We go out in the mornings, from 9 to 12, return for lunch, and by two are ready to hit the saddle again, usually till around four. The kids take a morning ride, up and around a short loop trail—sometimes we all go together. It's a hoot to see them stopping their horses from eating grass or letting them drink. They also play games, on horseback, in the arena. But in the afternoons they're tired and content to hang out at the pool, which is when the staff of $7-an-hour baby-sitters comes in handy.
The crew is mostly college-age, young and good-looking, just as the ranch hands were in my childhood books. Lunch is a buffet—make-your-own sandwiches or cheese enchiladas or mac-and-cheese and salad—and though it doesn't seem as if breakfast was that long ago, we have wolfish appetites. Our time before the afternoon ride is spent in the pool, which, though not fancy, has a view of the mountains, on one side covered with piñon, cedar, and fir, on the other with craggy cliffs. The riding is so much fun, and the pool so enticing, that we never do get to try all the other things.
Dinners are early: family-style platters of roast pork or turkey, biscuits, steamed vegetables, all very tasty, plain American food. Every night there's an activity. A great local group, the Prickly Pair, plays cowboy music on fiddle, bass, and guitar; a naturalist comes to talk about the area's wildlife; the daughter of the CM's previous owner presents some ranch history (and tells how, at age six, she and her four-year-old sister would ride from town on their own horses, alone, to stay for the week with Charlie Moore—which makes me a little less nervous about Willow's riding). One night all the kids get driven in a 1954 GMC fire truck down the road to a creek surrounded by giant boulders. We ride over (by car) to join them for a fantastic cookout of steak and beans, potato salad, coleslaw, and 'smores. Afterward some of the ranch hands attempt to play the guitar, and we all attempt to sing.
"Toby," I say after a few days of riding on hilly trails, "my horse is seriously depressed. I'd like to change him."
"Depressed?He's not depressed, he's just lazy. You have to kick him."
Unlike my daughter, I am not into forcing an animal to do something. (This may explain why my pets at home—and my daughter—are so spoiled.)
"I know, but Toby, I can't enjoy the scenery on an animal who acts like every step is hellish. Let me ride something a little more cheerful."
"Satan?" suggests another wrangler. "Or Widowmaker?"
Toby gives me Dakota, who, if not faster, is a great deal jollier.