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City Slickers in the Wyoming Wilds

Andrea Gross | Aug 1, 2013, 6 a.m.

The sign says we’re entering paradise. I’m skeptical. The six of us—my husband, myself, our son, daughter-in-law and their two children—are about to spend a week at a top-rated guest ranch. Back in December when we’d made the reservations, we’d all agreed that this would be a perfect experience for our intergenerational group, but now I’m having second thoughts.

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Most folks go on at least one trail ride a day; many go on two.

We’re city folks through and through—better at driving four-lane highways than riding four-legged creatures, more familiar with walking through manicured parks than hiking on canyon trails. And we’re used to plucking fish from market showcases, not from mountain streams.

But here we are, on a mountain road in north-central Wyoming. We round a curve, and I catch my first glimpse of Paradise Guest Ranch. It’s in a valley surrounded by more than a million acres of Bighorn National Forest, and with the hills awash with wildflowers, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Then I see the corral, and I feel a rumble in the pit of my stomach. The kids—ages 9 and 6—have never been on a horse; the rest of us have a combined total of, perhaps, 10 hours of horseback-riding experience. Will we be the only novices in a group of experts?

The answer becomes clear the next morning when we go to the stables for our first horseback ride. Everyone else is wearing a cowboy hat or riding helmet. We, on the other hand, are decked out in baseball caps and bonnets. Oh dear!

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Guests of all ages tend to gather around the swimming pool in late afternoon.

We exhaust the first wrangler when he tries to take us out on the trail. Grandson can’t make his horse move. Daughter-in-law’s horse goes backward when she pulls too hard on the reigns. I can’t make mine stop eating.

But that afternoon a second wrangler takes us into the arena for a course in Horseback Riding Basics.

Granddaughter’s journal, day one: My horse’s name is Pollywog. I thought the horse would know what to do, but today I found out that I’m the one who’s supposed to know what to do.

The next morning we ride a trail—across a stream, up a rocky mountain path, through a meadow, back to the stables. Grandson declares that “now we’re really cowboys.” By Wednesday we’re beginning to feel like pros.

Granddaughter’s journal, day four: I think I’ve learned Pollywog’s personality, which is that sometimes he wants to do things his way. But now I can sometimes make him do things my way.

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While experienced fishermen go on all-day outings to more remote locations, others choose to practice on the ranch proper.

The week progresses, offering us a mix of family time and individual time. We ride together and eat together, but in between we can each explore our own interests. Daughter-in-law and I take a long (for us) hike—proudly puffing our way along trails that rise to an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet. Son tries his hand at fly-fishing, and husband finishes two books and starts a third. The kids spend off-horse time doing crafts or swimming in the pool.

After dinner, the counselors entertain the kids while the adults have a chance to get to know each other. Out of 12 groups, five are adults only; the rest have children ranging from toddlers to teens. Only three, like us, are first-timers.

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