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Outside, it is barely above freezing. As I walk near the horse stables, I hear the phone again. It turns out that it’s nothing more than a calf named Buster. He’s not vibrating, he’s mooing. I can’t even tell a cow from a phone call.

Now, where’s Alonzo? I’m ready to get on that horse — until, that is, I realize I’ve instinctively put on my traveling clothes. Today’s ensemble consists of a French-cuff shirt, cuff links (these from Kraków, Poland) and a jacket with a pink-and-maroon handkerchief tucked elegantly into the pocket. John Wayne would cut me down like an aoudad if he saw me now. I can’t rightly ride like this. And, anyway, Alonzo is trying to fix a car whose battery has died or carburetor has clogged or something.

So that’s it: I will not ride a horse. At least I have my picture on Buck’s back as proof of my efforts. Now, I am to begin the drive north — back over those tire-slicing rocks, with Old Alazan in the rearview mirror. Back to civilization as I have come to know it. Yet I don’t want to go. In my short stay, I may not have become a Texas cowboy. But maybe, after a couple of days, I could learn to live without all those people Waynelle had wondered about. And maybe, after a few days more, without the cuff links.

Best in the West


Want to test your mettle on the open range? Here are more guest ranches where wannabe cowpokes can go to horse around.

UPSCALE AMENITIES

Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort
Solvang, Calif.
Just 40 miles north of Santa Barbara, Alisal stables 100 horses and caters to both experienced riders and first-timers. After riding the range, guests can either hit the links of two 18-hole golf courses or get pampered in the 6,000-square-foot fitness center and spa.
www.alisal.com

Falcon Point Ranch
Seadrift, Texas
About three and a half hours from Houston, Austin and San Antonio, this 6,000-acre ranch, adjacent to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on Texas’ Gulf Coast, offers fishing, kayaking, hunting, a huge luxury lodge, a day spa and, oh yeah, an active cattle ranch complete with guided horseback riding.
www.falconpointranch.com

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FUN

Bar H Working Dude Ranch
Clarendon, Texas
You’d expect to find an authentic, rugged Texas ranch experience just an hour outside of Amarillo, and Bar H Working Dude Ranch delivers. The ranch offers overnight accommodations, hunting and a chuckwagon, and they’ll even set up Little Buckaroo Parties for the kids.
www.barhduderanch.com

White Stallion Ranch
Tucson, Ariz.
White Stallion Ranch is a working ranch where longhorn cattle roam 3,000 acres adjacent to the Saguaro National Park. The third-generation owners will arrange horseback rides for the entire family and promise a trip that can be “as horsey or horseless as you like.” A petting zoo, a swimming pool, a basketball court and a tennis court are among the saddle-free activities.
www.wsranch.com

AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE

Lazy F Guest Ranch
Smiley, Texas
Don’t let the name fool you: A trip to the Lazy F, located just about an hour outside of San Antonio and only a bit farther from Austin, is no vacation. The owners here expect guests to “learn to cowboy.” That ranges from participating in the annual 90-mile trail ride to helping out with the daily chores of this 2,500-acre working ranch.
www.lazyfranch.com