Tag Archives: riding vacations

A New Year, A New Look, A New Website

We all reinvent ourselves from time to time. In my case, this usually involves hair color and heavy eyeliner. In the case of the Padlock Ranch, all it took was a fab new website to make what was really good look utterly amazing.

That’s right…the other day I clicked on over to see what was going on at the edge of the Bighorns, and wasn’t I just plain dazzled to see all new photos, an easy-to-navigate new layout, and all-in-all, a fresh new look that befits the place that captured my heart not so many months ago. I can promise you it is only a matter of finding the right time and I’m going back.

I urge you to find the right time, too.

Whether discovering it for the very first time or discovering it anew, the Padlock is where we can all find a little bit of peace and purpose in 2012.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

CLICK HERE FOR A LOOK AT THE PADLOCK’S NEW LOOK


Trip to the Padlock Ranch in Wyoming Featured in November Issue of TRAILBLAZER MAGAZINE

Check out the November issue of TrailBlazer Magazine–now available where magazines are sold (subscriptions available online at www.trailblazermagazine.us). I documented our August trip to the Padlock Ranch in Wyoming in a feature article–just turn to page 22!

Pick up a copy of the November issue of TrailBlazer Magazine and turn to page 22! Makes me miss Wyoming...


My Son, the Buckaroo

My week in Wyoming at the Padlock Ranch was the longest stretch of days I’ve been away from my son, Augustin, who is two-and-a-half (or a little older) now. Cell phones didn’t work and I convinced myself the “emergency” house phone was for that only…so no morning catch-ups or “night night Mommies” or “I’ll be back soons.”

These days, when one is uber-connected to everybody, everywhere, all the time, this can be a difficult thing. At first I felt like something was missing, like I’d forgotten my hat or my glasses. But gradually I grew accustomed to just thinking about “back home” and all those who awaited our return, and a moment of silence became the equivalent of telephone pleasantries. I like to think this system of communication, however intangible and unquantifiable, worked just fine.

As is evident by this blog, we DID have internet–wireless access was fantastic throughout the Padlock guest lodge. So my son got to see pictures of me, and hear all about my adventures “riding horsies,” via the words I recorded each evening. After our first day he renamed his rocking horse Copper (as she was formerly called “Margaret” for reasons unclear to me, I tend to think this is an improvement). And then, after seeing a few more photos posted here, he grabbed his grandmother’s sunhat–and she captured the moment on camera.

I give you my son, the Buckaroo.

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Cattle “Hat Cam” Debuts and One Week Later, I Dare to Reminisce…

I wonder if there is a line of demarcation following momentous events in one’s life—you know, a dateline you cross that either makes it okay to talk about “it” some more, or on the other hand, signals a point when you really should just let it rest and let everyone around you forget what a great time you had…since it was probably without them.

In this case, a week of work and city under the belt, plus an unruly hurricane bearing down on the Trafalgar Square Books offices, not to mention the homes of family, friends, and colleagues, has made the fading taste of latigo, sweat, and sun-faded grasses a little sweeter and a little stronger…dare I say for “old times’ sake”? It doesn’t take long to make a soft bed and good meal a distant memory. Nor do many days have to pass before a new friend, once close enough to share a quiet riding moment with…or a sunrise…or a flickering campfire…seems almost a stranger again.

The horses I had the pleasure of riding over the course of the week I spent with TSB Managing Director Martha Cook on the Padlock Ranch in Ranchester, Wyoming, have no doubt forgotten me—my scent, my voice, perhaps my weight in the saddle. They have done well by another rider by now…or more likely several. I am not inclined to imagine that they might remember me the way I remember them: Copper…patient, sure-footed, and sweet-faced; Smoky…with a nose for a cow and an unusual gaseous propensity; and TJ…so sensitive off the leg and weight aid, big, and handsome. When we drove off the ranch we crossed their dateline. We no longer figure into their work-oats-range equation.

I’ve wondered a bit if I’ll find the time in the months ahead to sift through the hundreds of photos I haven’t posted here, in order to show more of them. I’ve pondered whether it is worth it–whether anyone really cares. But then, this evening, I finally had a chance to edit down one of the “hat cam” movies I managed to capture (against all odds), and I found myself transported for an hour to a quiet mountain range deep in the middle of this expansive country. I lived it all over again, for a few minutes, right here at my desk.

And that is worth sharing.

The song is “Grandfather’s Brand” by the Padlock’s own Jesse Ballantyne, from the album Cowboy Serenade. Like it like I do? You can download it HERE.


Last Day, Final Ride, Flight Home

To our surprise, we had time to go for one final ride before we caught our (very small) plane out on Saturday. It seemed appropriate to “wind down” and bid a final adieu to one of the views that had, frankly, become almost commonplace over the course of the week. We saddled up and climbed up through the horse pasture behind the guest lodge, and after a brisk canter brought us to the top of one of the Wolf Mountains (really, hills), we looked away toward the Bighorns, Sheridan, Dayton, and Ranchester.

It seems natural that on a last ride on a last day of a memorable and wonderful week one would spend time considering how best to revisit the adventure again in the future…it seems natural that one would go over and over the highest of the (many) high points and laugh again at the goofiest moments–smile at the touching or tender ones.

We did all that, I’m sure.

I write this now, just outside Boston, on a muggy night with the window open before my computer. I can see the chain link fence across the way glinting in the street light. I can hear the cars going by on McGrath Highway. It was only yesterday that I rode TJ  up a Wyoming hillside next to Martha and Steve…but it already feels like years ago.

I miss it.

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Day Five: Making Movies and “Hot Dogs” (and a Little Riding, Too)

So, I know I’m behind a day, but yesterday started early and ended late (which here, is a good thing). The good news is today you will get two posts complete with tons of pictures (to drool over, I should think).

We were up early Thursday morning…the sun was just rising when we all made our way out to a draw just a ways down from the lodge. We were there to see the horses brought in–or rather, to watch a film crew watch the horses brought in.

A French film crew creating a documentary about the West had requested Padlock provide a number of opportunities to obtain footage, and I have to say, I can’t imagine a better setting. With no outside distraction, breathtaking scenery, and the drama provided by the livestock, horses, and hands, what more could you really want? (A couple of curious greenhorn bystanders, perhaps?)

We were on the ground early in the day, and got a lesson in colt-starting from Steve Johnson and his son Isaac (a film crew request). The colt belonged to Padlock Assistant Operations Manager Les Nunn, and he was a bright, nice-looking colt that had obviously been started right. It was only his second time in the round pen, but he advanced through the lessons in a mannerly way, and before we all knew it, Isaac was on him. As many of you know, started right, a colt isn’t going to put on a bronc show the first time a rider gets in the saddle, and this morning’s demonstration was testament to that.

We rode out later to drive some cattle, again for the film crew (as well as to check for foot rot), and it was by far the most intense “ranch” experience I’ve had yet. We had to gallop up and down some steep hillsides and actually (no, really!) turn the cows, keep them together, and all the things you see on TV and wish you had the guts to do.

The Padlock’s hundreds-of-thousands of acres is actually made up of a number of smaller ranches that were acquired over the years by the ranch founders (as well as the original Padlock lands). One of these, the – V (umm, I think that’s the right way to spell what sounds like “Bar Vee”) has some older ranch buildings on it, so we took the wildest ride I’ve ever had in a golf cart over a rocky cross-country “road” (I guess you could call it) to have a look (and there Padlock CEO Wayne Fahsholtz saved us from a long walk back by filling up our tank with diesel). The property is truly lovely, and the terrain quite different than the valley in which the guest lodge is located. Perhaps this is what has impressed me most about this trip to Wyoming–the remarkably varied landscape, from lush green to arid dry to rocky mountaintop.

Our day again ended around a campfire, where I was introduced to the best “hot dog” I’ve ever tasted–they are actually huge and sausage-like, but filled with Country Natural Beef (yep, the very same from the Padlock program). I also was informed that a hot dog is also known as a “tube steak”…perhaps that makes it more palatable? Knowing that it is all-natural beef certainly does…

So, the moon came up, the doughies came out, and pretty soon we knew that this day, too, was done.

That it, in fact, was a “wrap.”

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Day Four: Muffins, Mountains, and “Doughies” (and Horses, Too)

This morning I had the best muffin I have ever tasted for breakfast. I thought it might be the way it was baked, but I’ve discovered it owes its singular “delectability” to the fact that, while still warm, it was rolled in butter and doused in cinnamon and sugar.

I somehow ended the day as I began it, reveling in the marvels of culinary wizardry (and frankly, butter) as Martha and I were introduced to a campfire treat known to the Johnson clan as a “Doughie.” With the help of Pillsbury biscuit mix and a patent-pending cooking device that I can promise you will all want once you’ve tried one of these buttery balls of coal-fired goodness, Kristin Johnson delivered, as promised, something far better than the traditional S’more. No kidding. Doughies are the next big thing (around campfires, anyway).

Sandwiched between puffed, buttered, and sugared pastry was a day high up in the Bighorn National Forest–well, we were actually mostly in the grasslands that are located in the Bighorn Mountains, and while some of it is indeed forested, much of it is open and provides grazing for a few hundred head of the Padlock’s cows, calves, and bulls. Ranchers can graze cattle in the Bighorns if they secure a permit to do so, and in tougher years when feed may be scarce, the additional territory can prove invaluable.

Today we actually moved cattle from one part of the permitted area to another, and while really a rather orderly and slow-moving affair, it proved exciting for Martha and me nonetheless. I actually obtained live “hat-cam” footage of this momentous event…unfortunately, the very large video file is proving difficult to download, so you’ll all have to wait.

Isaac Johnson led us all to as idyllic a spot in the world as I’ve yet come upon…at the foot of a rocky face that jutted out of the ground, piercing an untarnished blue sky, wound a cold bubbling river. Far off at the end of a not-unpleasantly boggy meadow we could see two cabins, barely visible at the edge of the woods. A fly fisherman was casting into the rapids as we rode the horses to the river’s edge. There we dismounted, offered the horses a drink and a chance to graze, while we each indulged in a few quite moments…with our horses, with each other, with the grasses at our feet and mountains surrounding us…it was easily the most profound 15 minutes of peace I have known–or at least that I can remember.

I wish that this property, its people, its ideals, and its timelessness, would make itself just a little harder to love and a little easier to leave. I can’t help but wonder, once the sun has set on this week, how I can possibly find a way back again.

Kristin Johnson’s Padlock Muffins (courtesy of Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks)

Padlock Guest Lodge Hostess and Head-of-Kitchen Kristin Johnson highly recommends this cookbook, and after a glance through, I have to agree–the recipes are great and Ree shares charmingly written anecdotes that will surely make you smile. So will these muffins:

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup shortening

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 F

Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, cream the sugar and shortening, then add the eggs. Alternate adding the flour mixture and 1/3 of the milk to the creamed mixture, then fill greased muffin cups, bake for 20 to 25 minutes, and remove from the pan. Melt 2 sticks of butter and combine 1 1/2 cups sugar with 3 teaspoons cinnamon. Dip the warm muffins in  the butter, then roll them in the sugar and cinnamon. Seriously. And Kristin says you really should use 2 sticks of butter.

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Day Three: Holdin’, Headin’, and Hurtin’ (But Not SO Bad!)

Today was our first “full day” at the Padlock, although our third in Wyoming. We awoke to French toast and sunshine (Steve’s wife Kristin does all the cooking…don’t even get me started on the chicken pot pie we had for dinner tonight). Marvelous.

I guess with consistency in mind and perhaps even kindness, Martha and I were once again assigned the same four-legged partners we had yesterday. Copper and Blanco have now had 48 hours to decide whether or not they will put up with our East-Coast ways–and I must say, bless them, they chose to be benevolent souls and carried us through the day with little complaint and a whole lot of downright reliability.

We had a task of sorts today, and that was to ride through the 10,000-acre pasture (ha ha, you might say, when somewhere in the midst of 500,000 acres) and check out the “replacement heifers” (those that are intended to take the place of non-productive cows in coming seasons) and steers marked for the Country Natural Beef program for foot rot–which has been described to me as something akin to athlete’s foot.

It took some time and navigation of steep (yet beautiful) terrain to find our first lot of heifers and steers (at which point Martha and I both exclaimed, “Cows!”…yes, that would indeed identify us as the “dudes” we are). But we were in for some action. Isaac Johnson (Steve and Kristin’s son) rode through the herd as Martha and I “held” them in the midst of a massive prairie dog town. Note: Two things should be mentioned here–1) “Held” may be putting it strongly…we sat on our horses in a particular position on a hillside, as we were instructed, and I DID move back and forth a few times when a particularly brazen cow started to come my way; and 2) have you ever stood in the midst of a prairie dog town? The sound of the prairie dogs chastising you for your presence is almost deafening, and it is actually hard to find solid ground on which to tread, their holes are so darn prevalent.

Anyway, when checking a herd for foot rot, you move through the cows to get them to get up and walk or trot, basically affording you the chance to check them for lameness–a common symptom. If they appear off, they must be roped and checked and if necessary, given an antibiotic, which means they must be removed from the Country Natural Beef program (you don’t really want that).

Isaac found one that was suspect, and to our greenhorn delight, he and his father had to rope it and check it for the fungus, then mark it and release it–it made for exciting riding in and around Chez Prairie Dog.

There’s really nothing like having a cowboy gallop right by you, hot on the heels of a heifer, so close you can hear the rope whizzing through the air. Amazing, intense, and addictive.

So it only seemed appropriate that after dinner (that delicious chicken pot pie I mentioned earlier), we all meandered down to the horse barn for some roping practice on a wooden dummy (the cows were very thankful). Reata Brannaman, who is good friends with Isaac and Cooper Johnson and lives in Sheridan with her dad Buck and mom Mary, gave Martha and I a first-rate, first-timer’s introduction to the art of holding and throwing a rope. Both of us are pretty bad at the whole activity at the moment (let’s just say we have nothing to brag about and lots to be embarrassed by), but we’re surely destined to get better…

And miracle of miracles, despite the fact that we were on horseback from 8:30 to 4:30 today, and rode over varied terrain and at various speeds, neither of us is too lame to climb stairs, sit in a chair, or get in bed.

It really doesn’t get much better than this…

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What’s a Beechcraft Have to Do with Horses?

Tomorrow we leave at 8 am for Sheridan, which means we are at Boston-Logan at 6:15. For those who know me, they understand that the sleep I manage tonight is due to the exhaustion amounted in the days prior…as much as I love to travel, I HATE to fly.

People are often puzzled by my fear. I am not neurotic (or at least, no one has told me I am). I am fairly daring by nature, even foolish on occasion. I ride ski lifts without pause. I balk not at the flimsy fair rides that visit the local village of Tunbridge, Vermont, every year. I ride horses, for goodness sake.

But flying, oh flying. I count babies and holy men and take a pill and hope for sleep. And that’s on a BIG plane.

Tomorrow we are flying on a Beechcraft from Denver to Sheridan. These planes have propellers. Well, I know most planes have propellers, but these have propellers I can hear and see.

This post will either save me or doom me.

Tomorrow evening, we shall see.

Til the Mint Bar, I hope….I’m thinking of vast ranges and distant horizons….and getting on a horse, from the ground.


My First Ecotone

I’m an editor and a reader (at least, I used to be a reader back when I had time…) but for some reason I’ve never come across the term “ecotone” before tonight. I was doing a little “where-am-I-going-in-five days” research and I discovered that the Padlock Ranch (our destination, in case you missed it thus far) describes itself as follows:

“Padlock Ranch is located in the ecotone between the Big Horn Mountains and the mixed prairies of eastern Montana and Wyoming. This location provides a mixture of habitat types supporting a great diversity of plant and animal species.”

Huh, I thought. Ecotone. Wikipedia, here I come.

Whether you believe the stuff you read on that website or not, this is what “they” (in the much broader sense, of course) had to say:

An ecotone is a transition area between two kinds of landscape--Padlock Ranch, our destination next week, describes itself as just such a junction in time and place.

“An ecotone is a transition area between two adjacent but different patches of landscape, such as forest and grassland.[1] It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest and grassland ecosystems).[2] An ecotone may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line. The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension.”

This got me to thinking, as words often do, of how appropriate language can be at times (in contrast with how frustrating, confusing, an uninspiring it can so often be on a day-to-day basis). Here Martha and I are, about to leave our familiar landscape, our native roots, our comfort zone of similar foods, accents, and political views, and we’re setting off for a place altogether different. We will indeed be fed and housed on the land that joins our country’s distant coasts; we will observe, learn, and experience in an attempt to blend what we know of life, rest, scenic beauty, and horsemanship with that which we have never seen before in person. Will sharp boundaries be apparent or will we transition seamlessly from our East Coast world to the West?

Without hesitation, when I tell others about the long-dreamed-of trip that now lies in our IMMEDIATE future, they respond quickly and enthusiastically, “Oh, you’re going to have a BLAST!” But I, perhaps because of a tendency toward angst, think this experience will be about more than good times and great photographs. I’d venture to say it could even be a sea-changer. Once we have viewed a new patch of land, a new stretch of vista, and new corner of starry sky, will that not color our opinion of that which we left back home? Upon returning, will we not love it more or less than we did before Wyoming?

Transitions, by nature, are difficult fodder–for the body, mind, and spirit. And yet by choice we are headed to a bit of space that identifies itself as the very place transitions occur and where the rise and fall of area ecosystems–minute and grand–are borne out.

I think somewhere, deep within, we all know where to find what we’re looking for.