I've used The Trail Rider to find places for our group - the High Cliff Ridge
Riders from Fox Valley, Wisconsin - to ride in. Three years ago, 12 of us planned an early September ride in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
We made reservations at the Yellowstone Valley Inn in Wapiti, 16 miles west of Cody, about 30 miles from Yellowstone. It's a full-service RV park with a pool, hot tub, Laundromat, bar and restaurant, and cabins.
For our horses, the inn had several large corrals, and we were permitted to put up portable fences. Landon Shelby, a young man who lived nearby, supplied us with weed-free hay. His family has lived in Wyoming for generations, and he knows the trails well. He agreed to lead us on a few rides. Landon turned out to be a lifesaver - literally!
On Day 1, we just rode out on our own as opposed to a long, guided ride. The inn is in a valley, surrounded by mountains, so we could tell where "home" was simply by looking down. The switchbacks were very steep, with no guard rails, and nowhere to get off, pass, or stop.
On Day 2, some of the riders followed Landon on a seven-hour pack trip, while the rest of us went on a steep, short ride from the valley. During the other group's ride, one of the horses got caught in a rock on an uphill trail and knocked off his rider, Steve Bevers, leaving him pinned under his horse.
While the other riders tried to pull the horse to his feet with some rope, Landon got kicked in the arm. The horse was finally pried off of Steve with a small tree. Steve and his horse had only some bruises and bumps, but Landon's arm muscle was severed and the bone was cracked.
On Day 3, his arm in a sling, Landon took 14 of us to a trail about 40 minutes up into the mountains. It was a gorgeous ride - a narrow path in a dense forest following a stream below. The foliage was so thick, you could see only one or two horses ahead. Suddenly, one of the horses, ridden by Dan Schmanski, lost his footing on the narrow trail, and the pair tumbled down the hill.
Another rider, a trauma nurse, reported that Dan had suffered head lacerations. Steve and Landon galloped to the truck to rush Dan to the hospital. Dan suffered a broken rib and a lacerated liver, and had to stay at the hospital overnight. When we asked Landon if he wanted to give up on our group, he responded, "Heck, no. I want to stick around to see what happens tomorrow."
On Day 4, our final day, we went on an incredible seven-hour ride. Landon led us through mountains to a high, golden meadow for lunch. It was spectacular - snowcapped mountains, rocky streams, switchbacks, sweeping valleys, and sheer drop-offs.
During our 10-day stay in Wyoming, it rained over four inches! The weather literally changed from minute to minute. We once saw sun, lightning, and snow in the same hour. The Trail Rider talks about needing to be prepared when riding in the West, and it was certainly true.
All in all, it was a fabulous vacation. However, we did learn some lessons: (1) If you take your horse to Yellowstone, make sure he's dead broke and in super condition; (2) if your horse doesn't meet those requirements, consider renting a local horse; (3) guides are highly useful, not only for their trail knowledge, but also for their ability to handle emergencies; (4) late August might've been better than early September to avoid the snow.