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Ride 'Em, Cowgirls

When we hit Colorado for our big family
vacation, we were determined to do all things Coloradian
(Coloradious?). We hiked the Garden of the Gods, we fished in
hard-to-reach canyons, we rode the train up Pike’s Peak. And,
oh yes, we met horses.

At ages 3 and 5, the girls are both too young to do any sort of
trail ride, which is hard for me since horseback riding is one of
my favorite things to do, and one of the best ways to explore an
area on vacation. But the girls had heard a lot about Colorado
ranches and riding a horse was one of the two things Maddie HAD to
do (the other? Fishing) so I cast about until I found a place that
offered pony rides. The rides were contingent upon there being a
gentle horse left after all the tourists had headed out on trail
rides, so it was a sort of “show up and hope” kinda
thing. They advertised the rides were available between 10 and 2,
so we showed up at 9:45, hoping the early bird catches the worm. I
mean, horse.

Apparently I’d forgotten to set my
clock back to mountain time, because it was only 8:45 a.m. by their
clocks. Which meant we had to sit around and watch them wrangle
about thirty tourists onto horses for the morning trail rides. I
sat there in dread, afraid the girls would melt down with boredom.

Fortunately (or unfortunately for my future pocketbook) boredom was
never an issue. The girls sat on a bench and watched the wranglers
saddle horse after horse, breathlessly enthralled with the scene in
front of them. As the horses were led over to the railing for a
drink and a rider, the girls almost squealed with delight, so close
to touching a horse were they. Patiently they waited until every
other person had been saddled up, and we dared to ask if there were
any child-appropriate horses left behind.

We had good news and bad news. Apparently, the owner was so tickled
with the girls and their patience that he’d purposefully held
back one gentle mare. Unfortunately, there was only one, so the
girls had to go one at a time. Maddie, with her typical fear
issues, elected to wait and watch Cora go first.

Cora had absolutely no fear whatsoever, and she stood at the edge
of the porch, straining, one arm wrapped around the rail to tether
her down, as the horse approached. Cora’s riding helmet was
almost as big as she was, but she didn’t complain at all as I
strapped it on, only motioning impatiently when it blocked her view
of the horse. A real, live cowboy was her wrangler, and he walked
towards her, all handlebar mustache, beat-up old Stetson hat, bolo
tie on a plaid cowboy shirt, even full-length fringed chaps
brushing his boots.

“Hey, little lady. This-here’s Silky, and she’ll
be your ride.”

Well, couldn’t you just die? The girls were ecstatic that the
horse was named after their beloved loveys, and I saw
Maddie’s last bit of fear drain away from her. Cora held her
arms up and the cowboy lifted Cora up onto the horse- not pony, but
full-grown horse – and head off. Cora’s feet
didn’t even reach the edges of the saddle, but she clutched
that saddle horn and beamed from ear to ear as the cowboy led her

The “ride” wasn’t far, of course – just a
few circles in a nearby ring. But it was a by-god horse, and it
wasn’t tethered to a pole like at the fair. This horse was
free like the wind, and you could see Cora’s absolute
excitement. In fact, the only thing I noticed more than her
excitement was her complete comfort on the animal. Every once in a
while she’d reach down and pat the horse’s neck
comfortingly – where she learned this, I have no idea. Then
she’d squint at the horizon and I could see complete
contentment cross her face as she rode around that paddock at the
foot of Pike’s Peak. Cora had asked me to walk alongside her,
but she never once looked at me for reassurance.

By the time we got back to the bench, Maddie was ready to tear Cora
off the horse in her excitement. Before the wrangler had even left
the waiting area, I could see Maddie was in mid-story in her mind:
an exciting adventure featuring Cowboy Princess Madeleine. Maddie
had scorned me coming with her, so we watched from afar as she took
her turn.

Before we’d even left the porch the girls were begging to do
it again, and I promised we’d come back later in the week. At
one of our stops, the girls found matching pink cowboy hats, and
insisted we buy them. Cora wore hers off and on, but Maddie was
stuck to that thing the rest of the week. On the day we hit the zoo
I offered the girls pony rides, which both scorned as being
“small little ponies just tied to a pole.” Apparently
we’ve become horseback-riding snobs.

Unfortunately, we weren’t as lucky at the stables the second
time around, and there were no horses available. I told the girls I
was fairly certain there are horses and cowboys in Texas, and maybe
we’d see if we could find another ride when we got home.
They’ve brought it up a few times, and I can see I’m
going to have to follow this thing through. I have to go carefully,
though, or we’ll be in the midst of a full-blown equestrian

And I thought ice-skating would be an expensive hobby.


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