A short story that I had originally written for and had published in Western Horseman some years ago.
The Quarter Acre Cowboy
We easterners read with wishful hearts about the countryside and chores in which your westerners ride and perform. The stories regarding ranch life become the stuff our dreams are made of. We read those accounts and imagine ourselves on a good broke horse, riding the thousands of acres of pastures moving cattle. Those are the pioneers of old even if they now drive air-conditioned 4X4 dullies, use computers, and eat low fat foods. Instead, we range our quarter acre spreads behind lawn mowers rangling crabgrass or herding the neighbor’s cat.
We enjoy the look and feel of the cowboy; their hats, boots, spurs, ropes, saddlebags, cell phones, and pagers. Can’t you imagine Ike Clampet getting beeped in the middle of the OK Corral? He ducks behind a water barrel. Reaches for his cell phone to return his page and calls for help. The outcome might have been different. Not far from fiction, our group had to institute a policy of no pagers on our rides (or at least set them to vibrate). Since riding is recreation not vocation, we might be overlooking a beautiful valley watching deer graze lazily below in the meadow, and one of our group is conducting business on his cell phone (usually me).
We must plan our trail rides and since all of us have full time jobs, they are restricted to weekends. Rides are organized well in advance and are usually one day trips. At least once a month in the summer, we get away for a weekend. This past spring, we trailered to the pines in New Jersey (doesn’t even sound western). We made camp at D&D Stables in Bueno, NJ, a 97 acre farm that was a thoroughbred training facility at one time. Chico, our host for the weekend, holds a horse auction every other Friday night and our group arrived in the rain in time to attend. We parked our trailers in a circle in the in-field of the race track (besides protection from attack, there is a practical reason for the circle but nobody remembers what it is). Our group of 15 was the first of an expected 125 or so riders for the two day ride.
When we think of our western riders camping out, we imagine them sleeping on their saddles under the stars, eating biscuits over a camp fire made by someone named Cookie, and using a shovel in the woods when nature calls. Some of our trailers, have sleeping compartments, hot running water for showers, and the ever important port-a-potty. Our meals for the weekend were catered and if you went away hungry, it was your own fault. We dined on Chicken Marsala and baked Virginia ham, with all the accoutrements of course. We started out at 10:00 on Saturday morning in a light rain. Only about 70 riders showed due to the weather (such fortitude). When Chico met us on the trail with his Ford F150 “chuckwagon” full of sandwiches, soda, cookies and hard candy, some of us started calling him Cookie. We got back to the stable at 4:00 and, after tending the horses, had a great dinner then a dance in the sale barn during a horrific rain storm. A DJ played some country music but mostly 60’s rock and roll. Ever try doing the mashed potatoes in riding boots? “Shucks ma'am, pardon my spurs”. Afterwards, I splashed my way back to the trailer, brushed my teeth, and watched the news on TV hopeful for tomorrow’s weather. That’s the way of the weekend cowboy.
Most of the time we ride locally but that still involves planning and a trailer. Our trips are 5 or 6 hour rides with a break for lunch. Although the scenery is usually pleasant and the company terrific, it pales in comparison to the splendor of the big sky country. The only wildlife we see, aside from deer and chipmunks, are the nameplates on automobiles (Cougar, Lynx, Mustang and such). We must cross blacktop roads, wait for traffic, and there is the ever present power lines and their poles to spoil the view. When we go to the mountains in Hazelton, PA, we pretty much contend with quads and dirt bikes. In our local area of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, there are few places for a weekend ride that a rider would not encounter “civilization”. The further west we go the more rural it becomes, but never the expanse of the Great Planes.
There are numerous riding clubs that we sometimes join forces with and we may end up anywhere within a 100 mile radius of Ramrod’s Stable for the day or the weekend. In our immediate area around Bucks County, PA, we have some of the prettiest places in which to ride. There are state and local parks such as Tyler, Chartlesburg, Fairmont, and historic Valley Forge, and Gettysburg. There are the pines in New Jersey, and the Rockefeller estate in Westchester County, New York. We ride locally at Greenlane Reservoir or at Lake Nockamixon. Other then the setting through which we ride, our enjoyment is the courtesy and companionship of our group, the feel of our horses, the flat out gallops that turn into horse races, the lunch breaks and jokes that always accompany our ride. Forgotten is the work week we left behind or the one in front. For the time being, we are what we want to grow up to be … cowboys.