I want to make this clear straightaway: I don’t believe, by any stretch of my imagination, that visiting a guest ranch gives me any idea whatsoever of the real life of a rancher. Imagine that a curtain is hung across a window and that curtain is worn a bit thin, or perhaps even has a small tear in it—that’s the sort of view you get of ranch life. And that includes being a guest on working ranches as well. I have no idea what it’s like to get up at 5 am on a winter’s morning, saddle up, and ride out in temperatures of -27 or below to see to cattle, or stay up all night with a mare having a hard time foaling. I can’t look back on ancestors who have homesteaded the same patch of earth for four or five generations and dealt with changing governments and the BLM and leases and so on. But like dabbing your finger into the batter to get an idea of what the cake may taste like, I’ve stayed at numerous guest ranches throughout the west that have given my daughter and me that taste, that slightly gauzy view.

The first ranch we visited some twenty-six years ago was outside of Estes Park

My daughter Cristal, ready to ride

My daughter Cristal, ready to ride

and, flying in from London, we combined that with a week at a ranch outside Jackson, WY. My husband was a keen hiker and took on Long’s Peak while my then-six-year-old and I took off on horses, she with a children’s group and I with the adults. We were immediately hooked: what other vacation offered the three of us our own interests and gave us the opportunity to share the experiences with like-minded people, as well as each other, at the evening meal? The second week with that trip to Wyoming, the visit was more humorous than relaxing. On one ride, my daughter called out and I turned back to see her literally perpendicular to her horse as her cinch had come loose. Then the owner also saw fit to criticize her for not finishing her dinner. And there was the dog who got hold of my jean cuff and wouldn’t let go. But there were good times too—we made friends there, a French family living in Florida, who were in the other half of our cabin, and with whom we went on to have further ranch vacations for years after. Because we all shared the same hot water heater, we got in the habit of being very naughty and running the horses in, jumping off and seeing who’d get the hot water first. The wild rides through the sagebrush—which the French called ‘bush washing’ instead of

Watching branding in Nevada

Watching branding in Nevada

bushwhacking—were something that soon went by the board at other, more conservative ranches. And there was the float trip on the Snake River where our guide was the one who fell in, lost his glasses, and thereafter couldn’t tell us what we were looking at.

With the British schools giving my family a month at Christmas and Easter and only two months in the summer, we got into a routine of visiting the same ranch in Arizona every spring. We escaped the damp that took hold of Britain in late March or April, and then visited different ranches in the northwest states in the summer. Arizona offered a unique terrain; rattlesnakes were regularly removed from front porches and, with that in mind, we made checks every night, searching under and in beds to make sure none were there. Riding

Our 'makings'--for S'mores

Our ‘makings’–for S’mores

in the Saguaro National Park was a dusty affair, and I hold an image of myself heading straight back to our casita and grabbing a coke from the fridge as if I’d been crawling through the desert for days. But the biggest annoyances were always those other guests who just didn’t ‘get it.’ The one who spoke on his cell phone while riding, and then got upset when he (happily for us) lost the connection. The ones who complained, the teens who didn’t want to be there, the riders who overestimated their abilities.

If you ask me what my favorite memory is, I cannot pinpoint one. I know that I loved those breakfast rides, heading down to the corrals to mount up early on an August morning in the northwest when the air hinted at autumn, clear, crisp, fresh. Riding for a couple of hours to a cook-out breakfast, that weird mix of the smell of blueberry pancakes drifting out through the pines. Through the years,

Learning archery in Montana

Learning archery in Montana

we learned many different skills—archery, barrel racing, team penning, clay pigeon shooting, fishing. It galls me, totally galls me that my daughter, who cares nothing for guns, turned out to be a crack shot. I kid her now there’s not a squirrel in the state of Nevada that doesn’t fear her name since she stood up on the back of a truck and picked them off one by one, and then went on up to Montana and hit nine out of ten clay pigeons to boot.

Best of all were the horses, such different horses at each ranch. There was the one I call The Ugliest Horse in the West at a ranch down in Texas, and the Pasa Fino who threw me half way down a mountain in Colorado and left me with a two inch gash in my knee, while he went off to happily graze. I loved them all, loved the rides.

On the Ugliest Horse in the West

On the Ugliest Horse in the West

However, I was never one to do the pack trips. Though I listen to ‘Cowboy Take Me Away’–“I want to sleep on the hard ground…in a blanket made of stars…”—there was something about being thrown together with 15 or 20-odd other guests, snoring together through the night and lining up, toilet paper in hand, to use the portapotties at the conveniently selected camp site. Instead, I opted to let my husband and child ride out while I stayed back, happy to have alone time, eat the rehashed dog and macaroni salad, and sit out on the cabin porch with the stars to myself before turning in to my comfortable solo bed. So maybe I wouldn’t make a great cowboy. The heart is willing, but the body ain’t…

These days, with my daughter about to get married and my old bones less able to sit on a horse for long periods, the ranch vacations are shorter and the rides briefer. But the photos are all here—starting in albums and moving onto discs and then computer. And the memories are where they’ve always been: tucked away to share with grandchildren until I can tag along one year to at least smell that horse and leather scent down by some ranch barn and eat the blueberry pancakes while sitting among the pines.

To have a small look at life on a guest ranch from the other side of the divide, please get yourself a copy of Come Love a Cowboy and read my novella, Bad Boy, Big Heart.



Badboytitle450When New Yorker K.C. Daniels heads to Wyoming for a summer job, she wants nothing more than to fit in with the staff of the Lazy S Ranch. Yearning to be independent of her mom and dad, and have a taste of the west before she starts her Master’s degree, getting involved with a cowboy is the last thing on her mind—especially when she’s greeted with warnings about ‘Bad Boy’ Chay Ridgway.

High school dropout Chay Ridgway sees summer as his time to be a rodeo star and win a girl in his life, while facing the responsibilities he has for his father. Although working to bring in cash to help his dad, he’s never had a problem finding a woman who’s happy to be that summer love—until K.C. Daniels appears on the scene.

As two different worlds collide in a season that will end all too soon, is this going to be another summer romance or a love that will last for years?


K.C. was licking her lips over a piece of cheesecake when Breezy ambled over.

“I heard,” she said in an undertone. “I’m so sorry, K.C. I really didn’t know or I certainly would have told you. All I knew was Jamie could be very unpleasant but nothing like that. You know, spoiled brat unpleasant.”

K.C. gulped down another mouthful. “Well, he certainly was ‘unpleasant’ and a ‘spoiled brat.’”

“Are you all right? You know if you ever want to talk about it or need a shoulder, mine is at the ready. And you know where to find me, though I suspect you have another shoulder in mind.” She tipped her head toward Chay, who had just come in and was chatting with one of the guests.

K.C. glanced across as he squatted down to speak with a little girl, tilting his hat back off his face and giving the child a wink as he rose again. Her stomach did a back flip.

“So how do you like the cheesecake?” Breezy was saying. “It’s my own recipe—chocolate mocha cheesecake. You seem to be doing pretty well with it but, of course, you may only be eating it to be polite.” She sauntered off in a stream of giggles.

And then a second fork was coming from above into that cheesecake.

“Do you always just take what you want?”

“Oh, shit, I’m supposed to ask! Sorry.” Chay slid into the chair opposite her at the long refectory table. He looked her in the eye. “May I please have a bite of your cheesecake?”

“Why don’t you get your own? In fact, shouldn’t you be starting with lunch and then dessert?”

“Had a sack lunch and got in earlier than expected.” His fork dangled threateningly over the waiting slice before he swung the fork like a pendulum.

“Oh, go on then. I guess you deserve it.”

Chay shoved a forkful into his mouth, having obvious difficulty chewing as he was smiling so much. Finally he got it down, stretched to grab a napkin from another clean place setting, and gave a wide grin to K.C. “Am I your hero, then? Riding in to save the day? How are you?”

“I’m fine. Thanks. Fine, but reluctant to keep telling everyone I’m fine.”

“Okay then, message received.”

K.C. studied him for a moment, melting at his pale green eyes. She suddenly reached across and gently poked the small dimple in his chin. Oh dear, what was she going to do about this man?

“You’re supposed to ask, aren’t you? You can’t just go around poking people in the chin, can you?”

“Golly. What have I started?”

“I don’t know. What have you started?” The smile was replaced by a very direct look.

“I…I’ve been told things about you. I don’t want to be a summer romance. And I do have to leave at the end of the summer, and the summer is fast fading.”

“It’s only June, K.C.” He hesitated before, “What sort of things were you told?”

K.C. looked around to make sure they weren’t being overheard. “That you like to…to date the girls who work in the office because we leave at the end of the summer, and it makes for a clean break.”


K.C. blinked at his honesty.

“But it doesn’t mean it will always be the case.” Chay fidgeted on his chair. “What time do you get off? Let’s go for a ride. You do ride, don’t you?”

“I ride…English.”

“Oh, yeah. Bob said something about that. That can be fixed. So what time?”

“Five-thirty weekdays, Saturday noon as long as the check-outs are complete. Sunday is hit or miss; I work virtually all day until all the check-ins are done.”

“Hmmm. I’m taking out a pack trip tomorrow, back Friday. Meet me down at the barns as soon as you’re off Saturday.” Chay swung out of the chair and stood, then leaned in and stabbed one more bite of cheesecake. “Saving you calories,” he said. “You’d be amazed at what goes into this.” And with that, he stuffed the piece in his mouth and was off.

K.C. sat there, turning over Chay’s words in her mind: ‘It doesn’t mean it will always be the case.’ Yet the fact was, her Master’s degree meant two years…oh, what was she thinking? That was way ahead and, while she knew she was deeply attracted to Chay, it didn’t necessarily mean…. She stared at the remaining cheesecake on her plate, then pushed it away.

What was ‘the case’?

Purchase Come Love a Cowboy at


32 responses to “NOT QUITE A COWBOY

  1. Andi,
    Great post. Took me back to some of our memorable family ranch vacations. Our granddaughter accompanied us on our last. Great fun watching the dancer learn she was a natural on the back of a horse.


    • I’d think a dancer would have excellent balance and therefore really be a natural on a horse–though whether its wise for someone dependent on good bones to go riding, well, that’s another question (she says recovering from braking her shoulder in 2 places). We should compare notes on which ranches we’ve been to!


  2. I loved this post. Reading about working on a guest ranch in Bad boy, big Heart made me want to rewind the clock and spend a summer working on one. Thanks for sharing. Great pictures of you and your daughter


  3. Haha, Andi! Loved the post and the visuals in my mind that went along with it. When I was a child of three, I spent hours riding Champion ’round and ’round my grandparents’ old farmhouse. I was sooo content to sit there for hours. My grandparents and mom would watch from the kitchen window to make sure I made my laps. One time, Champion (must have grown tired of the same-old, same-old) took off down the road. Wow! What a great adventure I was on now! Before long, my grandpa came with the old pickup to round us up and bring us home. Hmm. I wonder if I could sit for hours now on Champion and circle that old farmhouse for hours. Probably not.

    Thanks for sharing, Keta


    • What a lovely story, Keta–good tale for a YA I think. I can just imagine the young girl and horse taking off suddenly on this great adventure. Poor ol’Champion–did he die of boredom from those laps in the end?


  4. Loved reading about your summer “vacations.” Even though you weren’t quite a cowboy, you definitely were a cowgirl! No wonder you and your daughter can travel so well together!


    • Thanks Julie. I think about as close as we got to cowboying was riding the fence line and looking for strays on one of the working ranches–no roping I’m afraid, though I did practice from a standing position with a wooden ‘cow.’


  5. My dear friend, I love your last blog……and I can recognized your French friend and of course I remember all your comments. What nice memories we had in the West with the kids.


  6. Andi, that is one of my favorite posts EVER on any blog. You have such a great way with words! My family has only stayed at one dude ranch, The Mayan, near Bandera, but the girls and I loved it. My husband preferred the earlier part of the trip where we accompanied him on a fishing trip, but he’s a good sport. The girls and I were hooked and would go back anytime, but other places called us too. Still, great memories from The Mayan.


    • Caroline, thank you SO MUCH for those exceedingly kind and generous words; I’m not only flattered, I’m truly touched (oh dear, well, of course that has two meanings so you’ll have to select the one you find most suitable….) I think there are a number of ranches that have both fishing and riding, particularly up in CO and MT so perhaps you can consider one of those, one day. Thanks again — you’ve cheered up my day immensely!


  7. I’ve loved getting to know you and your writing


  8. I thought I had commented before, but I guess not. It’s a great blog, just like Caroline said. And I couldn’t stop laughing at the picture of the ugliest horse. I mean, you’re right, that is one ugly horse!!!


    • Well, now you have me laughing. Poor Buttermilk–I think he was albino with his pink eyes, but he was so damn ugly, when I wanted a photo, my daughter motioned to me wildly not to ask for our photos to be taken by the wrangler.


  9. My youth was spent taking care and riding others horses. Never had one of my own, but loved the life anyway. Your post brought back fond memories and a love of horses that never died. Thanks for sharing and a peek into your book. Loved it.


    • I never had my own horse either, Tena–a great sadness, but I sort of made up for it by eventually buying my daughter two (in succession, not at the same time!) It’s such a healthy, outdoor life, though, yes, costs a bit to keep. I think we were lucky to be able to do it, but you were also lucky to be able to care for those horses.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post ! I was inspired to get the Cowboy anthology! Have only read your and Hebbys stories so far.
    Both were fabulous especially for their descriptions of the western / border way of life. I fell in love with both Chay and Rusty. I will be going over to Amazon to give y’all 5 stars.


  11. Reblogged this on Jeannie Hall Suspense and commented:
    Looks like fun, doesn’t it? Playing Cowboy


  12. Looks like fun! 😃


  13. Hi Andrea, Thanks for posting your link on the WomenW.West site. It looks like you had some great summers ranching. I grew up on a ranch and we were always amazed that folks wanted to learn how to rope and herd. A lot of the work–as you know–isn’t glamorous. But I’m with you, a night under the stars is amazing (particularly if there’s a soft bed nearby). Thanks for sharing your adventures and books.


    • Well, all I can say, Barb, is that I envy you, I truly do. It may not be glamorous but it’s a great life, and a great place to grow up. Thanks for stopping by.


  14. As someone who has lived the ranching life for the last 45 years, I enjoyed your post, too. I came from the city to marry my 4th generation cattle rancher/cowboy/former bull rider husband…. and have never looked back. In fact, the day I moved onto the ranch — into a 100+ year old house that had never been updated or remodeled — was more like coming home. I knew I belonged on the place! And it’s not a glamorous life, to be sure, but it is a fabulous place to raise kids and grandkids and to embark on living on, next to, and subject to nature and all its vagaries. It’s humbling and empowering at the same time. I love being on the back of a horse and working alongside my husband and extended family. I love even the hard days and long days and bitter nights. And if you want to know more about our ranching enterprise, check out what we “Jenner gals” have done at 🙂 Also, if you’ve never checked out the collection ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP (to which many WWW members have contributed), it’s a collection of 40+ women’s voices about living a rural and/or ranching life.


    • Another gal I truly envy! Thanks so much for sharing your story, Gail, and for the book recommendation–I’ll track it down. Also had a peek at Jenner Beef and am glad to see that. In Britain, where I lived for many years, there were a lot of independent farms (since there aren’t ranches!) labeling their own beef, and the supermarkets were just beginning to catch on to the idea people like to know where the food they eat comes from. Farm to table or ranch to table is gaining popularity, thank goodness. Having driven past the feed lots in Nebraska and Kansas, I can truly say I’d never eat beef unless I know it to be at least grass fed. Long may these ranching traditions continue.


  15. Yes, farm to table is catching on and we enjoy being a part of it, but we also sell steers/heifers to the general marketplace (with over 1000 cows, we cannot begin to market only to local markets). And, just to be clear, all cattle are raised predominantly on pasture/hay, at least for the first 12-15 months; there is no such thing as industrial ranching with beef. Feedlots are only the last stage of an animal’s life. But it is a bonus to know where one’s meat comes from, esp. since we import so much of everything now-a-days! We know people like having a connection to the land and we have raised 100% all natural beef for years and years. I’m proud to be part of the livestock industry and wish more people understood that beef is probably the cleanest and least impacted meat source there is. We do raise “happy cows!”


    • Gosh, that’s interesting–didn’t know that. But still want to be sure my beef hasn’t come from a feed lot–they absolutely stank as we passed them; it was very disheartening.


  16. Fun post! What wonderful memories you have – you’ve experienced things many people can’t even imagine. Lucky you!


  17. Love, love your post, Andi! (Especially the ugly horse… poor thing!). What wonderful adventures you’ve experienced! Thank you for sharing them with us. When I was about four, I decided to saddle my pony myself (after I snuck out of the house during what was supposed to be my naptime). Of course, I didn’t get the cinch pulled tight and I found myself dangling upside down when the saddle slid around. I remember staring at the pony’s belly and hoping someone found me sooner rather than later. Thanks for the fun trip down memory lane.


    • Well, Shanna, I’m glad to know my daughter wasn’t the only one to find herself riding in that fashion. Those ponies–you gotta hand it to them. They know just how to blow themselves out so that the cinch is loose, the blighters. Thanks for sharing your own memory with us.


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