You can go horseback riding just about anywhere these days—on the beach, in the mountains and in canyons. Location definitely has something to do with the experience, but what truly makes it special is who takes you out. We recently made a two-day stop in Amarillo, Texas on our way through and decided to take our three-year-old son to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
There are several options for horseback riding in this region, but it can get pricey. After a little bit of Googling, we came across Palo Duro Riding Stables, which offers an hour-long ride for $35 per person—perfect for our budget.
I called and made reservations, which is necessary because the Palo Duro Stables don’t run on a nine-to-five schedule. When we arrived, we learned that this was because the horses get breaks and vacations! The owners, Jesse and Kristin, have a nice little family environment going and believe that the horses—just like paid workers—deserve a break. On their days off, the horses aren’t confined to the stables; they traipse through the canyon (the part outside the state park which Jesse and Kristin actually live on) frolicking and playing.
In addition to the wonderful environment these horses get to live in, they also make new friends on a regular basis. Jesse and Kristin like to see horses treated well, no matter what their age. So, they buy horses who no one else really wants anymore because of old age or whatever else, and brings them to live here in this little natural paradise.
Upon arrival, it feels like you’ve stepped right into the old West. Guys with cowboy hats and country accents saddle up the horses—each of which is specifically picked for each rider’s size and personal riding experience. My little boy had never ridden a horse before, so we rode double on my horse, Stormy—a sturdy, beautiful white creature speckled with light gray dots and a stubborn attitude to match his moniker.
The ride down into the canyon was a steep one, and a bit of a challenge even for an experienced rider who is unaccustomed to the unique terrain. Once at the bottom, we moseyed along while Jesse told us about the area’s unique plants and animals, his family’s history with the stables and fun things we could take our little one to do in Amarillo. Our horse kept up with the pack. Well, when he felt like it.
During our ride, my son loved to stroke the big beast’s neck while lovingly telling him what a good boy he was. My son also held on to the reigns and helped me steer from time to time. He looked for birds of prey in the sky, pointed out cacti and was on active poop patrol, as each horse would stop once in a while to relieve himself, causing a domino effect among the others—not unlike children on a trip.
We got plenty of pretty pictures along the way , and when we returned to the stables, the owners gave my little one a special treat. They took him for a ride on Peek-a-Boo—a smaller, more easy going horse—so he could have the chance to ride by himself. The pure joy on his face in our photos says it all.
We spent a little over an hour on the trail that day, but I still remember the conversations that we had with Jesse. I remember the stunning beauty of the canyon, the little ghost town that the owners were building for fun and the overall character of this charming little place. I remember the feeling that the staff is one big family—the horses included—and I’m feel thankful that I could be a part of it for the afternoon.
More importantly than what I remember, is what my son remembers. As lovely as that little canyon was, my son doesn’t tell anyone about it. He doesn’t remember the amazing color of the rocks or how far down we had to trek. He remembers the ride. My son tells everyone about the day he spent with Stormy and Peak-a-Boo.