Every time someone said “cowgirl” the lights started twinkling, the room faded, campfire smoke scented the air, prairie grass rustled and I was stretched out on the range peering up at the stars next to my faithful horse. “Hey! Snap out of it kid!” I wiped the drool off my chin and nonchalantly went back to whatever I was doing. But I had plans. I was going to be a …COWGIRL.
My parents took note of my trying to teach the dog to neigh and that summer I was signed up for two weeks of learning how to be a Greenhorn at the Camp Sacajawea for Girl Scouts in Casper, Wyoming. There had been a mini disaster at summer camp last year in which the camp was expecting a boy and didn’t quite know where to lodge the girl that showed up, still not sure if they just presumed I was male or if my parents marked the wrong gender box. Either way, I was excited for an all-girls camp. My mother outfitted me in authentic western wear, which is to say jeans, t-shirts and plain cowboy boots as she declined my requests for rhinestone studded belt buckles, fringe vest and chaps. She bought me a cowboy hat which was promptly crushed after the dog took a nap on it. My hair was braided into tiny braids and lines of white scalp divided my head into a neat grid as I couldn’t be trusted to brush my hair regularly. I loaded my things into a duffel bag my sister and I could have camped in, and we set off. Swinging open the doors to the lodge I made a beeline for a table at the center of the melee. “I’m a greenhorn!” I announced before snapping a photo of one flustered woman sitting at the table. I should interject here that besides placing a fresh Band-Aid on my skin, there were few things I found more satisfying than clicking off a photo and manually winding the film on my small, plastic camera.
My mother intervened just as I was getting started explaining about cowgirls and after checking me in we made our way out of the lodge. I refused assistance carrying the bag down the hill to my tent, by god I was going to carry it myself because I was a …COWGIRL. Finding our tents were down this hill and up the other, steeper, side; my father explained the code of chivalry, how duffel bags are not designed to be dragged great distances and toted it up the slope. They kissed me goodbye. I was ready! Bring on the horses!
Camp Sacajawea is located on two steeply sloped hillsides that face each other across a ravine. Tents were on one side, everything else was on the other. This meant trekking down a hill and back up another for a 15 minute hike to meals, arts and crafts, corrals, everything.
One sleepless night, three new best friends, and a roll of film later, I was raring to meet my horse. Twenty minutes later we puffed our way up to the corral and our first job was to get the horses out of the field they were hanging out in. Did I mention that Girl Scout Camp didn’t have a barn with stalls? We drew the names of our horses and when I got Shane the counselors exchanged a look.
“Have you ever ridden a horse before?”
“Oh sure, lots of times!” I said thinking of the trail rides we had taken on our various vacations. I thought affectionately of the mare, Grandma, whom I had ridden for almost two hours once.
“Well Shane doesn’t get ridden too often, but this session we have 13 girls so he’s in the mix. If he gives you any trouble you just let me know and you can ride my horse.”
“Ok! Don’t worry about me! I am definitely cowgirl material!” I chirped, imagining bonding with Shane the poor horse who only wanted a rider.
One by one the other girls went in with bridles and a counselor, walked up to the horses and led the unresisting animals out of the field and tied them to the posts. The twelfth girl went in with a counselor and after a little chase and ducking, separated the two remaining horses and slipped the bridle over a large white ears. Liberty shook his white mane out and Skippy tied him to the post, finally it was my turn! All three counselors walked into the field with me and Barb instructed me to stay close to her. We fanned out and Shane trotted away from us.
“Oh I got the smartest horse! He knows how not to get caught!” I though joyfully, running around in the sage brush. After 15 minutes of chasing him around the field like this, Barb relented and produced an apple from her lunch box. Shane came running over and allowed me to put the bridle on. He was a tall horse, with a tan body, black feet and black mane and tail. Shane was a proud horse, he would not be led to the post rather choosing to walk haughtily beside me.
Our first lesson of the day was combing. Barb retrieved a bucket for me to stand on and I worked my way around Shane with a curry comb, a hard brush, a soft brush and finally the wide-bristle mane comb. I was practically drooling as I chatted with him while I climbed up on my stool, brushed his back, climbed down, scooted the stool over and climbed up again. “He held still for the combing and just looked at me, “Oh this horse is my soul horse!” I thought gleefully.
After a very careful grooming it was time to put the saddle on!! I stumbled over with his blanket, holding it above my head to keep it out of the dirt and settled it on his back before running back to the shed for the saddle, leaning over backwards under its weight as I staggered back to Shane. I teetered up the stool and settled the saddle on his back, Shane rolled his eyes at me and the counselors explained how to synch the saddle tightly. Barb came over and informed me that I had to wait until Shane breathed out and then pull it tight, otherwise he would puff out his chest and the saddle would be too loose. Shane exhaled and we pulled it tight, this was the moment I had been waiting for, I was going to ride my very own horse! I was going to be a COWGIRL. Standing on the stool I placed my right foot in the stirrup and prepared to stand up, heaving my left leg over Shane’s back. As soon as all weight was in the stirrup the world tilted, the saddle slid sideways and I fell back into the dirt knocking over my bucket.
“huh….” I thought as Barb picked me up and her and Shane stifled their snickers. “Ok, I knew being a COWGIRL wasn’t going be easy.” We resettled the saddle on his back, synched it tight, brushed the dirt off my face, and righted my bucket. I once again put my right foot in the stirrup and began to swing up my left leg, prepared to jump away if it slipped again. The saddle held but Shane stepped sideways, I fell into the dirt.
“Ok this time I got it!! I was just goofing around!” I reassured Barb and leaped off my bucket onto Shane’s back, landing with a splat on my stomach in the saddle and squirming around to right myself. A heavenly chorus sounded, I WAS IN THE SADDLE!! I was a COWGIRL!!!
To be continued…0