The rolling hills of Southern Ohio welcomed us to the last stop of our camping vacation. My son and his family invited me on this adventure which included a "Saddle Sleep-Over" at a popular, local dude ranch.
Fifty years ago I spent twenty minutes on a horse. This experience would be one for the books - the scrapbook, photo album and medical journal.
Together with twenty girl scouts and chaperones, my son Steve, his wife Denise, and kids Kimberly, Rebecca and Brian waited patiently as the guides brought out our rides and gave us tips on mounting, dismounting and animal behavior.
"Can I get a small, horse?" asked twelve year old Rebecca. Eleven year old Brian wished, "Dad, can me and you have a race?
"Does the campground have bugs," teenage Kimberly wondered.
"No racing ... The bugs are letting us visit ... I'll ask the guide to give you a safe horse," their dad answered.
The ranch-hands began pairing up people to horses, matching experience to personalities.
I was the last to get my ride. They saved Beulah for me. She shuffled out of the barn and I had a glimpse of my equal. I was probably her age in horse years and it looked like our bodies sagged and ached in the same places. She was creaky but determined. We were a match.
My son helped me get on the sway-back animal standing before me.
"Grab my foot," I hollered as I swung my leg over Beulah's back. I hung on to the pimple of a saddle horn to keep from falling.
"Move 'em out and stay in line," shouted our leader. "We got a ninety-minute ride ahead."
It had only been ninety seconds and my legs were stretched like rubberbands. Bite the bullet I told myself, you asked for this.
We rode across the highway, through a meadow and toward the tree-studded hills.
"Everyone okay back there?" Steve asked as he turned to check on his family. Seeing all of us still in our saddles, he gave a thumbs up!
Beulah and I were bonded in our struggling tour of duty. For the next few miles up and down the muddy forest, my body bounced in the saddle like a sack of wet cement.
"Gram, tell your horse to giddy-up or we're gonna go in front of you," Brian said.
Before long, our journey continued through open, flat fields. We smelled the campfire before we saw our destination. Our happy group ambled to a halt at the corral.
The guides helped dismount those who needed assistance. I couldn't move. Steve lent a hand to Denise, then came to help me. Slowly he lifted my foot over Beulah's backside. As my feet touched the ground, I was wobbly but could actually stand!
I looked around and saw the cook and cowboys rustling up our much awaited meal. This primitive site offered no showers but two busy port-a-potties.
Steve took our belongings and put them in the biggest cabin. There were mattresses on the floor, but no other creature comfort. The buildings were partially air conditioned by the spaces between the boards and the screenless, open windows. Tired as we were, this would feel like the Hilton.
Pots of soup were bubbling on the fire. Sausages were ready for roasting over the open flames and ingredients for s'mores were piled on a table. Cans of cold pop were stacked in ice buckets and urns of hot coffee washed away our thirst.
"Mom, you gotta taste the soup," Denise said. "It's just like homemade."
We ate the scrumptious meal on benches around the fire. We all relaxed and listened to the scouts serenade us with camp songs until the fire died down. Charades closed the evening festivities.
"How about another s'more, Mom," Denise said, offering me the oozing delicacy.
I ate it while we walked toward our cabin. Denise asked, "You okay, Mom?"
"I have a new respect for cowboys," I said. "How are you?"
"Looking forward to a good night's rest," she said. "And hoping no one wakes up before dawn."
"Anybody want to join me sleeping out under the stars?" Steve asked.
"Wait for me, dad" Rebecca shouted while grabbing her mattress and joining her father.
Everyone settled in for the night and I passed out.
The sun woke me the same time I smelled the coffee.
"Gram, they're making pancakes for everybody," Rebecca announced. "You guys should have slept outside with dad and me. It was great!"
We ate heartily, washing our pancakes down with cowboy coffee, brewed over an open fire in a large pot with grounds in a clean, white sock.
I remembered to snap a few pictures before we left. The guides saddled our horses and we took our place in line. This time Brian went ahead of me.
"Thanks, Gram," he said. "Now it won't be so hard holding Duke back."
Rebecca turned and said, "Hey Gram, don't get lost."
"Ta, ta, Gram, see you at the finish line." Kimberly joked.
Steve looked back at his family and said, "Giddy-up gang!" giving us another thumbs up.
Denise called to me, "At least it's all downhill from here, Mom!"
We started our ninety minute ride back to civilization. Beulah and I quietly celebrated our gallant march toward home. I felt a sense of pride for all of us knowing we met and conquered any fear or obstacle in our path.
Our worries and aches were yesterday's news. Today we were victorious.
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