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Steamboat Magazine

Local Knowledge: Steph Wilson

02/20/2015 05:08PM ● By Christina Freeman

Steph Wilson in the saddle of her horse, Lakota. Photo courtesy Carla Jones.

California-raised Steph Wilson moved to Steamboat Springs in 1997 to work at Vista Verde Guest Ranch, and never left. Riding her whole life, Wilson has developed an affection for dude ranch horses, buying two for daughters Maggie, 10, and Ella, 7.

Where would you suggest someone coming to town should ride?

For a quick ride; Sombrero Stables right at the base of Howelsen Hill. For the more in-depth riding experience in beautiful countryside; Dell’s Triangle 3 Ranch. For a scenic ride by Steamboat Lake; Hahn's Peak Roadhouse.  Get adventurous with a cattle drive at Saddleback Ranch. Amazing stay-and-ride programs are offered at several guest ranches. Of course, I’m partial to Vista Verde Ranch, but the Home Ranch and the Elk River Guest Ranch both offer great Western hospitality with guests getting their own horse for the week and the opportunities to improve their horsemanship skills. 

What type of terrain should riders expect?

Trails around Steamboat vary from aspen or open sagebrush-covered hillsides to rugged rocky trails or dense evergreen forests. There is a ton of underbrush compared to other parts of the state, so it just feels so alive to be out in the forest. 

For those who have never ridden Western, what advice would you give?

Relax and recognize that the fundamentals of all riding styles are similar. The main differences are body position and the contact with the horse's mouth. The best riders out there are all trying to get their horses to be soft and supple and responsive to leg pressure and movement of the rider’s body.  It's good to try it for the first time in a setting where the instructor/guide/wrangler will really help you understand the hows and whys of riding. 

What should you wear?

Preferably cowboy or riding boots, but failing that a shoe with a smooth sole and distinct heel, no treads. Jeans will prevent rubbing on your legs, and a trick for long rides: wear bike shorts underneath, it'll save your backside!  Dress in layers, wear sunscreen and a hat, preferably a helmet.

Any advice for taking children?

With kids, the nose-to-tail ride is best. It’s important for them to be taught how to steer, stop and go, but it takes time to master that. If they get bored, play the stick game. Find a stick and place it on the branch of a tree as you ride by on the trail. Your kid has to pick up that stick and then place it on another branch down the trail….and it goes on like that down the line. 

Best thing about horse riding here?

The beauty and knowing the cultural history of ranching and horses in this valley. As Winston Churchill said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”