Stepping Stone Ranch has been chosen by Yankee Magazine for Best Bargin on our Over night rides.
SSR is in the Yankee Editor's Choice, Best of New England 2011 magazine.
We are also mentioned in a book called "50 Great New England Family Fishing Vacations" which is being released June 1st, 2011.
A Slice Of Old West Just East Of Connecticut
(published Monday July 8, 2002)
West Greenwich, R.I.
Just east of Wyoming, not far off Interstate
95, there’s a ranch where cowboy and cowgirl wannabes can satisfy their
hankering for a good gallop.
And after they’ve loped away an hour or so,
they can head back to the barn, untack their horses, and cool their heels in the
stirrups of other saddles. These sit atop barrels pulled up close to the
beer-and-wine bar in the salon at Stepping Stone Ranch.
In a world where business owners worry as
much about litigation as profits, Stepping Stone proprietors Heidi and Darrell
Waldron have preserved a bit of ole Americana. Ranches like this might be easy
enough to find out West, but they’re a notch away from extinction on the East
Even more remarkable is the look of the
place. This is not a stables all fabricated up and prettified. Sitting right on
the West Greenwich/Exeter town line in a forest-rich stretch of Rhode Island,
Stepping Stone is well worn and a bit splintered.
A ’64 Chevrolet pickup is used to hold and
cart away the dirty bedding that’s daily mucked out of the horse stalls. Paint
on the two big barns – one with 24 stalls and one of almost equal size but empty
and marked with the sign "PEOPLE BARN" – has faded to a dull bullet-gray.
Restrooms are four Port-A-Johns, lined up behind the horse barn and overlooking
Other than an occasional hand railing or
mounting block, frills are few. Several signs nailed to the barn give safety
precautions or reminders about the proper care of horses and horse equipment.
"It’s absolutely great here," says Bob
Martinson, who’d driven one Saturday afternoon in June from his home in
Lexington, Mass., to take part in an overnight ride. "The people are great, the
horses, the trails, the rides. … Some places let you canter 50 yards, and that’s
it. It’s different here."
Martinson, 59, has been to Stepping Stone a
couple of times. A sales rep for Pentax camera, he’s married and has a daughter
in her late 20s. His wife doesn’t care much for horses; she happily stays home
and reads, he says. With his daughter, he went on a cattle drive in Wyoming a
few years back. He finds that Stepping Stone keeps him linked, at least briefly,
to a life free of cars, cell phones and business concerns. Worries here rise to
the level of fretting about rain that could curtail the late afternoon
three-hour ride before dinner around the campfire.
On the second day of the overnight,
Martinson’s little gray horse Shoshone isn’t feeling quite so frisky as he
gallops up "Wash Out" trail. It’s the last big gitty-up before a long cool-down
walk to the barn.
Right about now, nobody – horse or person –
is feeling as spunky as they did the afternoon before. Even for the fit horses
and the veteran riders among the dozen in this group, the two long trail rides,
separated only by a good supper and a night’s sleep, have been a tad wearing.
From time to time, riders compare saddle woes – stiff lower backs, aching
thighs, cranky ankles and knees. Someone confides that, despite the pain, this
exchange of laments is better than banter about the pros and cons of different
So one last canter, especially in the
direction of home, is bound to be invigorating, or so goes the consensus. The 12
horses, with Oneida and Cree taking the lead, head up the rock-pocked path
that’s one of hundreds weaving through Arcadia Management Area.
Stepping Stone, with its 113 acres, is
nestled right next to Arcadia, which is about 14,000 acres owned and managed by
the state of Rhode Island for all kinds of recreation. There are lakes and ponds
for fishing and swimming. Paths and roads are designed for horses, bikes, and
even cars. Spots here and there have been cleared for such arcane activities as
dog training. Campsites are sprinkled throughout the woods.
The oaks and maples along "Wash Out" are
taller than the mountain laurel and pines covering much of Arcadia and they form
a canopy against the brief drizzle on this Sunday morning.
Cherokee, a short but sturdy chestnut with
Libardo DeLaTorre guiding him, half-heartedly kicks out at the horse moving up
too close from behind. DeLaTorre is oblivious. Although a newcomer to riding, he
manages his mount handily. From the Providence area, he and his girlfriend have
been taking lessons at Stepping Stone for three months.
Before this overnight ride, the 32-year-old
native of Colombia and stockbroker had been out on only a few trails. He says
that Heidi Waldron, who teaches the lessons at the ranch, has a knack for
matching riders and horses.
At the beginning of the two-day ride, Waldron
admits as much.
"I try hard to put the right person with the
right horse," she says.
She works at it subtly; although seeming to
chat idly with people as they arrive at Stepping Stone, she’s finding out a bit
about their personalities, their ways around others. These few but critical
observations, along with the riders’ self-assessments, help her to pair them
with her trail horses.
She has 12 horses of her own and boards
another dozen. Most of hers, which are mixed breeds, are given names of Indian
tribes. She and her husband, who is half Narragansett and half Wampanoag Indian,
pride themselves in the care of the animals. Casual but professional around the
barn, they make sure all the saddles and bridles are tidy in the tack room.
Horses get their hooves picked out and their backs brushed. The animals are well
exercised without being worn out; none has its ribs showing, and even in a trail
gallop, none of them wheezes.
Most surprising for a stables where the
horses can be ridden by several strangers in one day, none of the animals has
sores from saddles or girths. The sides of their mouths are free of telltale
scars that can indicate harsh bits or rough handling.
"Our horses are like our family," Waldron
She and her husband have two girls, 14 and
11. Much of their lives, it seems, has revolved around Stepping Stone. Both 43
years old, Heidi and Darrell met at the ranch when they were 13. She had a
horse, and he was a hired hand. His parents liked to send him here during the
summers from their home in Providence to keep him out of trouble.
Their attraction to each other and to the
ranch was almost immediate. Through high school and years of college, the two
kept dating. They married at 23. "And we’ve been happy all these 30 years
together," says Heidi. "When we got the chance to come back to Stepping Stone
about six years ago, we knew it was meant to be."
Heidi works more than full time at Stepping
Stone. Darrell is executive director of the Rhode Island Indian Council and its
sister office in Connecticut. He works with job placement, housing and education
grants for off-reservation Indians.
His talents are particularly obvious when it
comes to helping his wife make an extended family of the people who frequent
Stepping Stone. He likes friendly talk. And for all the sleep-over rides, he
does the cooking. He offers a homemade corn chowder from an Indian recipe passed
down from his grandmother, and he brews up a meat-filled chili and barbecues
During June’s overnight, the Waldrons set up
tarps so that the riders who didn’t bring tents would have protection in their
sleeping bags from the rain that was promised and did come.
By the campfire, the riders and the Waldrons
are joined by others who board their horses. Overnights provide social events
for the larger Stepping Stone family. The trail guides tell tales about riders
from prior overnights, all the while assuring the current ones that they’re "a
really good group, one of the best."
"Yes," confirms Heidi, making sure no one is
hurt, "this is a great group. Everyone can ride. … Sometimes we’ve had some real
humdingers, people who’ve said they can ride, but we find out different."
Bob Martinson reminds the gathering of an
experience from his overnight last year. When the riders reached Break Heart
Pond, a spot in Arcadia where horses can get some water, his mount, Sequoyah,
got down in the water for a roll.
"There was no problem," he says. "I jumped
off. She was hot. I didn’t blame her. … I was just sad not to see her here this
Heidi, who doesn’t chuckle much at this
particular remembrance, says she decided to sell Sequoyah after that ride. "She
just wasn’t a good trail horse. … You’ve got to have horses you can trust, that
are going to be good out there. "
Heidi likes to wear a broad-brimmed
outback-style hat. It keeps swallow droppings in the barn off her head, she
says. She has the calloused hands of a serious worker, but she smiles a lot and
laughs easily. Her confident way with horses comes from decades of riding and a
job on a ranch in the West. She’s also trained in dressage and other forms of
English-style riding with former Olympic team members.
Only minutes after dismounting Choctaw and
Comanche at the end of Sunday’s ride, Kelli Simmon and Liz Hunt are plotting
ways to return to the ranch.
Simmon is from Newington and works in
telecommunications at the University of Connecticut. Hunt lives and works in
Massachusetts. The two became fast friends as UConn undergrads about 14 years
"It’s our first time here," Simmon says. "We
picked it because it was half way between us and it seemed like something fun to
She wound up riding one of the more
headstrong horses, and worked hard to keep Choctaw at the back of the line. A
kicker, Choctaw needs to bring up the tail, Waldron had instructed.
Hunt, a less experienced rider, was given the
stout, broad-barreled Comanche, who moves slowly but surely.
"It’s kind of hard to believe his name,
really," Hunt says. "He certainly doesn’t look like a Comanche."
The two women expect to be back at Stepping
Stone this summer. The overnights are organized once a month during the summer
but more frequently in the fall, when temperatures are lower and foliage more
The ranch always offers lessons and one- or
two-hour trail rides for the public. The Waldrons also host a festival weekend
of reggae music on their property.
For the more enthusiastic riders, the couple
has had special "theme rides." In one of them, two riders are pegged as "the
outlaw and the outlaw’s assistant" and are allowed to head out from the stables
before everyone else. The others – the posse – are then told about the outlaws’
"There’s the bank robber … and there’s the
outlaw who pushed the old lady in the trough and stole her cane," explains
Once sufficiently incensed by the outlaws’
misdeeds, the posse sets out to find the bad guys, who can leave clues or not,
depending on how truly bad they feel.
The outing turns out to be another romp in
the woods, but with a twist.
"But what’s so fun about," says Heidi, "is
you never know what’s going to happen."