During my first horsemanship fundamentals course, I did not forget to breathe. That happened the following day when I took the same beginning class again. At Tanque Verde Dude Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, I was willing to get back on a horse. I had been terrified as a child when an adult took me riding and cantered on the horse. I had been promised we would only walk. I remember grabbing at her and screaming to get off but she just laughed and kept going. I did not ride again for decades.
Years later, I was again promised that we would only walk. This time I was in Costa Rica and again I was on a horse that was running away with me. My friend, Janine, said, “I cannot get you off of that horse until you stop screaming!” I yelled back at her, “I cannot stop screaming until you get me off of this horse.” Yes Dallas, we had a problem.
I did continue to ride that day in Costa Rica on a decidedly more docile horse but I remained so scared that at one point, my contact lens fell out of my eye and onto my jeans. I was no longer blinking and my contact simply dried up and landed on my leg.
VIDEO: From City Slicker to Cow Girl at Tanque Verde Dude Ranch
So it was with trepidation that I agreed to try again. Braelyn, the wrangler, helped me get on my horse, Frankie, and explained the basics to myself and four other riders in the arena. We were to walk our horses around some barrels and in-between cones. I was focused on the facts that I was up high in the air and there was no seatbelt on a horse. I did as she requested and walked my horse around the arena. Towards the end of our beginner class, Braelyn came over and asked if I wanted to trot with my horse. I said, “No. Thank you. I am good.” She said, “Everyone else has done it so I just want to know if you want to try it.” I said, “Not today.”
I had no idea that there would be accidental trotting the following day. I showed up the next morning for Horsemanship Fundamentals and reminded Braelyn and the other wranglers that I wanted a nice calm horse. The class that day was much larger and we had two wranglers with us. As the children were in the closest arena, we had to walk on our horses to the next arena. I was told to lean back as we went down the incline so I would stay on my horse. I was scared but I did it and Stetson, my horse, seemed to know what to do. Someone asked me if I audited the beginner class the day before as most people were eager to get to Intermediate Horsemanship or Loping and I was taking fundamentals again.
When Nicole and Courtney told me to walk my horse around the cones, all of a sudden we were going so fast. I kept repeating, “Something is happening!” I did not scream but I was very surprised. Nicole came over on her horse and said, “Breathe. You have to breathe. Take deep breaths down to your pockets. Feel your pockets on the saddle.” I was not sure what happened exactly but Nicole said that my horse knew I was unsure of myself and was taking advantage and went trotting toward the barrel.
I was able to control Stetson during the rest of the session and even noticed how beautiful it was in the desert. I signed up for the afternoon walk ride as I was promised that we would only be walking and there would be no trotting.
When I got off my horse, it was not my most graceful walk back to the room. Another rider told me, “Motrin is your friend. We call it ranch tic-tacs.” I stretched and did not need any painkillers but I enjoyed the camaraderie of ranch life.
I loved when I was at lunch and someone told me, “I am going to saddle up right now so I will talk to you later.” I realized I did not have to go on another ride. I took two classes and I was getting over my fears. But I decided I wanted more time in the saddle to feel more comfortable.
For my first walk ride, my horse, Casey, was not renown as the best behaved. He did not like another horse right behind him or he might kick the offending intruder. He needed his space. I needed a space right near the teacher and I went on this ride right behind Wrangler Taylor. She was the perfect leader for me because she told us all about the cactus and the environment and gave many helpful tips about leaning back when we were going down and leaning forward as we were going up. If I had known we would be traveling up to Cowboy Lookout, I might have chickened out but Casey and I went one step at a time and I remembered to breathe!
The entire team of wranglers was on a first name basis with all 170 horses and extremely skilled in managing the groups of horses and riders. I was working on keeping my heels down and toes up and remembering to enjoy the moment.
I took a class with Hope, the head wrangler, and learned about her journey to the ranch. She and her family used to rescue horses in Oregon and she studied Animal and Comparative Biology of Equine at University of Arizona. Her knowledge about horses was extensive. I learned about King who is a percheron or French Draft Horse and looks like a clydesdale. This giant horse can pull thousands of pounds. I learned that a bigger horse still has the same number of vertebrae in their back so they cannot carry more weight on their backs. The limit for any rider at Tanque Verde Dude Ranch is 250 pounds.
I learned about thoroughbred horses but did not realize I would ride one the following day. These horses are more long legged and built for speed.
Did you know that horses have no muscle below their knee? They only have tendons and ligaments similar to a cow. If your horse has a healthy foot, they are a healthy horse which is why horses need their hooves trimmed and have a “shoe” nailed on. It does not hurt the horse and keeps them safe.
I learned some quirky facts about horses:
*Horses cannot throw up
*There are only male horses at Tanque Verde—-they are all geldings
*Horses do have to lay down to sleep. They can have a nap standing up but must lie down for REM sleep.
For my second walk ride, I was on Sticks, a Thoroughbred horse, and again I walked right behind the wrangler, this time with Sarah. Braelyn made sure I had a good horse and as our group was eleven riders she was with us too.
This time when we got to Cowboy Lookout, I felt very comfortable. My horse was very tall and I was breathing into my pockets. I learned so much about riding and about sitting in the saddle. I can highly recommend Tanque Verde Dude Ranch and being out in the Tucson desert.
There is so much to do at Tanque Verde. I had an evening stroll through the desert with Marcia from the Nature Center and learned about how to use a barrel cactus as a compass, when saguaro grow their arms and which plants are native to Arizona. I met Cal the 86 year old artist who gives the afternoon watercolor class and is part of the evening marketplace once a week. During the evening rattlesnake viper class, I learned that dinosaurs were really more like birds and probably had feathers.
There is something for everyone here. You can fish, swim, hike, play tennis or mountain bike at Tanque Verde. You can participate in Team Penning and round-up cows, you can take a sunset ride or sit on your porch and star gaze. There are private lessons, half day rides and two hour loping rides in the National Park. You can sign up on the website tvrfun or with the manager at dinner or just call the office. You can participate as much or as little as makes you happy.
Personally, I loved watching the sunset when the sky looks like a painting but I also loved the Sunday night homemade bread. Every day there is a very good new flavor to try like Green Chile and Cheddar, Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia and Honey wheat. Do not miss the Cowboy cookout on Weds or Sat night and taking a horse or mountain bike to Thursday or Sunday brunch at the Old Homestead.
Tanque Verde Ranch is 2400 feet above sea level so it is cooler than Phoenix. It is about 70 miles from the Mexican border and eight hours drive from Los Angeles. There are over one million people living in Tucson but you could never tell that at the Ranch.
Spending time at Tanque Verde is a great way to relax. The desert air, amazing sunsets and fantastic food are a terrific complement to the wonderful wrangler team and all the amazing activities. The children looked well cared for during their horseback riding lessons and activities and were thrilled to eat their meals in the kids-only room in the dining hall.
Thank you to the entire team at Tanque Verde Ranch for taking such great care of me! I cannot wait for another chance to saddle up! Hope to meet you riding into the sunset someday soon.
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