Alright, so now that we’ve come down off our warm, fuzzy, feel-good cloud of Globetrotting elation…
We NEED to share this most incredible review of our ranch ride in Shell, Wyoming that we received from Amy Van Court, who spent a week blissing out on this holiday last month (June 2019).
Off her own bat, Amy wrote the following transporting, inspirational account of her time at this one-of-a-kind guest ranch, and if this doesn’t make you want to book your flights, don your cowboy hat and gallop off into the sunset, nothing will!
What an incredible experience. There aren’t sufficient words to describe how special this place is. Every box was checked for my vacation, from the quality of the horses and horsemanship, to the excellent staff, the wonderful, clean, appropriate accommodations, the delicious food and oh my god, the once-in-a-lifetime territory.
I’ve been riding for 48 years and currently have two horses that I ride five times a week. Many of my fellow barn buddies wondered why the heck I would drive to Wyoming and pay a strong fee to ride when I can do it at home ‘for free’. Well, first and foremost, riding on a working cattle ranch has been a bucket list item for decades. It took this long to actually go for it because I wanted to be sure the experience was the best it could possibly be. Well, hats off to me, the wait paid off. I knew the moment I saw the Globetrotting website and video that I would be in the right place, among horsemen and women, riding exceptional horses and accessing the most breathtaking territory I’ve ever seen. As they say in the description, this isn’t a ‘nose to tail’ experience, no siree! Here are a few of the highlights:
The horses on this ranch are well cared-for, high quality, trustworthy and sensible. Of course there’s variation in sensitivity, smoothness of gaits and personality, but I didn’t see one horse that I wouldn’t have wanted to ride. I felt both respected and well taken care of by each of the three mustangs I rode (they’re not all mustangs, but mine were). I never felt I was on a dopey, numb mount who dreaded his job and couldn’t wait to return to the barn. These horses both know and love their jobs. They are treated like the critically important employees they are. The ranch is a place that understands and reveres good horses and good horsemanship. It was astonishing and heart-filling to constantly see evidence that the wranglers care as much about the horses as they do about the guests. And vice versa! I will say one thing here that’s crucial to whether or not you have a grand time on this ride: if you are expecting to go to a place where the guests’ happiness comes before the horses’, this will not be the place for you.
And this is precisely why I have already booked my return visit next year. If you are inspired by and committed to great horsemanship, you will find no place equal.
That there are 650,000 acres to choose from is plenty impressive enough. But the territory! WOW. I’ve lived and vacationed in many beautiful places, but I have never seen land like this. No two views are alike. You can be on the top of a mesa and see four completely different landscapes, depending on which way you face! The scenery literally changes every few minutes as you ride along, up or down the hills, canyons and valleys. The colours, the scope, the grandeur of it all — there isn’t a photo that can do this land justice. You can choose from full-day or half-day rides, depending on how your body is feeling and the other activities you may be interested in. Personally, the only thing I wanted to do was ride, so that’s all I did. I met guests who had been to the ranch four or five times and they’d never been on the same trail twice. The cattle work is demanding but not taxing, and Tom, the head wrangler, assigns different duties to people based on their riding experience. There was plenty of work to go around, it was plenty challenging, and there were moments where we could rest and just marvel at what we were doing and where we were doing it.
Owners Peter and Marijn have thought of it all. Every detail has been attended to, but not in a persnickety, white-glove kind of way. This is a working ranch, after all! Here are a few examples of what I mean:
1. Photos. The wranglers are constantly taking amazing photos of the riders, the landscape and the journey. I never brought my camera/phone on a ride because I knew that detail was being handled by people who know where the great shots are and are quietly taking snaps while you’re focused on other things. All photos are uploaded at the end of the day so you and your fellow riders can view them on a slide show during cocktail hour. Freaking brilliant. And all guests receive a link to view and download all the photos a couple of days after their stay. Freaking brilliant times two.
2. Did I mention cocktail hour? What a great element of the day when we all gather for a libation, share our experiences, look at the photos and talk with Tom, the head wrangler, about the next day’s riding options.
3. The food. Rachel, the head chef, was first a devoted guest, then a wrangler, and now in charge of the cuisine. This is a woman who so loved her experience at this ranch that she sold her catering business back east to move there and serve us guests. Not only is she a lovely human being, she is a gifted chef who will gladly honour (and remember!) any special dietary needs.
4. The vehicles. Because it’s usually necessary to trailer the horses to the starting point for any ride, you will be getting in an out of a truck more than a couple of times. The trucks are in immaculate condition, are relatively new and are well maintained. These trucks are probably in better shape than the one you have at home, yet they’re used daily on dusty, mountainous and sometimes muddy terrain.
5. The tack room. You simply have to see it. There are no words.
When things go sideways
People, horses and experiences are rarely perfect. I would argue that to do anything truly remarkable, there must be mistakes and disappointments. Imagine what it takes to keep 130 horses and 25 guests of differing riding abilities and interests happy, safe and satisfied. I’m glad this ranch doesn’t try to be ‘all things to all people’ and instead has chosen a specific niche where the goal is to delight the people within it.
So. Two very minor glitches during my stay. One was (and I mean, this is small) a weird hum in my cabin. Keeping in mind I had the cabin of my dreams — the perfect size, newly renovated with a gorgeous shower, and the closest to the barn! So the hum wasn’t as much a problem as it was a concern, in case there was a mechanical problem happening. I mentioned this on day two to Melanie. She literally dropped everything to go investigate and gave me her report later in the day.
Glitch #2 was what mixed blessings are made of. I was assigned to a ride on day four that was absolutely stunning. We did over 20 river crossings in the most beautiful, luscious and breathtaking canyon. Lily, the wrangler, was an absolute delight and we had a wonderful conversation as we went along. The only (again, super minor) issue was that I was placed with the group that only wanted to walk. I wasn’t sure why this happened, but knowing that another group had been chosen to do the same ride with intermittent loping kind of bummed me out. So I mentioned it quietly to Marijn at cocktail hour that evening. The result was a ride the next day (our last day) with her, head wrangler Tom and a small handful of other experienced riders that I will remember for the rest of my life (actually I’ll remember all the rides for the rest of my life, right, Tom?). Marijn made lemonade out of lemons in a way that I can’t even begin to describe. These people truly care about your experience and they are constantly asking about it. And then doing something with your feedback!
I left this detail for last on purpose, because I know that all the ranch staff read their reviews and I want this to be what they remember best about mine.
Marijn, owner. If you want your girls to grow up to be leaders, have them spend some time with Marijn. I’m pretty sure I’m older than her, but I still want to be her when I grow up. She is a horsewoman to her core. She’s empowered, direct, kind and no-nonsense. She cares about her horses, her guests and her staff. Oh, and her brilliant dogs adore her and go everywhere with her. And she’s got style like no one else. With horses, pretty is as pretty does. Same goes for Marijn. She’s as pretty as they get.
Peter, owner. Knowledgeable horseman, kind and funny. And because I spent 30 years in the corporate world, I was so interested in his approach to his business. It is incredible to witness such an excellent approach to the business of a working guest lodge and cattle ranch. Peter is curious and leans into learning. He knows plenty, but he is the sort of person who will never turn down an opportunity to learn something new. The excellence of the ranch experience is due in large part to this, I believe.
Tom, head wrangler. There was never a person more suited to his job than Tom. Here’s an example: consider 18 guests of varying ages and experience, very few of whom had ever driven cattle, attempting to push 190 young cows up a canyon for six hours on horses they barely know. This would be a daunting job without the guests! The success of this experience rests ultimately on Tom’s shoulders. He does it with directness, supreme competence, humour and care. You will not be left wondering where you stand with Tom, and yet with Tom, it’s not personal. I’m intimidated by him just a little bit. It’s one of the things I like best about him.
Melanie and Rebecca, office staff. Melanie’s smiling face and excellent style was the first experience I had after emerging from my car following an eight hour drive. She and Rebecca were always accessible, had the answer I needed when I asked, and made the guests’ delight their primary goal. Absolutely lovely people, inside and out. They make it seamless.
Ramon, Mel, Laurel, Lance, Lily and Caitlin. I spent more time with some than with others, but I know from everything I saw that these are hand-picked horse people chosen for their knowledge, competence, incredible work ethic and personality. Each one is unique and fascinating in their own right. These are storytellers and story-makers.
Rachel and the kitchen staff. I could go on. Instead I’ll point you to my comments above 🙂
The maintenance staff. Always with a smile and a wave. These are not head-down, hope-you-don’t-notice-me people. These are proud employees of a great facility.
Housekeeping. I never saw or met the person/people who come in to tidy up the cabins while guests are out having experiences. And I can say that after a long, dusty, physically demanding day of riding I always returned to a clean, fresh and well-appointed room. It takes a special person to be behind the scenes, doing a job so crucial to the guest experience.
I would never have found this place were it not for Globetrotting. I’m grateful beyond words for Kate, her brilliant staff and her excellent sourcing of perhaps the best Western riding experience in North America. I booked a stay for next year while still at the ranch and can’t wait to have this experience for many years to come.