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
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
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
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,
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.
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.
When 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?”
“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 http://www.amazon.com/Come-Love-Cowboy-Kathleen-Ball-ebook/dp/B01D5876UK/