Mother-Daughter Hay-Days

By Heather Reichle

Bonding mothers and daughters through horses--that’s the motto of the Sugar and Spice Ranch in Bandera, Texas. Established in 2005 by Leigh McCourt, the self-proclaimed horse enthusiast and businesswoman wanted to merge her two passions in life--horses and children.

The ranch hosts mothers and daughters for week-long sessions during the summer or weekend trips in the off-season. During the time at the camp, the duo experiences what it’s like to own a horse by adopting one and caring for it. Throughout the week, they learn to tack up, groom, bathe, feed, turn out, and, of course, ride a horse--all side-by-side. In fact, every activity on the ranch is completed in a mother-daughter team.

“My mission in life is to expose as many human beings to the world of equine as I can,” says McCourt. “This is the perfect place not only to experience horses, but to form bonds with your loved ones.”

McCourt established the camp after attempting to plan a similar trip with her own daughters.

Growing up in western Massachusetts, McCourt lived on an Arabian horse farm. While searching for a place for her daughters to learn about horses, she discovered one didn’t exist. Instead, she led them to a working dude ranch in Bandera, Texas, which ignited the dream for the Sugar and Spice Ranch.

“I wanted to create an atmosphere where mothers and daughters could build on their relationships through horses,” she relates. “I wanted them to be able to find what I had been looking for to experience with my daughters.”

More Like A Retreat
Before arriving, both mother and daughter fill out a questionnaire, also listing their height and weight so they can be best matched with a horse for the week.

The experience is very intimate as only eight campers visit the ranch at a time. With a small group, staff is able to really focus on the guests and make them feel at home with top-notch amenities.

Typical “camp food” isn’t on the menu. The team at Sugar and Spice serves gourmet, made-from-scratch Italian meals. In addition to providing great food, the camp offers a massage therapist for the mothers after a couple of days of riding. The bunk house is furnished in fine fabrics and linens to create a soothing, comfortable place for the guests. “It’s more of a retreat than a camp,” says McCourt.

The ranch attracts mother and daughter duos of all ages--from a 60-year-old mother with her 40-year-old daughter to a 70-year-old grandmother with her 7-year-old granddaughter--and some come back year after year. The camp accepts campers from ages 5 to 95.

“As long as it’s an older woman and a younger child, they are welcome to come experience our camp,” says McCourt. “Our focus is on people who want to bond and build a relationship.”

Although the main focus of the year-round camp is building relationships between mothers and daughters, other packages are available on weekends from September through May, such as a family-weekend package, a women’s-only group package and a corporate team-building weekend.

For more information about the Sugar and Spice Ranch Camp, visit

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at