Q. I would like to take my children (10 and seven) on a ranch holiday in America in August. None of us has ridden before, so we would be learning to ride as well. Our budget is £2,200 for a family of three. Do you have any suggestions?
Mr A Knight, Cheshire
A. A ranch holiday is a great family option. Many cater for all riding abilities, and offer other activities if you don't take to it straight away. As August is the peak holiday season, a big chunk of your budget will be consumed by air fares. Although ranches usually offer good value, with the added cost of flights for three, your budget is a bit optimistic if you plan a two-week stay. Most ranch programmes are for one week, however, so if you were to spend a second week exploring the area with a rental car, or were prepared to limit yourselves to one week, you should get a price closer to your budget. August is fast approaching so I would recommend booking your holiday as soon as possible.
Many ranch holiday operators promote Texas as one of their top destinations, since the state offers a characteristic experience and a taste of the "Wild West". Temperatures in August can exceed 38C, however, which is not conducive to a week in the saddle.
So I'd recommend a mountainous destination such as Montana or Canada. I've outlined three options below, two of which are with specialist operators and slightly over-budget in case you have any flexibility there, and one of which, a DIY version, is closer to the amount you want to spend.
In Montana, temperatures hover around 23C in August and tour operator In The Saddle (01299 272997; www.inthesaddle.co.uk) still has availability at the Hidden Hollow Hideaway ranch on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The trip would cost £1,890 for you and £1,230 for each of your children for one week's full-board in a shared cabin departing on 6 August. This includes return flights from Gatwick to Montana via Minneapolis, all meals and activities; the transfer from the airport costs an additional $100 (£53).
The working cattle ranch welcomes riders with little or no experience and will help you to learn, with riding groups of around 10 people. The schedule is flexible - it's up to you whether you ride for half or a full day. If by the end of the week you feel confident, the ranch offers the opportunity to take part in a cattle drive.
Canadian itineraries can work out more economical since charter flights are available, although schedules are subject to change. Your £2,200 budget is still a little optimistic for this time of year. American Round Up (0870 747 2624; www.americanroundup.com) can offer a ranch holiday in Canada for £4,063 for the three of you departing on 25 August. This takes into account the peak season flights and late booking, but includes return flights from Gatwick to Calgary on Air Transat, a rental car and seven nights' full-board at the Three Bars Ranch in Cranbrook, British Columbia.
This family-oriented ranch is in south-eastern BC, around a five-hour drive from Calgary via Banff National Park. Accommodation is in luxury log cabins, and activities are also included in the price. Stopping off in Banff National Park on either leg of the journey would provide the opportunity to spot wildlife, explore ice fields or kayak on the Columbia River.
One way of cutting costs is to book your holiday independently. The Woodside Ranch (001 800 626 4275; www.woodsideranch.com) in Wisconsin has availability for one week from 7 August and can offer a riding package for the three of you totalling $1,489 (£827), excluding flights.
The ranch is in the Upper Wisconsin Dells and is family-oriented with a pool. The cost includes six nights' full--board in a ranch house room, a full week's riding tuition and activities. Trails take you through woodland and along the nearby picturesque Wisconsin River or Petenwell Lake. That leaves you with around £1,400 for flights. Opodo.co.uk has flights to Minneapolis with Continental for £1,772 for the three of you, departing from Gatwick on 6 August. You would need a hire car to reach the ranch (a three-hour drive), which can be booked through Argus ( www.argusrentals.com) for £140, bringing the holiday to £2,739.
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