I suited up with a neck hankerchief in the ranch's colors and tried my hand, and my horse, at barrel racing, pole bending and a relay race. It was an inter-ranch gymkhana, or dudeo, that was run like a rodeo.
We, and our ranch's horses, all loaded up in cars and trailers to get to the arena at another ranch. And get this. I won a red ribbon in the relay. (However, the credit all goes to the speedy cowboy on my team, and Stormy, my horse, who had no "slow" gear.)
Sad to say, Kay El Bar no longer does the dudeo. It was a hassle and there were safety concerns. Although the women who are at the ranch during Women's Week get to practice their barrel racing and other skills at a neighboring arena. But that doesn't provide the adrenaline of competition.
But "regular guests" still get to sort cattle. If six to eight people are up for it, the ranch can get some cattle sorting teams together. "It's a blast trying to get the horses, riders and cattle all on the same page," says Alyson Smith, the ranch's assistant manager.
Solo guests will be embraced by the ranch and its guests, she says. Even if the guests are all mean and rotten, (she didn't say this)there are always the ranch hands and owners to hang with. "We're still a good place for adventures singles," Smith says. "Everyone becomes part of the family and each person has their story to share."
The rides and cocktail hour, encourage people to mingle so no one feels left out. Another benefit, Smith says, is that solo travelers get a lot of extra attention because they're not distracted by travel partners. Even couples and families may be split up according to their riding skills, so solos won't feel like the odd person out.
Kay El Bar offers some specialty rides and treats. An all-day ride with a packed lunch eaten along the trail. An ice cream ride that involves an ice cream maker strapped to a saddle that churns the ice cream enroute. A "poker ride," during which riders stop at five places to pick cards and the person with the best hand at the end wins. And then there's the ride to an abandoned mine where guests can explore.
Now's a good time to be riding in Arizona. Ranches shut down in summer there. It's just too dang hot. But Arizona now? Sublime.