by Katie Jackson
I Went to a Dude Ranch and Never Really Rode a Horse
In April, between trips to Thailand and Ethiopia, I found myself in the middle of Wyoming. Technically, I was seven miles south of the sleepy town of Ten Sleep (pop. 257). In my mind, I was on another planet. The rugged crimson cliffs surrounding my chalet appeared to have been imported from Mars. It was this ethereal landscape—miles of red rock juxtaposed with green prairie grass and the blue, snowcapped peaks of the distant mountains—that gave the ranch I was on its name.
Red Reflet is a 25,000+-acre labor of love owned and operated by Bob and Laurence Kaplan. Together, with a vision inspired by their travels around the world, and a significant investment, they took a historic cattle ranch and turned it into a luxury dude ranch complete with tennis courts, zip line, fitness center, movie theater, and of course, horses. As with most ranches, Red Reflet’s biggest attraction is found in the big red barn. Guests come from all over to ride the ranch’s nature trails winding through the foothills of the Bighorn National Forest.
But much like you don’t have to ride the teacups just because you’re in Disneyland, you don’t have to ride a horse when you’re at a dude ranch. There is a growing trend for ranches to offer more activities outside of the arena. As a guest at Red Reflet, I met with the horse trainers, the husband and wife team of Clay and Tammy Trollinger, for about 20 minutes where I got to learn about the property’s equestrian offerings ranging from trail rides to calf roping. I hopped on the back of a horse for just long enough to take a photo, and then I slipped out of the cowboy boots they provided and got ready to do the activities I was most excited about.
That new tennis court you see before you step into Red Reflet’s grand lodge is not a mirage. Neither is the pool, rock climbing wall, fitness center or the natural waterpark boasting a zip line, rope swing and sandy beach. Bob and Laurence went out of their way to make sure their property catered to a variety of interests not usually associated with wannabe wranglers and the average dude ranch clientele.
My three days at Red Reflet were spent doing a myriad of activities—and still, I seemed to just scratch the surface of what they offer. My friend and I got muddy on the ranch’s SPECIALIZED mountain bikes, took epic landscape photos on a hike with the ranch dogs, laughed our heads off while watching Netflix in the lodge’s theater, tasted local beer on a tour of Ten Sleep’s brewery and even cruised at an altitude of 3,000 ft. with the ranch’s general manager, Sarah Aciego.
While we hung out in the ranch hangar (yes, Red Reflet has its own airstrip so guests can fly themselves in and out) Sarah pointed out the helicopter Laurence had built as a hobby project. Both Laurence and Bob are also pilots and the aviation-related activities at the ranch are a novelty most ranches, and even fancy resorts, don’t have. Having certified pilots as owners also comes in handy since the ranch only serves premium food—even if that means flying in shrimp or salmon from Alaska.
If we had more time I would have liked to take a cooking class with Red Reflet’s executive chef, Matthew Cariveau—the man behind a vinegar-based mango coleslaw that will ruin regular coleslaw for you for life. Of course it would also be nice to try Red Reflet’s signature activities—fly fishing, ATV tours, skeet shooting and yes, horseback riding. But all things considered, I got exactly what I wanted, and nothing I didn’t want, from my dude ranch vacation. .
So next time you think you aren’t a good fit for a ranch vacation because you don’t ride horses or shoot guns, remember there are ranches like Red Reflet. Think of them as a la carte all-inclusives marrying an American travel tradition with modern amenities and endless adventure.