I have worked on dude ranches in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana since the mid 1980s. My
business now is dude ranch consulting. One of the things I do is set up
horseback riding programs for new ranches. I am certified by the Dude Ranchers
Association as a wrangler instructor. I teach Horse Safety Certification
courses. Over the years I have trained countless wranglers and taken thousands
of guests on trail rides. Probably 70% of the guests I took out were beginners.
My percentage of accidents with injuries is less than 1%.  My number one goal has always been safety.

If you are looking at places to ride and are concerned about their safety program start by
asking a few questions before making a reservation.

  1. Do they allow people to ride on their
    own without a guide? If they do this could mean a general lack of concern for
    either riders or their horses.
  2. Are guests allowed to run or gallop
    the horses? If they do offer loping/cantering how is that conducted? Does the
    leader of the ride just start running in big open fields when he feels like it
    or does he stop the ride before starting and give instructions about the rules,
    how far you will go, and when you will stop.
  3. How many riders are allowed on each
    ride? What is the guest to guide ratio? It should be about 4 to 1.
  4. Is any thought given to the order of
    the horses on the ride?
  5. How often do they check cinches
    during the ride. Loose chinches are the number one reason people come off
    horses.  
  6. Do they allow double riding or allow
    a parent to have a small child ride with them? These are big no no’s and a safe
    operation would know better.
  7. Do they have a written orientation
    speech or if not what does the orientation consist of?
  8. What kind of experience do the
    wranglers/guides have? Are they nonchalant about moving around the horses and
    mounting people or are they all business. DO THEY HAVE FIRST AID/CPR?
  9. What do the horses and equipment look
    like? Are the horses well cared for or are the skinny and not groomed? A horse
    that is not in good shape is more likely to have problems on a ride. If the
    tack is in poor condition it could lead to accidents.

These are just a few things to think about when looking at trail riding operations. Most
dude ranch operations will have comments on trip advisor. About half of the
ranches that are member of the dude ranchers association are horse safety
certified. If it is not a dude ranch but just a trail riding operation I would
ask if they have any kind of safety accreditation. I hope you find this helpful
to this discussion. Anyone who would like to discuss this with me is welcome to
contact me directly. http://duderanchvacation.blogspot.com/

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Comment by Ted Harvey on June 29, 2011 at 11:56am

MORE ON DUDE RANCH SAFETY

Dude Ranch Vacation

For people looking for a ranch vacation I recommend ranches that have completed the Dude Ranchers Association Wrangler Safety Certification.

Mission

The idea that any dude ranch operation is going to make expert riders out of their guests in one week is not realistic. The goal should be as follows;

  1. Wranglers and counselors do everything they can to keep our guests safe.
  2. Guests have fun.
  3. By the end of the week each guest feels they have learned more about Western riding and have gained confidence in their riding ability.
Staff Training and Policies

  1. General Corral Procedures and Policies.
    1. All wranglers and counselors should be dressed in Western clothing when working with the horses and around the guests. Wranglers should wear blue jeans, western long sleeve shirts, cowboy hats and cowboy boots. Wranglers and counselors should be required to carry a pocket knife and/or a leatherman type tool whenever working around the horses.
    2. At the beginning of the season each wrangler should be given a first aid kit. The general manager and head wrangler should go over its contents and use. Each wrangler is responsible for replacing used items and keeping the kit ready for use at all times.
    3. No guest or employee of the ranch other than wranglers should be allowed to ride alone or with out a wrangler either on the ride or in the arena.
    4. During their off time wranglers are allowed to ride only with the permission of the head wrangler. The head wrangler decides which horses may be ridden. Employees riding on their time off must inform the head wrangler of where they are going and when they will be back.
    5. Any time anyone falls off a horse, whether they were injured or not, the employee or employees who were closest to the event should be required to fill out an accident report as soon as possible.
    6. All areas of the corral and barn are to be kept neat and clean every day, including tack put away properly, tack rooms cleaned, manure picked up, and bailing twine disposed off.
  2. Horse Corral Procedures.
    1. When any ride is being mounted or dismounted all gates must be closed and secured.
    2. As soon as a ride returns to the corral the tail wrangler must close the gate to the corral.
    3. A wrangler should always hold the guests horses when getting on and off. Get the guests off quickly and tie up their horses quickly. Move the guests away from the tied up horses.
    4. All horses should be tied high and short when tied to the rails or to trees out on the trail. Every horse will be tied with one wrap around the rail and tied with a slip knot. Do not use multiple loops.
    5. When grooming and saddling, each wrangler must inspect the horses for any injuries, sores, chinch galls, loose or missing shoes and lameness.
    6. When grooming special attention should be paid to all areas where the saddle, pads, breast collar, and cinch touch the horse.
    7. Farriers are to be left alone to do the work they are being paid for.
  3. Trail Ride Policies and Procedures.
    1. Every trail ride leader should carry a cell phone, in addition to their personal phone. Ranch phones and personal are to be used on the trail only for emergencies.
    2. On each ride the head wrangler should assign a leader of the ride. This is the person responsible for making decisions if there are any emergencies.
    3. Smoking is not permitted on any trail ride! This includes guests.
    4. The rule of thumb is 4 to 1, guests to wranglers.
  4. Wagon and Sleigh Rides
    1. Guests must sign the liability release form, if they have not already signed one for horseback riding.
    2. All sleigh/wagon rides should always have two employees working, with one driving and one on the back step.
    3. The person driving is in charge of the sleigh/wagon ride and should give instructions to other employees and guests.
    4. The driver is responsible for inspecting the harness and sleigh/wagon to make sure everything is in good and safe condition.
    5. Whenever the teams are hooked up and stopped there must always be an employee standing at the front holding the horses unless they are tied to a rail.
    6. The teams are not to start moving unless all the passengers are seated.
    7. If there are any problems during the ride, such as a horse falling down or a mechanical problem with the wagon/sleigh, it is the responsibility of the shotgun rider to get all the guests off and safely away from the team.
Riding Program

1) Every guest must sign a liability release form before riding.

a) Kids 17 and under must wear a helmet unless their parents sign the refusal statement on the release form.

b) Adults are not required to wear helmets but are to be encouraged to do so by our staff.

2) Our riding program begins with our orientation speech and demonstration. All wranglers are required to learn and give the same speech.

a) All guests must go through orientation regardless of age or experience.

b) Each guest is assigned their own horse for the week, based on height, weight, age and experience.

c) After the orientation speech guests are introduced to their horses, helped to mount by our wranglers and stirrups adjusted.

d) Kids and adults ride together on orientation rides, with rides limited to 8 guests.

e) Following the orientation speech the guests are lead to the arena to have additional instruction and practice controlling their horse.

f) When the wranglers are comfortable with the guest’s ability to handle their horse they are then taken on an easy 1½ hour ride.

3) Through out the week guests can choose rides ranging from 1 hour to all day, as well as arena rides, barrel racing, lessons, pole bending, games, cattle round-up, and team penning.

a) The head wrangler should make suggestions to the guests for which rides the guests will like or are qualified for. Sometimes wranglers are required to tell the guests, “No it is not safe for you to go on that ride”.

b) Kids 7 and older can go on all adult rides provided both the head wrangler and parents agree that they can handle the ride. If the parents suggest that they would like their child to go on a loping ride or long ride and the head wrangler feels they are not qualified he would then suggest another ride or a one-on-one lesson in the arena instead.

4) For arena rides and team penning have specific horses that are good at these events.

a) While the horse assigned to our guest might be a great trail horse he might not be good at the arena events such as barrel racing or team penning. So rather than have a bad experience on an unresponsive horse they can trade off for these activities.

b) All guests should be encouraged to spend as much time as they would like in the arena with more one-on-one instruction.

5) Trotting and loping rides are conducted with specific rules for safety.

a) Before participating in loping rides each guest must be approved in the arena by the head wrangler. For some experienced guests this may only take a few minutes. Beginners need to spend as much time as needed for the head wrangler to feel comfortable with their ability to handle loping on the trail.

b) Only the most experienced wranglers should be allowed to take out loping rides.

c) Within the trail system there should be designated areas for trotting and loping. All wranglers should be aware of these areas.

d) The wrangler leading the ride should stop the ride and talk to the guests about what they are about to do, tell them how far they are going, and hold up his hand when he is getting ready to stop.

e) Wranglers should check cinches before loping.
Anyone looking for certified ranches please contact me.

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