One of my favorite books as a small child was Cowboy Andy by Edna Walker Chandler. Published in 1959, it told the story of young Andy, a city boy who, like me as a child, liked to watch westerns on TV (my favorite was Bonzana). Andy gets a taste of life on a real working ranch and learns to rope and ride. Although I grew up in small farming community, like Andy, I didn’t know anything about cowboys or riding horses, and all I knew about being a cowboy came from Adam, Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright.
The first time I was ever on a horse was vacationing with my family at Lake Tahoe when I was around 5 or 6 years old. The only other time was on one of those dime store mechanical pony rides. If I remember correctly, the ride on the real horse was at the Ponderosa Ranch of Bonanza TV fame. My brothers and I, as well as other first-timers, followed a guide on a dusty trail through the forested ranch, though the horses were so trained and docile that they could have walked the trail on their own.
Though I didn’t have a cowboy hat or six-shooter at my side, I imagined being one of the Cartwright boys riding the range. That was up until the point where I couldn’t make my horse turn. The guide had to trot back to where I was and gently nudge my steed to get back with the program. It was then that my dreams of being one of the Cartwrights — or even Cowboy Andy — faded away.
A few weeks ago, reporter Reed Fujii and I had an assignment on the Copper Valley Trails Company in Copperopolis. The business offers guided trail rides though the scenic foothill ranches surrounding Copperopolis. In the Town Square, we were met by owner Mike Toberer, who took us to a nearby corral to mount our awaiting steeds. Toberer’s 5-year-old daughter, Gracie, tagged along on her own horse.
I got on my horse a bit gingerly but tried to look like an old hand. Reed was set up with a mule. You’d think that with the mule’s reputation for stubbornness, Reed was in for trouble, but Toberer said that a good saddle mule not only cost less than a horse but was easier to train and ride. He gave us a few pointers on how to sit and steer our mounts, and then we were off. Like the horses when I was little, our rides were very tame, and they pretty much new the trails by heart. Remembering my last experience, I tried to nonchalantly hide any nervousness I might have had.
Toberer complimented Reed on how well he rode. Me? Well, not so much. He put it off on the amount of equipment I was carrying. It was an easy ride, but my only problem, other than trying not to be shown up by a 5-year-old, was that every time I held up my camera to take a picture, I would slacken the reins and my horse would stop to feed on some dried grass along the trail. Perhaps he sensed my trepidation and took advantage of a greenhorn in the saddle to grab a snack or two on our trip.
After about an hour, we ended up back at the corral, none the worse for wear. I was just a bit saddle sore, but the successful ride rekindled my dreams of living a cowboy’s life — if only for a little while.