The horse carrying me, an enormous black named Dunder, began huffing and puffing as we went up a reasonably steep slope. I have great empathy for Dunder. I make the weight limit for people who are allowed to ride at the Elkhorn, but just barely, and I suspect Dunder is often paired with the oversized beginning rider.
I was telling him that I knew how he felt; I go through cardio and balance classes breathing like that. “I have to move this bulk around most of the time. I’m sorry you got the duty today, Dunder.”
It occurred to me that it was Monday after 10am. Time for cardio class. So the huffing and puffing were right in line with the rest of my life!
(Don’t point out to me that there is a two-hour time difference between Montana and Virginia; allow me my giggles.)
The best part about the Elkhorn is that they have MOUNTING BLOCKS to get me onto my enormous, smart, patient horse! I didn’t have to pull Dunder over onto his side while trying to mount!
The second-best part was that my little sister Lexie, who really sincerely is a skilled equestrienne, ALSO wanted the mounting block, so I wasn’t the only one. HUZZAH!! Douglas, Trystyn, and Stephen (who weigh about a hundred pounds between them) mounted up from the ground like circus stars. “Is this the first time you’ve ridden?” the hand asked Douglas who had made it into the saddle like the parkour star he is. “No,” said Douglas. “Never.”
“Huh,” said the hand.
At last we were mounted up, breathing in the scent of horse (which is a unique perfume; I forget how much I like it between times of riding—and since it’s been about 45 years since I rode, I greeted the fragrance like a long-lost bestie). A Jonas Brother in a jaunty cowboy hat led us off. His name was actually Lance, which made things entertaining. Douglas and Trystyn’s dog is named Lance. Trystyn had been paired with Ollie, a gray whose face was half black. “His hair is dyed like mine!”
She also noted that her sister’s name was Ollie, although I suppose that should probably be spelled Allie. Maybe not.
We followed a trail up the hill and past our cabin, where Rusty was NOT sitting on the porch to snap a quick candid (although he did yell back from inside when Douglas called to him; we suspect he was napping), and along a trail through meadows and pine forests.
Dunder tested me, just as Linda the trail boss told me he would. He wanted to dine on a salad bar along the way, so we had to have words. Most of the time I won, but occasionally he came up with an entire chef’s salad which he would munch loudly to shame me. For the most part, though, he was a sweetheart. He has a nearly-identical brother named Thunder at the ranch; I’m hoping Dunder and Thunder can take turns carrying me about the wild.
I got the Jonas Brother to take a photo of the five of us on our trusty steeds. Lexie and I have decided that this is the view in the only photograph we have of our mother at the Elkhorn. We’re not going to look at the original too closely, because it almost CERTAINLY is not—but allow us our giggles.
There came a point where the Jonas Brother’s horse wanted to go right and Joe Jonas wanted to go left; they had words. Joe won, of course. But now we suspect that Joe was SUPPOSED to take us greenhorns along that path and back to the ranch; the check-you-out riding session was only supposed to last for an hour.
Instead we were out for almost three. By the end, they radioed Lance to ask where the hell he was. By the time we made it back, I was absolutely wiped out, and I can only imagine how Dunder felt. My inner thighs were singing, my knees were objecting, my little toe in my borrowed cowboy boot wanted me to know that I’d been keeping my weight in the outsides of my feet for long enough. It was like having Barbara the cardio class teacher and brilliant trainer floating along ghostly beside me, telling me how I could correct my form.
Too late, Barbara—too late, Dunder. I dismounted so gracelessly that the large ranchhand advising me actually had to hold me up. I thought about telling him it was Monday at ten AM; we all had to work hard…but by then it was Monday a little before 1pm and I was too tired to make a giggle.
But verticality was attained—slowly. Then the guy showed me how to take off Dunder’s IMMENSELY heavy saddle and where to put it; how to currycomb the sweat stains on Dunder’s black and beautiful back, and how to lead Dunder to the corral, where NICK Jonas was waiting to free him and turn the bridle over to me. I had to walk back to the barn again with Frankenstein knees and hang it on the appropriate saddle horn (mine).
I gathered with my family to head for lunch. As one we decided we did NOT want to go on the 2pm trail ride we’d signed up for; the morning had been enough. We met up with Rusty, who was totally cheerful and did not laugh at our fatigue. And now I’m sitting on my porch, working up the energy to peel off the cowboy boots. Here's a photo of them. Worn hard by decades of guests before me. I quite like them.
Lexie is sitting about thirty feet away on her porch and we can call out to each other as we melt in the cool afternoon breezes. Stephen has come to visit her, and we’re all sitting quietly. It’s lovely.
Rusty is down at the office, watching Ted Lasso on the only available internet. It’s his first time watching that wonderful show. “Who’s your favorite?” Lexie wanted to know. Rusty thought about it. “Coach Beard.” We decided Rusty is a lot like Coach Beard.
Ah—here he comes up the dirt road. Hiya, pardner!
He's so respectful of his mother. I couldn't love him more.
As I sit here, the air is cool. There are clouds, but they’re intermittent. The sun is definitely “on.” The colors are luscious and rich. The cabins are almost red, they’re so brown, striped with the (what do you call it? Caulk?) that seals them up. The hillside is green with grasses. Wildflowers are speckled across the landscape like a Monet. The mountain in my view, framed by the porch, looks like it’s all black or sand-colored scree where pine trees have managed to find a foothold. Rarely I can hear (or think I hear) cars passing on the road at the river, but mostly I hear the wind, and occasionally a bird call. It’s breezy and cool on the porch. Rusty saw a deer a few minutes ago, and he spotted a marmot tending to its tunnels just to the side of oru cabin.
If life could be a screen saver, this would be it. I shall nap now.