When I think of riding a horse, it’s always in the English vein. Being a Brit, we didn’t call it “English” when I was growing up, it was just horse riding. And I have to admit, I’ve never taken to Western or cowboy styles of riding. However, the chance to be on and around horses in the back country of Wyoming for a week, and do yoga every day with Stephanie Snyder was too good to miss… so in July we headed off to Bitterroot Ranch in Wyoming.
After spending three days around Jackson, we packed up our rental car, picked up Stephanie and her son, and headed out to Bitterroot, which was a good 2+ hours from what most consider civilization. We opted to take the scenic route through Grand Teton National Park and weren’t disappointed. Always take the opportunity to go there if you are given it. It’s breathtaking.
Bitterroot is a good 45 minute drive from DuBois – the nearest (small) town – and much of that drive is on a dusty unpaved road, so be warned! And once you arrive at the ranch, you’re pretty much there for the duration (in our case, a week). There’s limited cell phone coverage, wifi in the main lodge only, and frankly, you won’t want to leave anyway. I welcomed the chance to be off the grid.
On arrival, Monkey and I were shown to our super rustic cabin—it was barebones, to say the least. But it did have its own bathroom, and we were pleased to find out later it was one of the few without a resident rodent (hmm…). I guess you can’t worry about wildlife around here.
The ranch, which was bought by the inimitable Bayard Fox (who turns 90 next year) in 1971 – enjoys a short season: from May to early October, due to the harsh winters. The 150+ horses are mostly brought down to warmer climes during the winter, by their son Richard and his wife, Hadley, although Bayard and his wife, Mel, choose to live here year-round with their breeding horses.
Bitterroot’s location is breathtaking. Nestled in a green little valley along a rushing river, you reach it by crossing a wooden bridge. The log guest cabins are dotted all over the place – some may entail a 5-7 minute walk to get to the main lodge (ours didn’t).
Down in the valley is also a large corral where the horses spending their days, waiting to be ridden or trained. Each day after our rides, we would walk the horses down a steep hill to stand in the rocky river to cool their legs. It’s an almost meditative way to finish up, with the white noise of the water in the background.
Up a hairpin-bending track, above the buildings, is “the bench” – a plateau of fields where the horses graze and are fed at night. It’s a stunning place to watch the sunset while listening to the equines quietly munch on their alfalfa.
It’s also a spectacular sight to watch the horses go up the track at the end of the day – streaming past for minutes at a trot – definitely take the chance to see this if you can.
Many of the horses are Arabian, although not all. There are a few sturdy draft-crosses, quarter horses and a couple of Mustangs who have voluntarily joined the herd, clearly knowing which side their bread is buttered. During our time there, I was enlisted to do a sunset photoshoot with one of these drafts, aptly named Mouse. He was very well behaved despite the rest of the herd’s excitement that the truck and crew must mean more dinner!
Each day at Bitterroot consisted of three delicious, very square meals; at least 2.5 hours of horseback riding, and 90 minutes of yoga. Heavenly, and surprisingly not that tiring. Perhaps it was being well-fed. Or stretching out well after riding. Perhaps it was the lack of screen-time. Or not having to drive for a full week. Think about it. When was the last time you didn’t get in a car for seven consecutive days?
The riding style is its own unique thing, which involves forgetting everything you’ve ever learnt, especially if you’re a regular rider. There is a lot of two-point involved (standing up in your stirrups) to spare the horses’ backs at the canter, or when climbing and descending hills. It can take a bit of getting used to. Horses neck-rein, versus working on contact with the bit, and the saddles are either Western or Western endurance saddles (i.e. no horn) – I like to think of them as torture devices for my knees. (Just kidding. #notreally)
We were divided into riding groups according to ability and covered different terrain and trails each day, led by the fantastic young wranglers who come from all over the world to work the season. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear tales of yore, spot Butch Cassidy’s hideout, and hear about the intrepid female sheep rancher who lived on her own for years.
The views are just breathtaking and endless. One day we went on a five-hour ride climbing two thousand feet (the ranch is just about 7,500 feet above sea level) to the most spectacular view point. It was a really special day.
On another day, we were divided into groups for team sorting – moving Highland cattle around the arena. It was terrific fun, although I did feel a bit bad for the poor cows who got rather hot and kind of gave up at one point.
We made some wonderful friends on the retreat, and putting 20 hours in the saddle, along with 11-12 hours of yoga, I convinced myself that I had earned the right to eat as much of their delicious food as I did. No question, this is a bucket list item and a great thing to do with older kids. Monkey had the time of his life. Maybe next time I’ll bring my own horse with me too.
Learn more at bitterrootranch.com.