Horses can be vaguely intimidating on flat ground, so, for new riders, trusting the animals to provide safe transportation up (and back down) a steep, rocky mountain trail is disconcerting.
The horses at the Breckenridge Stables make the whole experience a little less nerve wracking, and they're the only ones in town that provide trail rides for young kids.
"We have horses for all abilities," Breckenridge Stables owner Brad Bays said. "But if you've never been on a horse, they will just follow right along."
For families, a one-and-a-half hour-ride is an ideal way to see the mountains and enjoy the backcountry.
Slow-paced and scenic, the experience of a trail ride is not unlike a bike ride or hike through some of Breck's more beautiful high-alpine landscape. The horses meander along sun-splattered trails, across green ski runs, through sparkling creeks and past meadows lined with wildflowers on Peaks 9 and 10 within the Breckenridge Ski Resort boundaries.
The trail rides are unique because they make what would be tough hiking terrain accessible to families with young children, for whom the area would otherwise be hard to reach, thanks to altitude, distance and steep grades.
Children up to 3 years old can ride double in a saddle with an adult. Kids around 4 or 5 years old get their own horses attached by a rope to a staff member. By age 6, kids are able to handle the horse on their own, proving to still-uncertain novices that it's not hard.
Generally, from the rider's perspective, there isn't much to do but enjoy the landscape and views of Breckenridge and the Tenmile Range.
Though the ride starts with a quick briefing on how to steer, riders almost never need to do so. The horses generally know to follow the animal in front of them. The biggest challenges for the rider are trusting the horse to maneuver the sometimes-steep paths and preventing them from snacking on the greens that grow trailside.
Of course, it's not all storybook meadows and enchanting vistas. Horses don't use bathrooms and even the most scenic trail ride is bound to be punctuated by smelly "potty breaks" and impolite noises.
One guide, or wrangler, leads a group of seven riders, so parties are usually sent out in groups of 7 or 14. Despite the numbers, the ride doesn't feel like a group activity. Seven horses lined up end-to-end makes for a long line, and often conversation is limited by distance and the sound of hooves.
Still, wranglers tailor the ride to the customers, offering information about the area to newcomers and out-of-towners while pointing out interesting sites, including a beaver pond and a wetland fed by an underground spring.
Wranglers are trained in CPR and first aid and undergo a two-week course before they're hired on. The U.S. Forest Service requires additional training as well.
The trail ride covers an estimated 2-3 miles over 90 minutes, which for anyone inexperienced being in a saddle, is usually enough.
Rides are offered every hour on the hour, except for noon, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the summer.