Valley resident Renoir Finizio has hiked to Alice Lake many times. But the trip she cherishes most is the one in which she pulled her classic Tony Lama boots over her feet and donned a 1920s cowboy hat she bought at an antique show. Then she climbed aboard a horse and let the horse do the walking to the lake.
“It was one of the biggest highs in the world because I love horses and I love nature,” she said. “It reminded me of being a cowgirl in the old West, and that has always been one of my fantasies.”
The outfitted horseback ride gave Finizio an opportunity to see the sights without sweat beads clouding her eyes. And the outfitter leading the group pointed out items of interest while discussing the history of the area on the 5.5-mile trip, which included lunch and free time to swim or hike.
A handful of outfitters offer would-be cowboys and cowgirls a chance to see the geological wonders of the Sun Valley area via horseback rides lasting from an hour to a day or even several days.
“There are more quality trails here than anyplace in the United States,” said Bryant Dunn, whose Sun Valley Outfitters covers 700 square miles. “I love taking people into alpine lakes. I love customizing their adventures.”
You don’t have to be able to ride like Clint Eastwood galloping up the Boulder Mountains in “Pale Rider.”
“Some of our riders are experienced. But most of the riders we get are not—a lot are first timers” said Calvin Hatfield, who works out of Sun Valley Resort’s Sun Valley Stables. “We feel that everyone should ride a horse—it’s part of many people’s bucket list. All we ask is that they be 8 or older and at least 52 inches tall. We also ask that riders wear long pants and hiking boots, cowboy boots or tennis shoes.”
Sun Valley Resort offers rides on thoroughbreds sporting such names as Nip and Tuck and Geronimo around Dollar Mountain beginning at 9 a.m. each day from late May through September. The rides cross springs under rock formations and traipse through aromatic yellow lupine—often to the yip of coyotes protecting their young or curious deer. The rides look over Ketchum and Sun Valley, as well as the valley stretching toward Bellevue.
Ninety-minute rides that begin along Little Redfish Lake before climbing up to breathtaking views of Big Redfish Lake, Mount Heyburn and other Sawtooth Mountain peaks are the Redfish Corrals’ most popular. The rides are offered from mid-June to mid-September.
“It’s a very beautiful, very soothing way to see things,” said former Mystic Saddle Ranch owner Deb Bitton (Rebekah and Mathew Cain, employees for seven years, bought the business this spring).
Overnight trips go to high mountain lakes—there are 180 lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains so there’s plenty to choose from, she noted. And no one’s going to go to bed hungry—not with dinners of steak, salmon, chicken and pork chops cooked over open fires and topped with homemade desserts. You won’t want to sleep in, either—not with homemade cinnamon rolls and bacon and eggs sizzling come morning.
Wildhorse Creek Ranch, nestled in the picturesque Copper Basin 22 miles northeast of Sun Valley, offers rides ranging from an hour long to a full day on Arabian crosses named Sampson and Delilah.
“We offer beautiful rides to lakes like Moose, Betty and Bella—or you can take a two-hour ride along a scenic creek behind the lodge,” said Dan Mulick, who owns the ranch with his wife Lani. “There’s a good chance of seeing big game. And the area has great trout fishing.”
Pioneer Outfitters just took over the trail rides at Galena Stage Stop Corrals 24 miles north of Ketchum. Outfitter Devan Jackson plans to continue the hourly trail rides that pass along historic mining and logging trails. He also plans to partner with Galena Lodge to offer wagon rides in conjunction with Western barbecues of burgers, chicken, pulled pork, corn on the cob, berry cobbler and more, on Thursday evenings beginning in mid-June.
Pioneer Outfitters also offers trail rides at the 900-acre Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch beginning in mid-June. Riders need not be guests at the ranch to get in the saddle. But guests who stay at the ranch four nights get a free ride.
Jackson takes riders on full-day trips to the Chamberlain Lakes and past Fourth of July and Washington Lakes. He also takes shorter 90-minute and three-hour rides along the Gold Creek and Salmon River trails. And he offers multi-day trips, complete with Dutch oven lasagna and grilled tri-tips, to places like the Boulder Chain Lakes for those who want to get into the wilderness without packing gear on their backs.
The nonprofit Swiftsure Ranch Therapeutic Equestrian Center offers rides for children and adults who have been referred by a physician on a 191-acre ranch south of Bellevue. There is no charge for the 110 riders who participate weekly—the tab is picked up by the annual Cowboy Ball and community donations. Riders must be referred by physicians; physical, occupational and speech therapists; school counselors or mental health professionals.
The ranch works with another 150 people each year through programs like Camp Rainbow Gold for children with cancer, the Idaho State School for the Deaf and Blind, the Boise Veterans Administration and Higher Ground Sun Valley, which provides therapeutic recreation for wounded warriors and people with disabilities. Swiftsure’s staff assesses each rider to figure out a goal, which might include improving core strength or using the body’s weak side.
“Even brushing a horse before riding can help with muscle tone,” said Cheryl Bennett, the ranch’s executive director. “Riders quickly learn the horse will sense if they’re anxious or depressed.”
The horses mimic the motion of walking for those with movement limitations. “And they’re not going to reject you as people might,” said board member Jeffra Syms. “The communication between horse and rider is unspoken but so prevalent.”