A Weekend at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch
Every sunrise and sunset the horses run, untethered, across the dirt road and straight through the wide open field below our cabin. It surprises me at odd times – standing on our way to dinner or while eating breakfast, spoon halfway to my mouth, as the herd thunders past the huge picture windows. This is the bustle of morning traffic. This is the cadence of life on an 1,100 acre ranch.
We're staying here in northern Idaho at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch for a long weekend of relaxation amidst a grueling schedule of work projects. I could not be more excited. I grew up adoring horses, the daughter of a mother who still rides and we consider ourselves, without fail, horse people. Not dog people or cat people. Horse people.
Travis lives on the other end of the spectrum having had very few experiences with horses. Let's just say the second time being a few months ago when he tried to get on his somewhat untrained Indonesian mare from the wrong side, nearly got kicked, then had to be led out of the field when she wouldn't budge. So for all my enthusiasm I'm a little apprehensive about how Western Pleasure Guest Ranch will cater to our differing levels of knowledge and interest.
We arrive on a perfect afternoon in August - the kind where the sun warms your skin, but doesn't make you sweat. Janice, who owns the ranch with her husband, greets us and immediately invites us to their weekly BBQ when she realizes we have no dinner plans.
“It's a little late to get you on the dinner ride, but you can come in the van with Shelley and I, if you're ok with that,” she offers. More than ok, we're thrilled. We soon learn that Shelley, with her neat white hair and penchant for calling people 'dear', is the master mind in the kitchen as well as on the grill. Travis chops more wood for her cooking fire and they bond over being fellow van-lifers as she expertly chars some local, grass-fed beef steaks. Romain hearts with bleu cheese, grilled bread, risotto and vegetables make up just a part of our gourmet feast under the pine trees.
“I waited months for these,” Shelley tells me when I inquire about the delicious stewed tomato and string bean dish, “first time the gal at the farmer's market had them this season.” They taste like leafy sunshine and I applaud her judgement.
I'm usually the first to get sleepy, but tonight I'm wired off the huckleberry lemonade and the camaraderie of fireside conversations. At dark we head back to the lodge and opt to wind down in their outdoor hot tub. Stars shimmer above the tree tops and the occasional whinny carried on a cool breeze reminds us to get to bed for our ride the following day.
After a full night's sleep I can honestly say the beds are appointed with the softest sheets I have ever felt in my life. Our sliding glass doors open up to a wraparound deck with a gorgeous view of the mountains to the east, complemented this morning by a blushing sky of corals and buttery oranges. In the warm dawn light I notice for the first time how beautifully textured everything is: handcrafted ceramic mugs glazed smooth in a brilliant blue, the cool stone fireplace, and the velvety soft wood grain of the walls and furniture. The overall effect is so inviting and homey that I'm not surprised when Travis says he would love to use this as a template for a cabin he plans on building.
We head down to the barn after breakfast. I'm instantly smitten with my mount Dudley. He's a gorgeous gray Appaloosa (swoon), at least 16 hands tall, who is as responsive and sweet as he is beautiful. We'll meet up with Travis later for a more mellow ride, so for now it is Barb (my guide for the day), Janice and I plus Buster the exuberant sheep dog who is quite intent on helping Travis take photos of us riding.
As we lope through the empty field below our cabin retracing and expanding on the route I see the horses take each morning, I am nothing more than a smile with legs. Dudley seems to love this too. His strides elongate, his head and tail held high, and I lean forward as we race across the earth subtly encouraging his spiritedness. We are joy manifested in movement, sunshine on our skin with nothing but space and sky ahead of us.
Hours go by as we explore the hills and meadows of their property. I catch a fleeting glimpse of an elk in the trees, my first one ever. In the quieter moments Barb tells me how this land has been owned and stewarded by Janice's family for five generations. Our final stop is on a higher plateau with uninterrupted views of the vastness. From the air I imagine we are nothing but little specks in a sea of trees, perfectly nestled between Lake Pend Oreille and the Selkirk and Cabinet mountain ranges.
Every sunrise and sunset the horses run to and from the stables, the sound of their hooves like chapters in my mind demarcating the story of our weekend. On our last day, I smile when I watch them because I, too have galloped that route, hair streaming wild in the wind. As we drive down the dusty gravel road back to reality I replace the home screen of my phone and computer with images from our trip; small reminders of unbroken landscapes, the first string beans of the season, soft sheets, and the sound of running wholeheartedly towards whatever work the day brings.