I was one of those horse-crazy girls, the kind who longed for a pony of her own and who collected those plastic lifelike models of foals and mares, colts and stallions. By 12 I had read all the books: My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty, National Velvet, Misty of Chincoteague. During the summers, when I wasn't begging my parents for more riding lessons, I campaigned for us all to go to a ranch. No one else was even slightly willing. As for my pet of choice, my parents explained many times that (a) we couldn't afford a horse, and (b) even if we could, we couldn't pay for a barn, fenced pasture, and the monthly restaurant bills for said animal. Perhaps by way of compensation, I was allowed to have a raccoon, a goat, sheepdogs, cats, and even a monkey. All these years later, the animal obsession continues: my current menagerie consists of two deranged hairless Chinese Crested dogs and four ferrets that live in their own room, the ferretorium. And though I no longer do much riding, my dream vacation still revolves around a ranch.
Naturally my daughter, Willow, five, has no interest whatsoever in horses. Neither does my husband, Tim. He's a golfer. But that didn't stop me from booking us a week in July at a classic Wyoming dude ranch, one that, unlike most, allows even five-year-olds to ride. Tim pointed out that he'd be just back from a long business trip then, so I let him off the hook for this initial expedition. Instead I tried to persuade my mother to join us, but she, having taken over the care of one of my dogs, pleaded pet duty. So I recruited my friend Ellen, a single mother, and her five-year-old son, Obie.
We live in the same Brooklyn apartment building, one floor apart, and Willow and Obie are best buddies. Ellen is the director of an art gallery; she is not exactly your rough-and-ready sort. She's more the "let's go get a manicure and pedicure and then splurge on a weekend in Paris" type. Last summer, she and Obie and friends rented a castle in Portugal, the appeal of which was largely its retinue of servants.
"By the way, Ellen," I remind her, shortly before our departure, "you'll need cowboy boots."
"I'm not buying cowboy boots!" she says. "I have those old Prada boots from last winter. I'll just wear them and if they get ruined, I'll toss them out."
I don't dare ask if the boots have stiletto heels.