What It’s Like to Be a Kid on a Colorado Dude Ranch by Dan Christopher

Tim was always comfortable in his Atlanta neighborhood and generally didn’t stray too far from there, even on family vacations. So when his parents suggested a summer getaway to a Colorado dude ranch, his imagination kicked into high gear. “You mean we’ll go horseback riding, rock climbing AND white water rafting?”

Tim’s mom knew that her 9 year-old-son was a little shy for his age. So she was especially delighted to see his enthusiasm for checking out this new adventure.


Warm sunshine and gentle breezes greeted the family when we arrived at the ranch. We were first introduced to the wranglers who soon became our trusted companions for the week. Tony was one of the wranglers who specialized in guiding kids Tim’s age. After helping everyone check in, Tony became one of the star attractions at the Wrangler Rodeo that afternoon.

Tim was astounded by the horseback riding stunts the wranglers pulled—jumping on from behind the horse, riding while standing on the saddle and even hopping off and on the horses doing spins. Tim was instantly hooked on the Colorado Dude Ranch experience.


Monday morning brought the first guest ride. Teens and adults had their own wranglers. Tim and the other kids found theirs who matched riders and horses. It was clear that despite Tim’s enthusiasm, he was a little apprehensive. That’s why Tony assigned a quarter horse named Forest Gump to Tim. “Forest occasionally needs some coaxing,” Tony said, “which it is a good match for Tim to help him learn how to take charge.” With Tony’s patient instruction and guidance, Forest Gump and Tim promptly formed a cautious bond. Tim led Forest Gump out on the open range for some fresh air and a great ride.

“I became friends with Jake, Mason and Kelly then,” Tim shared. “Jake is from Oregon, and Mason and Kelly are from Utah.”


The sunrise was beautiful on Tuesday. The still, clean air made the mountains seem even more majestic. Conditions were perfect for a morning trail ride. Developing skills day by day, Tim’s confidence grew. “It was a lot of fun. We learned how to trot and follow the trail. After lunch, we had a pool party where we played 500 and ‘Cowboy of the Hill.’ Then there was a square dance—I learned how to two-step. I had to teach my mom how to do it, but she caught on pretty fast.”


Following Tuesday night’s square dance, where everyone learned moves like the Two-Step, and Cotton Eye Joe, there was more to learn on Wednesday morning: on horseback. “Forest Gump is very cool. Tony taught us how to lope, which is a little faster than a trot and a lot of fun. Sometimes Forest is more interested in eating grass. But when I give him a little tug, he gets going.” It was easy to see Tony was proud of Tim’s accomplishments. “This is one of the rewards of being a wrangler,” Tony said.


“Forest really likes me,” Tim said. “He’ll just walk over and bump me with his nose. Like he’s saying ‘Let’s go for a ride.’ It makes me laugh.” It was pretty clear that Tim returns his horse’s affection.

“Tony took us on a ride to a secret swimming hole at the river. The water is really cold at first,” Tim said, “but it’s lots of fun. Mason and I did cannon balls off a rock—not one of the really big ones though—into the water.”


Even though the week was coming to an end, the kids were still revved up and ready for more. “We rode to a creek and floated and splashed around in inner tubes.”
In the evening, the staff put on a very silly Melodrama (cowboy theater) that had both the kids and parents rolling with laughter. “So funny!” Tim said with more enthusiasm than ever. And afterwards, the whole family piled on every toping imaginable for the ice cream social!


Everyone knew that Saturday was a big day at the ranch. Starting with more good food at an outdoor breakfast, everyone headed to the arena for a Guest Rodeo. Even parents and teens get involved. “I can’t wait to show what Forest Gump and I can do,” Tim told a couple of the other kids, remembering how just a few days earlier, the idea of racing around on a horse made him nervous. “I’m not nervous at all now,” Tim said as the first event began. It was the Egg and Spoon Race. With the handle of a spoon in his mouth and an egg in the spoon, the winner would be the rider who could ride the longest and fastest without dropping the egg. Splat, Tim’s egg made it about halfway.

But with his mom and dad cheering proudly from the stands, Tim and Forest Gump won the big Barrel Race. Victory! A smile exploded on Tim’s face.


Though Sunday was the day for families to pack up and bid farewell to new friends, they would also take plenty of great memories with them as they head for home. As Tim made a final stroll to the corral, Forest Gump walked up to him and gave Tim a bump with his nose. “Not today, Forest,” Tim said with a few tears in his eyes, hating to leave the ranch, “My mom promised we can come again next year, so I’ll see you then.”

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