Sixty four years since my last horseback ride, I finally climbed back on last Saturday. Here, from my short personal essay, “The Dude Ranch” are a few snippets of my experience as a thirteen year old spending three days at a dude ranch in northern New Jersey. (yes, I said New Jersey!)

“When he finished his demonstrations,  Cowboy Earl turned to face us. “Now, let’s get acquainted with our animals,” he said,  intoning a final piece of advice. “And make sure you let them know you’re the boss, right from the get go.”

My horse’s name is erased from my memory, much like the name of the ranch, and for much the same reason. I’d like to think he was named Trigger, or Blaze, or Star, but I’d lean more toward Sam, or simply Blackie. I looked him straight in the eye, just like Earl told us to, and he stared back, his glare telling me that he could easily kick me into next week, should he choose to do so. Our relationship for the duration, while not rocky, seemed to be one of mistrust. He never seemed comfortable when I was brushing him, probably because I used the incorrect instrument on an incorrect part of his anatomy. For certain, he was not happy at all when I was picking out stones from his shoes. He had a lovable way of baring his teeth and snorting to show his displeasure, even when I was mucking out his stall. . . .”

Somehow, when Earl demonstrated it, the saddle seemed to mount itself, the ease of it all a thing of beauty. When I did it, the cinches and belts and reins conspired against me. I worried the whole time that my lovable mount could easily just shake his rear end and toss me off the first cliff we came to. . . “

That first afternoon, we would go on our first trail ride, a “short one so you can used to it” one cowboy said as we started out. The first obstacle was a steep hill, much like the one down to the swimming hole, but this one dirt and gravel. “Your horse knows what he’s doing. Trust him,” we were assured as we started down the precipitous path. . . .”

Thankfully, the trail did level out and we spent about hour walking and trotting on horseback. I managed to stay on, as did my saddle. However, on the way back, before we had to climb the hill back up to the ranch plateau, I felt a slightly uncomfortable sensation on my rear end. It wasn’t until we were back in the bunkhouse that I realized what that feeling was. A small raspberry rash had formed on each cheek. Over three days, I never mastered the timing. Even when walking, my horse was always coming up when I was going down. With each succeeding ride, the raspberries grew and became more painful. I dismissed the fleeting thought of visiting the ranch nurse, who was young and quite pretty and the recipient of the crushes of ninety percent of the boys in camp, including the cowboys. Having her examine my injuries was not an option. . .”

So, sixty four years later, I mounted up once again, this time on “Nugget.” I’m the one in the photo of the family w(4th from the left) with his head down, white knuckles gripping the pommel. 

 Next up, as promised in a recent post, our battle with a roof ice dam.