The Tennessee Dude and Guest Ranch in Dunlap offers so much more than trail rides for the families and horse enthusiasts who flock there from around the world. Visitors arrive as guests and leave as friends after a full immersion in life on a Tennessee dude ranch.
A long dirt road leads to the ranch and transports visitors to farm life, offering expansive views of the Sequatchie Valley, a narrow valley near Chattanooga that is lined by Walden’s Ridge on one side and the Cumberland Plateau on the other. The ranch features a large house and barn surrounded by rolling pastures and woods. Horses peek their heads out of their stalls to greet guests.
It doesn’t take long to feel like you’ve discovered a little piece of heaven on earth.
Visitors can schedule a weeklong dude ranch vacation, a shorter farm stay or a ranch-and-ride day trip (four to six hours). Each guest gets their own horse and works with a wrangler on riding skills, safety training and animal husbandry. Each summer, the ranch also hosts National Horse Camp for beginner to intermediate riders ages 8 to 15.
Founded by Tammy and Chris Young in 2002, this working dude ranch is also a nondenominational Christian ministry, incorporating lessons about horses from the Bible and ancient history.
"There are over 217 scriptures about horses in the Bible, and we use those to learn about horses and God," Tammy said.
In addition to hosting dude ranch guests and campers, the ranch supports mission work with orphans in Honduras and accepts college-age interns from around the world. The Youngs also operate a small private school on the property, the Sequatchie Valley International Preparatory Academy, which trains students in farming, ranching, agribusiness and ministry. April through November, the ranch hosts a casual cowboy church service on the second Saturday of each month.
I visited the ranch in June with my two daughters for a one-night farm stay. We were assigned to one of several cozy guest rooms in the main house. After settling in, we gathered with the staff and other guests for a homemade dinner.
The next morning, after grabbing a cup of coffee, we enjoyed a short horse-themed lesson with Tammy on the front porch. She talked about the ancient history of horses and their role in the days of Jesus, as well as the meaning behind Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey. The kids were mesmerized, and I couldn’t think of a better way to begin the day.
After feeding and watering the horses, we gathered around the chuck wagon to enjoy an authentic 1800s breakfast of fresh-rolled oats and homemade cinnamon rolls cooked on cast iron over an open fire.
Afterward, my daughters disappeared into a foggy pasture to round up three horses with Cynthia, a young French woman who interned as a wrangler for a season. For Cynthia, it was a typical morning routine, but for my daughters, it was magical.
Then, we had the pleasure of leading a sheep and carrying several squealing baby goats from the barn to a fenced-in yard.
Each dude ranch visit is customized for guests based on age and ability, and visitors are assigned a wrangler for their morning and afternoon training and horse adventures. The temperaments of the horses and animals reflect their wonderful care, and the experience is a true taste of life on a horse ranch.
Our hearts ached a bit as we said goodbye and pulled out of the driveway to head home after our visit. It took only a short time to get attached to the horses and farm life at the Tennessee Dude and Guest Ranch. No doubt we'll be back.
To learn more about the Tennessee Dude and Guest Ranch or to make a reservation, visit their website or call 423-554-4677.
Jenni Veal enjoys exploring and adventuring in the great outdoors. Visit her travel website www.YourOutdoorFamily.com to learn more about outdoor family travel adventures in the United States. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.