Travel on Trial: 48 hours on a Texas ranch – can channeling a cow girl lift my weary mood?
Discovering her inner cowgirl on a luxurious Texas ranch gave Sarah Ivens a much-needed kickstart…
Texas is renowned for being big, bold and brash. It’s the American state of self-belief and stamina whose self-proclaimed motto is “come and take it”, a rallying cry to all who live – or visit – to be confident, daring and brave.
It is the place where self-confidence has turned farmers into oil billionaires and helped put astronauts on the moon. And all this, I figure, makes it a hopeful place to counter a midlife crisis.
Having turned 42, as a freelance writer and a mother to two young children, I was feeling a bit wobbly and stretched, away from the cheerleading boost of being part of an office team. Working alone from home can be a challenge, the temptation to doubt yourself and become insular very real.
I knew I needed something to get me out into the big, wide world again, to test a few boundaries. And then I heard about the Lone Star weekend at The Inn at Dos Brisas, a ranch in the wilds of Texas, an hour from Houston, where outdoor living and a good dose of horseplay in luxurious surroundings promised to turn my lacklustre mood into a resounding yee-haw in 48 hours.
Driving onto the estate’s 313 acres of rolling pastures and organic farmland, crooning along to local boys Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson playing on the radio, the fresh blast of possibility was immediately tangible.
After settling into the hacienda (complete with a private heated plunge pool overlooking the miniature ponies’ paddock, a gigantic bath tub lined with an assortment of herbal Epsom salts for soaking and a selection of Dick Francis novels), I perused my itinerary over a hearty farm-to-fork dinner.
The ranch has Texas’s only Forbes five-star rated restaurant – and the prickly pear cactus sorbet turned out to be a delicious revelation. I love to be outdoors, to have my cobwebs blown away by bright sunshine and a warm breeze. But could I cope with doing this while on a horse?
I hadn’t ridden for 10 years and had never been a natural, but I was keen to get back in the saddle. I returned to my hacienda under a blanket of stars and was soon tucked up in bed, where I was lured to sleep by the sounds of crickets and the glow of a log fire, to dream of trails and swishing tails.
The horses at Dos Brisas are treated just as well as the human guests, with their own team of personal trainers, allergists, nutritionists, masseurs and a personal chef. This may explain their good nature. I climbed on to my horse, Kiss, and as my cowboy boots rested against her flanks I felt ready for anything.
We set off on a trail through the rocky landscape, under canopies of Spanish moss, over babbling streams and through fields of Texas bluebonnets. Snakes and lizards darted alongside us as a hawk circled overhead. Despite the challenges of the foreign terrain, I felt strong and prepared, thanks to my lovely guide and, of course, the sure-footed Kiss.
Two hours in, I had a huge desire to ride until sunset (it was only midday) but my body was already starting to ache for a bath of Epsom salts. However, cowgirls don’t get a lot of rest so it was straight on to the shooting practice after returning to the ranch and saying goodbye to Kiss.
“Some guests really take to this and get all Annie Oakley about it,” my instructor informed me, as she loaded clay pigeons into a nearby contraption. I was nervous handling the gun, which felt cumbersome in my grip, but with careful instruction I focused and pulled the trigger into the sky.
It was soon obvious, after hitting just two of the 10 “pigeons”, that I was not a natural. Annie can keep her gun! I soon decided that I was better suited to a gentle canter (but note that all levels of riding ability are welcome) through a forest trail.
There was also the option of fishing and archery to continue my cowgirl training, but the tub was calling my aching limbs. This was followed by an evening spent around the campfire with other guests devouring s’mores (a marshmallow-and-chocolate sandwich roasted over the flames): the perfect end to the day.
My time on the ranch reminded me how exhilarating it is to step outside of what I know and to try new things and meet different people. It helped me recall the times I’d taken on challenges before – and succeeded. This – alongside the fresh air and time to myself – definitely gave my spirits a boost, and I returned home with increased confidence and a swagger in my cowboy boots.
The Lone Star Package at The Inn at Dos Brisas (dosbrisas.com) from $1,250 (£889) per room, per night, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and activities.
Forest Therapy: Seasonal Ways to Embrace Nature for a Happier You by Sarah Ivens is available from April 19 (Piatkus), priced £12.99.