I wish I could say I’d make a great cowgirl, but after spending the weekend at White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, AZ, I’ve realized … I wouldn’t.
Since my father was into westerns and dude ranches, I was raised with an interest in westerns and dude ranches. On family trips, we used to come out west and do the tourist “slow ride” on horseback. I liked being on a horse, but I got bored, going so slow. I would try to pull back on the reins, let the horse in front of me go on a bit, and then, take off in a trot to catch up. It was fun, but it wasn’t real horseback riding—not the kind of riding they did in City Slickers, at least.
So months ago, a couple of my high school pals suggested we take a vacation together. They followed up by saying we should go to a dude ranch. I agreed, so we booked a weekend at White Stallion Ranch. Friday morning, we headed south. Two hours later, we arrived at a dirt road that led to our eventual destination. My immediate reaction: the place was beautiful. It looked like something out of Zorro—white stucco condos, luminaries, cactuses, and cowboy hats. Horses were everywhere, and it was silent. No highway noise, no sirens, and barely any people: how blissful. We settled in, knowing we would head out on a slow ride the following morning.
Now, when asked my riding level, I marked “Beginner.” I am a beginner. Like I said, I’ve never done much more than a slow ride. The next morning, therefore, I was calm about the slow ride, on my pal, Oro, the horse. We calmly trotted down a sandy path, only once encountering a rattlesnake—the first I’ve seen in Arizona. After breakfast, it was time to take the fast ride test, and oh, the horror. The fast ride was composed of loping behind the wrangler’s horse, turning the horse, loping some more, and then, stopping the horse while the wrangler’s horse went on. Was I nervous? Yes. Did I take the test? Sure. Halfway through the test, did I realize I knew how to ride? Amazingly … yes. I passed the test with flying colors.
The fast ride was like a shot of adrenaline, straight into my chest. At first, I was terrified. I felt like I was going to fall off Oro and straight into a cactus at any moment, but I didn’t. By the end of it, I wasn’t even holding onto the saddle horn. I had the reins in one hand and fresh desert air in the other. We returned to the stables much too soon, as I could have ridden dear Oro off into the sunset without looking back.
So why could I never be a cowgirl? I had a chance to get to know a couple of the staff members. I met about a dozen people from overseas, who spent four weeks a year at White Stallion Ranch. And there was something about all of them (co-owner, Russell, and cheerful wrangler, Laura, included) that I will never have: a certain devil-may-care fearlessness and simplicity that Sara Dobie, as a city girl, can observe but never understand. During the rodeo, men wrestled cattle with their bare hands. Women galloped on horseback at speeds close to 20 miles per hour. There were no televisions, no phones, and (horses notwithstanding) no traffic. By 8 PM, the entire ranch was quiet, and although the simple life was pleasant for a weekend, I could never live the life. (I could also never walk the walk, considering today, my thighs still hurt to the point of possible injury. Although I do now understand the way John Wayne walked …)
My weekend at the dude ranch was splendid. It was relaxing, exciting, and enlightening. It was a world unlike Phoenix or Charleston or Toledo, and it was nice to visit. I was amazed at the friendliness of the White Stallion Ranch staff, as well as their wrangling skill level. And how lovely, to spend a quiet weekend away with supportive, wonderful women I’ve known since grade school. That said, I’m glad to be back at my apartment, in front of a computer screen. Jack Palance, I am not. Billy Crystal, maybe a little.