportunity to explore far and wide. The ranch was hit last summer by the Hayman Fire, the fastest moving forest fire in Colorado history and as well as grazing and trees being turned to ash, around 15 cattle were lost to the fire. Farmers will be able to sympathise with this kind of natural disaster and it was a miracle that the ranch buildings and horses were saved. Everyone who has been back since that time has marvelled at the new and different vistas exposed by the fire and the re-generation of plants and trees. The black trunks of the pine trees make a startling contrast to the rest of the greenery and we commented that snow would make this a photographer’s paradise. We all wished too hard! On the Tuesday the worst snowstorm since 1913 hit parts of Colorado and Wyoming and many places had no electricity for 3-4 days. Lost Valley got at least 3 feet and we couldn’t ride for one and a half days. Normally the loss of riding would be a calamity for me but it is testimony to the great camaraderie at the ranch that we still all had great fun. We spent one day clearing snow off the barn roof and from the corral. We all huddled round an enormous fire in the evenings. When riding resumed we had to start off slowly but once we had opened up the trails and the sun got to them we were able to explore once again. The rides here are divided between different levels of experience so there is no nose to tail riding and experienced riders can lope and gallop and even jump over small logs. The ash run off from the fire had made some of the streams black and although the horses don’t seem to mind drinking this, some of them were extremely reluctant to cross over so we had a few enormous leaps!

The food at the ranch is first class as are all the amenities. It is one of the few “four diamond” rated ranches and from the infinite variety of breakfast provisions to the evenings spent around your own log fire, this the place to go to chill out. You do have to make some of your own entertainment, however. There is no television, although each cabin has radio and a CD player. Each Saturday is the square dance, which is good exercise as well as hilarious to watch or take part in. Also once a week when there are enough guests there is the “programme”. This consists of sketches, songs and cowboy poems performed by the very talented and musical staff. The ranch has a high proportion of loyal returning visitors. After the fire, many, although fearing the worst, still came and were pleasantly surprised that their enjoyment was not hindered. Everyone says that the quality and friendliness of the staff are a big factor in their enjoyment and I certainly feel as if they are my American “family”.

Throughout the year are various “horsemanship” weeks when specialist trainers come to the ranch and give tuition in Western riding. It certainly is a dream come true for me to savour the wilderness of the Pike National Forest on horseback.

My trip was organised by Tony Daly of Ranch Rider (01509 891305) He is always very helpful and knows the ranches in his brochure and can also organise travel and flights.

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