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Suddenly, I can’t remember how to ride. I’m almost positive I’m too short to reach Buck’s saddle, which I’m now grasping for. “No, no!” Alonzo says. I’ve gone for the horn — the little knob at the front of the saddle — with both hands. “One hand on the back,” he tells me.

I grab again, correctly this time. I swing up and over. John Wayne would be proud. Now, a light grip on the reins, a gentle nudge to get Buck moving and we’re off.

Except we’re not. Buck flicks his ears but doesn’t move. I start to sweat in the afternoon sun. Waynelle makes sure I’m holding the reins correctly. I am. But my feet are barely touching the bottom of the stirrups. I push down, trying to settle in. I suspect Buck doesn’t even know I’m on his back. I should have had more tortillas at lunch.

“Kick him,” Waynelle tells me.
But I can barely move the stirrups — my legs are too far apart to get up any momentum. I’m angry with my parents. Couldn’t one of them have been taller? Buck turns his head at the pull of the reins. That’s all I get. The seconds seem to drag on longer than the 32-mile ride down that rocky ranch road. I start wishing the longhorn had charged me and spared me the humiliation. Billy Crystal rode a horse (and birthed a calf ) in City Slickers, for goodness’ sake. Why can’t I get Buck to go anywhere? Why didn’t I Google “how to ride a horse” before I left home?

Finally, Waynelle calls it. She grabs the reins from my hands and leads Buck out of the gate. She at least wants to be sure I get my picture taken on horseback. I’m like a little kid at the state fair.

As I dismount, Waynelle blames Buck. “He’s just ornery because he hasn’t been worked in a while,” she assures me. Indeed, when one of the hunters takes over on Buck, he, too, has trouble getting any giddyap. I feel better. But not much. I’m downgraded back to the Mule for the walk-around and hunting excursion.

On the 25-minute ride back to the ranch’s bunkhouse, we stop suddenly. “There’s a buck over there,” Alonzo says from behind the wheel of the Mule. The buck is at least 200 yards away, halfway up a hillside and hidden in the brush. I could live on this ranch for a decade and never spot something like that — not from that distance, not in a moving vehicle, not ever. But, I wonder: Could Alonzo sight an available cab, in SoHo, at 5:30 p.m., in the rain, from four blocks away, when everyone on the street is hunting the very same thing? I can, for what that’s worth.

I am kept up all night by a vibrating cell phone. Impossible — there’s no service here except on the hilltops. Still, I’m sure I hear it. No matter, as I can’t sleep, anyway; I keep thinking about getting back on Buck and trying again.

By the time the sun rises, I’ve come up with a plan: Find Alonzo and beg for a second mount, a chance at redemption, an opportunity to go back to the city this evening knowing that I’ve been a Texas cowboy, if just for a half hour. Maybe less. Just long enough to let the morning sun dry up my ClarinsMen Moisture Gel.

I shower and shave and dress with conviction. If I skip Red’s biscuits and scrambled eggs, I’ll have enough time for a ride before I depart.