When I speak with people on the phone who have taken a ride with an outfitter or who have heard second-hand about horseback riding at different locales, they often ask, "Do we have to ride nose-to-tail all the time?"
While I can't speak for every Colorado guest ranch, I can give you an idea of our riding program here at Elk River Guest Ranch. Most dude ranches have similar programs, but you'll want to check with the ranch you're interested in to find the program that best suits your interests.
The answer to your question is no--we don't make people ride nose-to-tail all the time. One of our principal goals is to educate guests about the nature of a horse, about how to work with them and about how to handle and ride them well. What we don't intend to do is stifle your learning process by giving you a gob of restrictions. Now, there are certain parameters we have to follow to keep you and the people around you safe, such as having each ride go out with a wrangler and limited number of people. But, by teaching good trail etiquette (spacing, in particular) and by having guests implement that on the trail, we are able to offer more flexible rides where you can ride side-by-side and talk to your friend comfortably.
The next question we get usually revolves around whether guests are allowed to trot and lope. Once again, we LOVE teaching trotting (posting here, even though it's more traditionally an English method) and loping to guests. For those who already have it down, we take them out for more advanced rides. We do stress single-file lines when we trot and lope to cut down on horses feeling competitive and getting too close to one another. Believe me, it's much easier to trot and lope when you can focus on your own riding and not have to worry about others creeping up into your space. Whether this is your first time riding or you're very experienced, we definitely have more options for you than simply sticking you on a nose-to-tail walking ride.