Monday, May 16, 2016

The most amazing vacation ever!

We just got home from the most amazing vacation! Brianna said it was better than Disney World! We spent 3 days at the Tennessee Guest Ranch in Dunlap, TN. It's a working ranch, and you learn to take care of your horse, saddle them, clean up after them, and you get to ride every day! It is owned by Chris and Tammy Young, and they run it as a ministry program. A lot of money goes to supporting an orphanage in Honduras where 600 kids live! The ranch also runs a preparatory academy for middle through high school students. The students live at the ranch and learn all about horses and pre-vet work while completing school.  The kids also spend a month in Honduras doing ministry work at the orphanage. All of the family and kids were very friendly and welcoming. They were ready to help with anything, and really made us feel like family. 

Check in is at 5:00 C.S.T. on the day of your arrival. We arrived and were greeted by our wrangler, Jon. He lives on the ranch with his wife Jenny, who does the cooking, and their son, who is an adorable little bundle of energy. Each family is assigned their own wrangler who takes care of them and assists them during their stay. We got the best because Jon was AWESOME! He was great with the kids, very patient and funny, and like any cowboy he had some very tall tales to share! He even let us in on some national secrets that only a few folks in Dunlap, TN know about! But I can't share them here, if you want to know what they are you have to visit the ranch!
I meant to get a picture of all of us before we left but forgot. Here is Bri with John out on the trail.

Jon took us on a tour of the house and the barn. When they say you are guests here they mean it! Here's the kitchen and the fridge, help yourself. Here's the living room, lots of games, feel free to hang out and play whatever you want. Here's the den, huge tv, lots of horse movies, make yourself at home and watch a movie! Front porch with swings, back deck with chairs, hang out wherever and do whatever you like! Feel free to hang out in the barn and pet the horses and the goats!
 He showed us our room and we got our bags in. We were in the Wrangler Family Suite. The horse theme is everywhere and we loved it right away! Each bed had a carrot on it for our horse, and a cowboy Bible!

This is looking at the room from my bed, which was in a little alcove.

The kids' beds.
my bed

My bed faced a large double window. This was the view out my window! 

The bathroom had the horse theme too!

After putting our bags in our room it was time to meet our horses for our stay! We would be taking care of them and riding them for the next 3 days. Bri got Sonny. I can't remember what kind of horse he is.  She loved him, and said he was perfect. He was small and she could groom and mount him without a stool!

Junior got Maggie. She is a beautiful white horse. Part Arabian and I think the other part was TN Walker. He loved her too. 

I got Socks. She is a TN Walker and she was awesome! She has a very smooth gait. I always heard horseback riding makes you sore, but I was fine. I was a little stiff when I would first get off, but after walking around a couple minutes I would be fine. I don't know if that was just me or because she's such a great horse! I've never really ridden before this so I didn't have much to compare to. 

After meeting the horses we went inside for supper. All the meals here were delicious! Jenny really knows how to cook! Supper was hamburgers with all the fixins, baked beans, potato salad, and brownies and ice cream for dessert. Oh, and the best sweet tea you have ever tasted! My kids drank gallons of it during our stay. They even wanted to put it in their water bottles when we went out on the trail. After supper we played card games with some of the students. They were all so polite and respectful! At around 8:00 every night we had to do a hay and water check. We filled up the horse's hay bin and water buckets. The kids thought this was so much fun I let them do my horse too. 

Rise and shine time was 6:30 every morning.My kids are not early risers at all. But I had no problem getting them up while we were at the ranch. The first day we got coffee and hot chocolate and had a bible study about horses out on the porch. We learned a lot of cool stuff. Then it was time to feed our horses! Each horse had a different diet so we had to learn which oats or grains and what amount to give each one. Junior and Bri loved it and they had no problem remembering what "their" horse ate!
After feeding the horses it was time for us to eat pancakes and eggs. They grind their own wheat at the ranch, and all the bread and pancakes are made fresh. The kids didn't care for the wheat bread but I liked it! Each guest gets their own boot mug and silverware with your horse's name on it. After eating you are responsible for washing your own dishes and putting them back. 

After breakfast it was time to groom and saddle the horses! They show you how to groom the horse, clean their hooves, and tack them up. Junior and Bri have been taking lessons for a few months now so they knew how to do all this. I had watched them do it, so I had a pretty good idea how to groom them, I just wasnt sure about putting on the saddle and the bridle and all that. Jon was great, he showed us everything, and then he stood back and was like ok, do it! I liked that we were responsible for everything. They were always there to help if we needed them, but you did it all yourself. I'm sure if you didn't want to do it they would do it for you, but the kids loved doing it themselves and it's a good lesson in responsibility! 

The first day is spent in the arena learning how to control the horses and make them stop and go. We walked around the arena, did patterns around cones, and even got to trot. The horses were awesome. They listened well and we had no problems with them. Junior and Bri already knew most of what they were doing, and I am apparently a fast learner, because after a delicious lunch of turkey and ham sandwiches we got to go out on the trail! The land all around the ranch is so beautiful. We loved it!

After a couple hours we headed back to the ranch. We had to unsaddle the horses, wash them down, then put them in their stalls and make sure they had hay and water. They were tired they deserved a rest! We also had to clean out the stalls. This was the not fun part. But they did it without complaining! 

We had free time until supper. There were 4 baby goats at the ranch that were just a few weeks old. The kids loved feeding them and petting them. I have to admit, I loved holding them too. They were just too cute!

This one was our favorite. We called her Chocolate. If goats didn't chew up so much stuff I could have seriously taken her home with me!

There are also lots of cats all over. My kids love cats so of course they spent a good amount of time chasing and petting the cats.

Also in our free time we got a roping lesson from Donovan, one of the students. He is a really sweet kid! 

Roping is a lot harder than it looks! For dinner that night they sent us to the Cookie Jar Cafe. (The cost is included in your vacation). It's a restaurant on a nearby farm. There are shelves around the entire restaurant filled with all kinds of cookie jars. The food was amazing! The burgers were homemade and fresh and sooo good! Bri got the chicken tenders and they were huge! She couldn't even eat them all. They also have a small petting zoo on site with a calf, some chickens, and goats. They have a swingset and little bikes for the kids to play on, so if you have a wait you have something to keep the kids entertained. Of course my kids had to be silly!

That night they had a bonfire. One of the students was graduating, and it was a little party for her. We got to hang out and enjoy the fire. 

Sat morning we were up at 6:30 again! We groomed and saddled the horses and left them in their stalls to eat while we packed our saddlebags with lunch and ate breakfast. Breakfast this morning was cooked outside over a fire. I wish I had gotten a picture of the setup, but I didn't. I did get a picture of breakfast though and it was delicious! Eggs, potatoes, bacon, homemade sausage, onions, peppers and cheese! The kids cleaned their plates! One of the dads who was there for the graduation made it with Donovan's help.

After breakfast we hit the trail. We rode all day. I left my phone in the room the whole stay, so I didn't keep up with the time. We rode for about 5 or 6 hours though. The neighboring farms let the ranch use their land to ride on, and in turn the ranch keeps an eye on their cows and makes sure they dont get out, and checks their fences for them. We had an adventure riding through the woods looking for cows. No boring trail rides here! It was awesome. We rode all over the valley. Jon kept us entertained with stories and the history of the valley. We got really good at trotting and Jon taught us how to canter. For lunch we had a picnic at the river, and did another Bible study on horses in the Bible. It was really interesting. We looked for crawdads and collected some rocks for our rock garden back home. 

Saturday night they were having Cowboy Church at the ranch. They do this the second Saturday of every month. The community is invited, and they have free pony rides, supper, and a dance afterwards. The kids from the school sing a few songs and someone preaches a short sermon. 

For some reason these pictures didn't come out that good but these are the kids singing. They were great! After church we had bbq chicken, beans and potato salad for dinner. Dessert was some kind of confection made of layers of graham crackers, chocolate pudding, and vanilla pudding. It was so good! They are sending me the recipe. When I get it I will share!

The kids didn't want to dance but I said no dancing, no riding tomorrow. So they danced and they liked it! We did some line dancing and Junior and I learned how to two-step!

After the dance we had to hay and water the horses before bed. The kids never forgot what time they were supposed to feed or check the horses. 

Sunday morning Memaw (Tammy's mom-she lives there too) made us french toast for breakfast. She is a character! She kept us laughing. You have to sit and talk with her if you visit the ranch! Her french toast is amazing! Ashley and Mr. Chris were our wranglers today. After breakfast we rode to church. It's the cutest little white country church in the valley with the friendliest people. 
I forgot to mention-you need boots to visit the ranch! And not fancy ones either, because they are going to get dirty! Boots are not allowed in the house, so you always leave them out on the porch. It was the same way at church. The kids called it Barefoot Church because we got to go in with no shoes. And the preacher played a guitar! No shoes and a guitar playing preacher! What can be better than that?
Ashley and the kids. It was Pentecost the day we were there so the church was decorated!

Sadly the ride back to the ranch was our last ride. We took the long way, and got in a lot of trotting and cantering. The kids loved going fast! Back at the ranch we unsaddled the horses and groomed them for the last time. We put them in their stalls with fresh hay and water and told them bye. We also had to tell the baby goats bye. We had chili and salad for a late lunch and then it was time to say goodbye to everyone.
Everyone was so friendly and we had so much fun. It was truly something different that we have never done before! And the scenery up there is gorgeous. Brianna said she is going to save all her allowance so that we can come back again. At $5 a week, she is going to be saving for a long time! Hopefully one day we will be able to go back!
If you would like more info on the ranch you can check out their website here. If you don't want to do a full stay they also have day riding programs. They also do one and two week horse camps in the summer that sound like a lot of fun. If you do visit tell them the Baldwin family sent you and we said hi!
For more info on the academy they run go here. It sounds like a really great program!