Dutton Dunwich may not be the “Wild West,” but this Western Municipality is home to a thriving western-style horse farm, the Horseshoe J Dude Ranch. For more than 60 years, the Dude Ranch has been a hot spot for horse lovers of all ages. With acres of rolling hills and a beautiful Carolinian forest, this property was made for scenic trail riding.
For Sue Stiles, one of the Ranch’s current owners, she has fond memories growing up on the farm, taking care of the horses and mucking stalls with her family. Sue’s parents, Richard and Helen Steele, took over the Dude Ranch some 45 years ago from the original owners, the Hauka Family. Richard Steele was a school teacher who decided to merge his passion for working with children and being a rancher into one.
The Ranch is and always has been a serene and welcoming space for all. In 2004, Sue and her husband decided to build a home of their own on the family farm to experience the serenity for themselves every day. 2004 was also when Sue began to take the reigns from her parents, to start developing the Ranch into what it is today. Over time Sue has diversified the farm into four main activities for the public to enjoy: horse camps, horse and pony clubs, western riding lessons, and trail riding/parties.
Every July and August, Sue’s life becomes a bit crazy, with more than 150 children visiting the farm for summer camp. Children ages five to seventeen can partake in their day camp, two- and three-night camps, or a week-long residential camp. The residential camps are relatively small, offering spaces for 25 kids per week, to ensure personal attention is given to each “wrangler,” as Sue likes to refer to the campers. Wranglers gain a real ranching experience, by choosing if they want to bunk in a Conestoga covered wagon, or in a cabin.
What makes the Dude Ranch unique is that the Wranglers are paired with their own horse for the duration of their stay. The Wranglers are taught basic horsemanship, grooming tactics, saddling techniques, and how to care for their new companion. Once they are comfortable with their horse, together they set off on a guided trail ride through the rolling hills and valleys on the property.
Family values are extremely important at the Horseshoe J Dude Ranch. For three weekends a year, the Ranch invites families to spend time with one another in the peaceful atmosphere that the farm provides. Families can sign up for a one-night stay in either June or on Labour Day weekend to gain an insight on ranching. Trail riding, swimming, hayrides, outdoor games, and a good old fashion campfire, are some of the activities that families can expect to do on the Ranch. Campers are welcome to stay in their own tents or camp out in one of the Ranch’s cabins or covered wagons as a family.
With over 42 horses and ponies on the Ranch, Sue also hosts horse and pony clubs that run from September through June. Members of these clubs have the opportunity to not only ride a horse but learn a lesson about farm safety, proper grooming, and many other essential components in being around horses each week. All are welcome to join the club, but children must be in JK or older to participate.
For those looking to learn more about western riding, Sue offers weekly horse lessons in the fall, winter, and spring months. Both beginners and those who have been in the saddle for years are welcomed to take lessons. These lessons focus solely on western riding, with private and group lessons available.
The Ranch welcomes anyone interested in public trail riding to make a reservation by calling (519) 762-5402 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Trail rides can be arranged for private functions such as birthday parties, or corporate wellness events, with overnight stays as an added option.