Staying on a dude ranch can be a bit of a culture shock, especially if you aren’t used to a fairly rugged way of life, but given the frontiersman style traditions valued by these places, the last thing you want to do is look like completely ridiculous in your new surroundings. Follow these six tips and you’ll significantly raise your chances of blending in.

Time Your Dude Ranch Visit

The best times to visit a ranch are April through May and September through October. June through August tends to be the high season. In addition to the better rates in April through May and September through October, you’ll be able to enjoy your stay quite a bit more thanks to the cooler temperatures.

Don’t Try to Prove Anything

One of the biggest mistakes that you can do is assume that this is easy and you can do anything. Stop and take a minute to learn the values and customs, along with the skills. Lassoing is fairly difficult, it’s not something that you can just pick up and master in a few seconds.

The same goes for riding a horse: Every horse is different, so you shouldn’t just expect to throw a saddle on a horse and take off. If you’ve never ridden a horse, don’t worry about it too much—most ranches have horses for those with different skill levels. Ask for advice on which horse to take, especially if you’ve never ridden one before. These ranches tend to offer rides two times a day, and they’re usually about two hours long, but you should really limit yourself to two hours instead of four. Four hours on a saddle can be quite painful if you aren’t used to it.

You should also make an effort to understand the different types of riding that there are. Most ranch horses are trained for Western-style riding, which means that the saddle is a little bit larger and more comfortable. Reins are held in one hand rather than two, which leaves a hand completely free for lassoing or taking pictures and video.

Take a Deep Breath and Relax

Even though you may be nervous about riding a horse, you should try to relax. This isn’t the horse’s first time around the trail, and it certainly won’t be its last. Furthermore, horses can detect body language, so if you’re nervous, the horse is going to sense that. Keep your eyes on the trail and keep your nerves calm. You’ll get through this just fine.

Get the Right Wardrobe

The wardrobe you have now isn’t going to cut it, so be sure to grab some durable men’s western workwear before going to the ranch. This includes fleece hooded jackets, boots, and pants. While most ranches usually supply cowboy boots and riding helmets, it’s never safe to assume that they will. Buy some in your size and don’t worry about what they have. Since you’re going to be out in the sun all day, it would be wise of you to get a wide-brimmed hat and some sunscreen.

Keep Your Balance

This relates to relaxing—you need to remain balanced while riding the horse. Having good posture in the saddle will reduce the pain you’re having from riding on the saddle. If you’re leaning to one side or the other, you’ll have discomfort. When going up a steep slope, you need to shift your center of gravity forward. When you’re going down a slope, you’ll do the opposite and shift your center of gravity back. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.

Control the Horse

Unless you establish some semblance of control, horses will tend to do what they want to do; some horses just want to be in the lead or act aggressively to other horses. Try to keep a horse length between you and the horse in front of you. Notice the horse’s actions. If the horse has its ears back, it’s either uncomfortable or irritated about something. It could be the way you’re sitting or holding the reigns, or it could be because other horses are nearby. Both of those situations are easily fixed, however, if you’re paying the proper attention.

Even if it’s not your first time to a ranch, you could benefit by utilizing some of these tips. It’s important that you don’t over-do it with cliché items and pretend to be something that you’re not. Be mindful and respectful of their way of life. When riding on horses, use common sense along with these tips to have a nice ride.

Now have your say: Have you ever been to a dude ranch? If so, what was your experience like? What did you do to prepare for your journey on the ranch?

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Featured photo credit: Andrew-Hydevia Flickr

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