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By Anna Pool
This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.
I have always loved animals.
Big, small, loud, quiet or smelly, I did not mind, nor did I judge.
I never had a favorite animal until I watched the Dreamworks movie Spirit for the first time. The horse’s agility, ferocity, strength, and cleverness all veiled in beauty mesmerized me, and no other animal ever reached such a high level.
My toy collection transformed into a horse collection, both stuffed and figural, and while I still loved and appreciated all animals, none could compare to a horse.
Growing up in Indianapolis, I had little to no access to horses, let alone money for my own horse, so I researched how I could begin changing my admiration from observing to experiencing.
I began trail riding in my family’s favorite vacation spot in Michigan once a year every summer beginning when I was 7 years old, and I was usually only able to ride a horse that one time per year.
Then I came across a horse ranch that was only 20 minutes from my house called Natural Valley Ranch, and I went there for a ride soon after I found it. My trail guide diligently listened to my ramblings and questions about horses and this ranch, and just before the trail ended, she told me I should be a volunteer.
There was no need for me to think about it; I had already decided this was how I was going to devote my time.
While the majority of my time was spent as a volunteer, it does not take being there all day, every day for one to have an experience that they will never forget.
Natural Valley Ranch provides a first step for those who have little to no experience with horses, a continued step for those who have had past experience, or for those like me who took a flying leap into the world of horses.
From the moment one steps out of their car, the scene appeals to every sense. First, there’s the smell of hay, animals, and manure, to which most cringe and comment on. That scent, which to this day makes me smile and sink into comfortability, is also one that leaves an unforgettable first impression on ranch-goers.
The air is joined by dust and dirt; they fill the nostrils and mouth until it seems that you may in fact be tasting the atmosphere in this all-inclusive experience.
Eyes are drawn to the red and white barn that sits awkwardly on a lumpy hill of settled dirt and gravel, the journey to which proves somewhat lengthy and laborious.
The sounds of children squealing, the wind rustling between trees to the right of the path, and the occasional high pitched neighing of a far away equine weave their ways in one ear and out the other.
Finally, the feeling of closed-toed shoes sliding along the dirt path, leaving a trail of dust behind them tells one that they are in a place rid of cement and pavement, and now somewhere natural, lacking modern commonalities.
Before a word is even spoken, or an animal is even in sight, the visitor is transported into another world, one that is vastly different from the one they experience day-to-day.
Trail riding is the most popular activity at Natural Valley Ranch, and it is a fun way to ease into horseback riding for those with little to no experience.
There are options to do a 30-minute or 60-minute ride; both are guided and generally, the group is between two and six people.
The trails themselves wind into the woods along White Lick Creek in Hendricks County, and some paths have an occasional small hill. The trails are clearly marked, but the chances of a leg being brushed by nearby bushes or trees are high, and those who are taller than average can expect to duck a few times throughout the trail.
The owners of the ranch clear the paths, but they have not otherwise disturbed the natural beauty of their property, and riders will navigate overgrown shrubs or fallen logs.
Horseback riding involves a connection to animals that are used to being outside, so the rider gets to be immersed in nature, making the experience of a trail rustic and natural.
Some of the ride may take a rider across open ground, but not for long. Once the line of trees is breached, it is hard to see anything else besides trees in all directions, surrounding the rider with wildlife, both plant and animal. The deeper the trail winds into the woods, the further the visitor travels from their day-to-day life and into nature.
There is never a shortage of huge heads with large, whisker-filled noses reaching to be petted or snuggled at the ranch, and it is never too early or late to get acquainted with horses. The horses at this ranch are used to their jobs, and each has its own personality.
The staff at Natural Valley Ranch know the horses enough to match a person to the horse and ensure that they are comfortable before their ride.
Even those who are not ready to make the step to riding can interact with the horses, both big and small.
Another activity at the ranch is the petting zoo, which involves meeting with mini horses and goats, neither of which involve anything other than giving food and attention to the animals.
The mini horses are a crowd-pleaser, always drawing smiles with their short legs, tiny ears and round bellies, and they are always looking for a handful of hay or grass to be given to them.
There is a piece of adventure that calls to all ages, and as I grew as a teenager working at this ranch, I could see its effect mirrored in the expressions and mannerisms of visitors. I could hear the laughs and the shrieks of nervous excitement, and I could see the grimaces turn to smiles as time in the saddle progressed.
Children who were once timid and hesitant from the ground sat straight and confident in the saddle, and some would even accept my challenge to touch the neck of the majestic beasts that carried them.
Adults who at first would tug on the reins instinctively out of nervousness or uncertainty emerged into controlled and relaxed temporary cowboys and cowgirls.
One experience at Natural Valley Ranch will satisfy an adventurous tick or provide a fun activity for a family; however, more than one visit is an entirely different thing.
Natural Valley Ranch is located at 6310 County Rd 350 N, Brownsburg, IN 46112. To book a trail ride, you must go online to reserve for either a 30 or 60-minute trail.
Birthday parties, lessons, and family events also take place at the ranch, and they, too, can be scheduled online. Each has its own link within the pages on the site.
If you have questions or want more information about volunteering or the services at Natural Valley Ranch, call 317-509-3577.
In addition to horseback riding at Natural Valley Ranch, you can also stay in a luxury cabin on a lake! Learn more about these accommodations and other things to do in our guide to Hendricks County, Indiana.