This is a Life List item that has been in my head and heart since I was a pretty young kid. My desire to ride a horse out west began when I first read By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The scene in which Laura and her cousin, Lena, race ponies across the vast open prairie spoke to the young adventurer in me and I never let the idea go. So while planning our National Parks road trip last year (the National Parks posts are coming soon) I knew one thing for certain: now was the time to fulfill a childhood fantasy!
Now, I’m from Kentucky which is the land of horses. Our neighbors have horses, I had a horse as a kid, and I have ridden horses before. The act of riding was not new to me, nor was being around horses in general. Still I am a planner at heart, and so I couldn’t just go out west and pick the first place that I saw. I started to research early on in the planning stages, and initially I was going to plan a ride at Yellowstone through Xanterra. After a lot of reviews though I ultimately changed my mind, and anyway we didn’t want to rush through our time at that particular park (with so much to do) to fit in a ride.
The last long stretch of our trip was to be spent in South Dakota, specifically in and around the Badlands, and so that felt like the area best suited for this particular venture. I looked into some places, read a lot of reviews, and ultimately I found Rockin’ R Trail Rides.
The reviews for this place were glowing, with plenty of good words out there for their wranglers and their care for the horses. That was important to me, as a person who has grown up with so many horse folk, and that is ultimately what drew me in. They offered so many types of rides too, and were willing to work with both experienced and inexperienced riders. My travel partner had never been on a horse before, while I had, and my sister wasn’t interested in riding at all. So with two of us prepared I booked the $43 one hour scenic loop ride for each of us.
The area we would be riding in was located in the Black Hills State Park, which is such a gorgeous place! I was already impressed with the scenery when we arrived there, and I was ready to go. We had to sign some paperwork (waivers and whatnot) and my friend opted for a helmet while I did not. Was I that confident in my skills? Not really, but as a Kentucky girl it felt wrong (even if it would have been smart) to go against my upbringing and wear one. Anyone under a certain age must wear a helmet, so if you’re a parent or traveling with kids they do have great safety guidelines in place!
The horses were already saddled up and ready to go, and they had a little platform for you to mount from to make it easier. My sister stayed behind at the corral while we got on our horses, and then we were off after a short demonstration on how to steer and give the horses commands.
There were a couple of guides with us on our trek, one in front and one in back. I was bringing up the rear, so I had some good conversations with the guide in back. They talked about the Black Hills, and told us at what point we came into the park. The horses all had saddle bags too, for storing cameras and whatnot. I took no pictures on the actual ride though; the stunning view was enough! You could actually see the Crazy Horse monument from the trail, it was pretty awesome.
The ride was, for the most part, pretty laid back. We were in a group of five riders, seven counting the guides. The only scary moment happened when we were entering a wooded area and a group of turkey vultures rose up and spooked the horses. Mine jumped pretty high and shied away (all the horses startled badly), but I just pulled hard and he stopped immediately. Right about then I second guessed that no helmet thing, but my heart stopped pounding and I was fine!
I didn’t go galloping off across the plains and through what would someday be the town of De Smet, but I did ride a horse in South Dakota just like I had dreamed of since childhood. I had horse back for days (get it!) and was sore in a bevvy of new and interesting places, but it was worth it. Seeing those gorgeous views, spending an hour on the back of a horse in nature, and feeling like I was a girl on the prairie for just a little while? Worth every penny and every bit of pain.
Life List Item: Complete