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Horseshoe Canyon Ranch / SAFE

By Elaine Marze

Working for so many years with a company like SAFE Planning we have built relationships with multiple generations of our clients, and during the fifteen years I published the SAFE Planning newsletters there were times I included travel articles. Some of our clients would tell me that they planned their vacations according to the locations I wrote about, and I’ve continued to get emails, calls and letters asking for vacation recommendations. Since my husband died my travel articles tend to involve destinations with grandkids as does many seniors.

I’ve always wanted to go to a dude ranch, and because I’m not getting any younger, recently I and my daughter’s family spent a few days at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch near the Buffalo River National Park and Jasper, Arkansas. It was kind of a bucket list itch that needed scratching, but none of my grandchildren were interested in going to a dude ranch. However my three Arkansas teenagers agreed to do it so I wouldn’t go alone. They ended up having a blast (term from MY teen years) and were glad they went.

I thought a dude ranch focused on horseback riding and chuck-wagon dinners with maybe some steer roping thrown in, but the HCR experience was so much more. In addition to a pool and hot tub, there were zip-lines, mountain climbing, free falling, tight-rope walking, hiking and trail rides. My grand’s had never done the mountain climbing activities, but they took to it like mountain goats and monkeys. I was amazed at what they were able to do hundreds of feet above the canyon floor, all while attached to safety ropes and harnesses of course.

I wasn’t the only grandparent there, and the staff was great about transporting us by ATV so we could watch the awesome activities that we older folks didn’t take part in. Also, we could watch zip lining and some cliff climbing from the side of the pool.

Zip-lining is a popular activity a lot of places. I’d never done it, but my family thought I should try it so as we grandma’s often do I lined up with the others just to please my three grandchildren. I let the guy put me in what was basically a big, baggy diaper that he hooked to the wire cable. He put a helmet on my head that I doubted was going to help in the event my diaper split and dropped me hundreds of feet to the canyon floor, but I wore it to make him happy. The 2300 feet between starting point and landing pad gave me room to pick up speed (extra weigh also causes you to go faster) that seemed to me I was moving at warp speed. Somehow I had gotten the idea that there was a braking system that slowed you down before the end, which was why, when I shot off the launch pad through a forest and could see the end of the ride that I thought the brake had failed and I was going to go SPLAT. But instead of a brake there is a big iron spring that stops you … eventually, after you hit it hard and fast with a sound that echoes throughout the canyon like an explosion. Not to scare anyone because it was quite exhilarating, though I really expected to die from heart palpitations that lasted for hours.

The horses were matched to each human depending on their riding ability, and that human to horse relationship lasts throughout your visit. The wranglers were great! Grayson helped hoist my rear end up on the saddle without moaning and groaning which I appreciated, and the scenery during our trail rides was amazing.

The staff catered to young and old. Because of age issues, some of us couldn’t do the more adventurous activities, but our favorite young staffers (Cody, Kris, Olivia, Mirielle and Grayson) constantly said, “We work for you” and went out of their way to accommodate our individual needs and abilities. I thought the food was good, especially the deliciously tender grilled steak they served at the chuck wagon cookout. Guests got there by riding horseback or transported in ATV’s. A special mention goes to the desserts. HCR management also takes special food requirements into consideration.

So to all the SAFE clients who want a personal recommendation for vacation spots to take their extended family, I highly recommend Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. I don’t think it has a lot of activities for kids under the age of seven although one little boy was an amazing rock climber. We were in Grizzly Cabin which was very nice, but be forewarned … no TV.

There were several families from Louisiana there, and a five generation family group from North Carolina (their third year to come), and an extended family from Canada.