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  • Writer's picturePru Warren

Mother Always Knows Best

July 25, 2023


Lexie and I decided more than a year ago that we wanted to go to the Elkhorn, to honor our mother and to scratch the itch that has been tormenting Lexie since our mother foolishly told us she’d take us one day. Lexie was already into the horse phase that would color her life like dye in the water, and the fact that this promise was never fulfilled wore on her.


Naturally we wanted our families to come with us—what a great treat that would be!! Right??


Well.


I don’t know about Lexie’s kids, but Rusty gave me the pained “I’ll do it because it’s important to you but I’d rather sit here and crush aliens beneath my digital boot” look. He embarked upon a year-long campaign to milk his reluctance, which just made me grin at him with even more maternal madness. Oh, you’re going. Don’t think you’re not.


When I discovered that the ranch had put a weight limit on their horseback riders, I said to Rusty, “You know, we’ve got almost six months. If you decided to, you could probably lose enough weight to go riding.” (Rusty is 6’4” and amply padded—although nowhere near as generously endowed as either his father or me.)


His response was “Pass me the ice cream, won’t you?”


He was absolutely determined that he didn’t want to ride, he didn’t like horses anyway, and he was only going on the trip because I was making him. Oh, poor baby.



Last night was one of (apparently) two nights when the Elkhorn staff lowers heavy logs over places where they don’t want horses (like the entrance to the outdoor dining terrace). Then they open all the gates to the human-oriented part of the ranch and let the horses roam where they will for the night. Instead of admiring the sight of horses over THERE behind that fence, the horses were cropping delicious greens out front of the Boots And Hats cabin, and wandering down the path to the office, and generally making themselves free of the entire property. I’m guessing there are probably between 60 and 100 horses grazing around.


(This based on the fact that for the trail ride yesterday, I was assigned saddle number 54 and I sat and watched as probably about 53 other riders were assigned their horses and mounted up. There was one group still left on the ground when we followed Lance the Jonas Brother up the trail, and their horses were being led up to them too—plus there were lots of horses still left in a holding pen to the side.)


Last night, Rusty and I were in our tiny cabin. He was watching Ted Lasso in his little bedroom and I was monitoring which episode he was on and enjoying it from my bedroom. I was actually in bed in my nightshirt, but we’d had lots of leaping-out-of-bed-to-see-what-THAT-was events, so I was IN bed but I wasn’t going to sleep.



One of the things I’d been up for had been the arrival of a small cluster of horses who had made it up the hill. One of them was either Dunder or his brother Thunder, who’d come to crop the salad bar at the foot of the stairs to my cabin. “Enjoy,” I told him happily. “Now is the time.”


(One of the things was a black bear wandering down the hillside. Limber, sprightly Douglas appeared on my porch and waved his arms frantically through the screen door. “Bear!” he whisper-shouted. “Bear!”)


Bad bear photo. Here's a slightly better photo of a mule deer.


Just as the long evening turned into real darkness, Rusty appeared in my bedroom. “There are horses out there! I mean, right there!”


“I know.”


“They are so cool! Is that one Dunder?”


“Either Dunder or Thunder.”



“Damn. That’s a big horse!” Rusty has an instinctive appreciation for the oversized. He tore his gaze from the window to comment to me. “We’ve…we’ve tamed some charismatic megafauna!”


“Yes, we have.”


“God. They are so cool!”


I perked up. Mr. I Don’t Like Horses was…what? Interested? Fortunately, I knew the right person to further this introduction. “Lexie’s sitting on her porch. Want her to introduce you?”


“Nah. I mean, well, um, no. I’d have to put on my shoes…”


I swung out of bed again. I’d already demonstrated the nightshirt to the entirety of the Elkhorn Ranch. “Lexie, will you introduce Rusty to the horses?”


“Sure.” She’d already made friends with a grey when she took Tobi to meet a horse, and she was willing to lead Rusty up to the horses. He followed her with undeniable glee. It gives me such a buzz to see him overcome his native cool. I stood on the porch and watched in the near darkness as Lexie made friends with a sorrel. Rusty immediately joined in the scritching, doing a little cooing of his own.


Dunder (or Thunder) came up to see what was going on and Rusty switched his allegiance without even waiting for Lexie’s introduction. Dunder was placid and good; Rusty went from head to neck to back to haunch, admiring Dunder’s large magnificence. “Watch out for the back end, Rusty,” Lexie said.


“That’s what I figured.”


The sorrel butted in and Dunder went back to cropping—but it wasn’t long before Rusty turned back to the larger horse again. (The sorrel butted Lexie’s shoulder as she walked away; more!) Rusty was still cooing at Dunder, and Dunder was enjoying both the attention and the salad bar. Lexie gave up first, going back to her cabin and trailed by her buddy. Rusty was left in the vast darkness, identifiable mostly by the grin in his voice. When it was too dark to see, he came back to the porch, where I resisted the urge to either coo or berate him for insisting he didn’t like horses…


…it was a very good evening!


Rusty has also taken to fly-fishing with tremendous gusto. Stephen, Rusty, and I did the “fishing clinic” with delightful Jack the day before—no fly-fishing in Yellowstone until Jack has taught us how to fly-fish. Rusty enjoyed it so much that he wedged himself into the clinic that Lexie took for a second round. Jack set him up farther down the pond and mostly ignored him. I wandered down to provide color commentary, and was amused to see that Jack was pleased to refine Rusty’s technique. Great satisfaction for all.




Today (Tuesday) is my day of greatest endurance; I’m on a second trail ride this morning, and then I’m fishing in Yellowstone. Rusty is fishing this morning AND this afternoon; he’s caught the bug. But I have a warm little coal burning in my chest; I think that the next time he’s told that he could go riding if he dropped a few pounds, he might actually do it.


I’m not sure what Linda’s role is at the ranch, but she has both an air of authority as well as salt-and-pepper hair that makes me assume she’s been running trail rides forever; I like to imagine she’s in charge. She stopped by our dinner table last night to ask whether we were riding today. Lexie admitted that her knee was singing by the end of the first ride, and Linda nodded wisely.


“All right, then—on Tuesday, we’ll get you all on a somewhat more challenging ride.” (Wait—MORE challenging?? I was worn out yesterday!) “That way you’ll know if you can handle the all-day ride on Thursday.”


I thought we’d already decided we did NOT want to do the all-day (and it wasn’t just singing knees and bruised butts; it was also a potential lack of mounting blocks that would make life challenging out in the Big Wild, as well as the irksome absence of luxury toilet facilities…), but Lexie seems to have been swayed by Linda into not YET giving up the all-day. Me, I am definitely limiting my rides to half days!


Breakfast is over and we’ve all dispersed to our various locations. I’ve got 45 minutes before the morning ride (why do *I* have to do the more challenging ride because LEXIE isn’t sure about Thursday?!). That’s just enough time to head over to the office to upload grainy photos of black bears and mule deer, and post this blog. It’s going to be a good day!


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