Wild, wild horses
After a brown-bag picnic lunch under the shade of an oak tree, it's back in the saddle. We ramble on and the incline grows steeper. As we approach a clearing, Bud comes to a halt. C'mon, old guy, I think to myself. But then I see why he's stopped: Scattered in a field, no more than 20 feet from us, are 30 or more mustangs. Twenty feet! Their whinnies are startling this close-up, and their ears flick as they adjust to our presence. The herd gazes back at us curiously. They're smaller and leaner than our barn-fed domesticated horses, and they move more spryly and with more spirit.
Dianne steers us away from the nearest herd so we don't rile the stallion--he's got a six-mare harem to protect. I find it hard to imagine that this guy feels threatened by the sorry looks of me and Bud. I lock eyes with another stallion whose flaring nostrils give me the shivers. Danger! (Okay, moderate danger.) But it's thrilling, nonetheless. This is what I came for!
Round the campfire
After five hours in the saddle, I'm sweaty, dusty, and now bowlegged. Reaching camp is a real hallelujah moment. And the clang of the dinner triangle is even better. We gather at picnic tables for platters of campfire-grilled tri-tip with sweet baked beans and hot rolls. Ted, Dianne's husband and the first real cowboy I've ever met, hands me a frosty beer. He stokes the fire as he rattles off stories about bandits (no joke) while I roast marshmallows. The businessman busts out his harmonica and I kick back. Looking up as it grows dark, I can see the celestial smear of the Milky Way for the very first time. Ever.
Looking down, I notice that my red boots don't have quite the same gleam as they did when I started. A little scuff and dust is all in a day's work for this cowgirl. Yee-haw.