Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
From a few years ago, me mugging with the bronze buffalo sculpture at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

2006 Wyoming Adventure: Horses 3 -- Amateur Cowpokes 0

(I have been gathering old photos for a project I'm helping a friend with. In looking at old stuff, I came across this essay regarding my 2006 trip to Eatons' Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming. I decided to share it with my blog readers.)


Another Wyoming guest ranch outing is in the record books. Three Amigos and company just completed its 2006 week-long horseback riding and drinking contest. Tallying all the scores we find that the horses managed to put more people on their butts than the alcohol. Getting older is hell.


Jose, Les and Ports taking a butt-rest on the trail.
This year’s merry band of clowns consisted of the Three Amigos, Ken (who works with Jose and Les at IBM), Randy Porter (my fraternity brother from Dayton), his buddy Rainer (the crazy German), and Kimba and her gal pal Tracine from Jacksonville. This group gathered from their respective regions in Billings, MT a week ago Sunday and celebrated with a few toddies and dinner at the Montana Brewing Company. The rest of the group didn't demonstrate the same planning acumen as the Three Amigos whose first stop upon arriving in Billings was to visit Costco where the bottles of Makers Mark and Don Julio Tequila carried out on the plane were supplemented with three cases of Moose Drool beer. After dinner the girls, Porter and Rainer headed for the only liquor store open on Sunday night in Billings. They returned with three half gallons of vodka, a bottle of Baileys and two bottles of wine. I have no clue what they intended to drink the rest of the week, but the stage was nearly set.


The plan was to arrive at Eatons’ Ranch late Monday morning in time to get fitted for saddles, eat lunch and then be ready for the afternoon ride. That meant wheels up in Billings at 8:30. We had three separate vehicles with the girls in one, Porter and Rainer in one and the remaining four of us in the third. A few items, including beer for Porter/Rainer, remained to be purchased and we caravanned to Albertson’s. Thanks to some crazy blue law, beer can’t be sold before 9:00 in the morning. So, we loitered around Albertson’s for half an hour before being able to check out and get on our way with yet two more cases of beer.


We arrived at Eatons’ without incident and on schedule. We even had time for a beer or two before lunch. We had commandeered a wastebasket from the Best Western and filled it with beer and ice before leaving. Planning is everything and this wasn’t our first trip to the rodeo.

We were disappointed to find the chef and his wife, Susan the baker, had not come back this year. They are running their own restaurant in Surprise, Arizona. Evidently the ranch had some problems with their replacement and he had been fired a few weeks before our arrival. Meal preparation had fallen to the lady who “does the gardening.” Yes, that was our reaction too. How in the heck do you make that leap? “Let’s get Carol in here. She has some spare time between spreading manure on the geraniums and weeding around the tomatoes, and she sure knows her vegetables.”  Monday’s meals were sketchy at best and we were justly concerned. This isn’t like a cruise ship where half the people are there because you eat eight times a day, but the ranch food was always top-notch and it was one of the attractions. Lunch that first day was a disaster and dinner wasn’t much better. After lunch we drowned our sorrows in another beer before heading out on our first ride.


Pre-incident Kimba and her trusty horse Crazy.
That first afternoon’s ride was a shake-down cruise of sorts – in a very literal sense. We took it easy and only stayed out for a couple of hours. As we came plodding back in, Kimba became the first casualty. I point out that the use of the word “first” usually implies more than one. In a game attempt to qualify for the “Over Almost before It Began” award, Kimba took a tumble. Her horse spotted a thrown horseshoe on the path and must have decided it was something to be avoided at all costs, abruptly ducking and spinning. One second Kimba was sitting tall in the saddle and the next she was eating dirt – somewhat of an improvement over the earlier lunch, I might add. After composing herself – no serious damage done – she climbed back on and we rode the last quarter mile.  That was Kimba’s last ride of the trip. Although she wasn’t seriously injured, she was too sore to ride the rest of the week. Even medicating herself with prodigious amounts of vodka didn’t seem to help, but she continued the treatment nonetheless. No doubt she continues medicating with it today.


Happy Hour at Grandma's cabin.
A typical day on the ranch for us goes something like this: 6:00-6:30 AM awaken and get dressed. 7:00 AM breakfast in the dinning room. 9:00 AM head out on the morning ride. 11:30 AM return and have a beer before lunch. Noon is lunch. 1:30 head out on the afternoon ride. 4:30 return. 4:45 happy hour (or as we called it: time to set the Moose loose). 6:00 PM dinner. 7:00 PM after dinner drinks on the porch of Big Graham or head to the Mint Bar in Sheridan, 10:00 PM go to bed. No phones, no TVs, no anything. It’s like visiting your Amish aunt, only with booze.


The only riding Kimba and Tracine did after Day 1 was in a car.
Tuesday passed without incident. Kimba and Tracine opted to go into Sheridan to shop, which left just the boys on the trail. Lunch still sucked, but dinner was a bit better. Tuesday was tequila night. We adjourned to the front porch of Big Graham, where the boys all lit up cigars and sipped on Don Julio Anejo tequila. It was here we discovered what an entertaining story teller Rainer is. A favorite was about the time his father was explaining the birds and bees to him and he got so worked up he had to excuse himself and go take care of business before returning to finish the lesson.

There is nothing like the aroma of equine methane in the early morning to open nasal passages and put a spring in the step of cowboy wannabes. Eatons’ evidently feeds these animals some form of bean-laden chili every night. It’s difficult to describe the sounds and smells on the trail without offending some sensibilities. Let me just say that you could close your eyes and have no trouble following the horse and rider in front of you.


Young Randy proving horse and rider can indeed become one.
After the morning ride on Wednesday, I dismounted and started down the steps that lead to the path to the cabins. There are only three steps. They are made of irregular stones, but I have negotiated them dozens of times without incident. Not so on this day. My legs were really feeling the affects of three days of riding. I got to the first step, started to lose my balance and that’s all she wrote. As I headed toward the ground, I did a tuck and roll, so perfectly executed that Rainer, who witnessed the event, asked if I was a skydiver. I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding. I can’t get down three steps without taking a nose dive; you think I’m going to throw myself out of a plane at 8,000 feet? I bounced to my feet (well as much bounce as you can get out of legs this old), announcing to everyone, "I do my own stunts!"

In all the excitement no one had really noticed Jose was among the missing. He had lagged behind for most of the morning on a horse that refused to be hurried. Finally he came meandering up to the corral area. His duster – that was on its maiden voyage – was covered in dust with a piece of grass stuck to it here and there. It seems at almost exactly the same spot where Kimba had her close encounter with terra firma; Jose’s steed did a Crazy Ivan and heaved Hose into the shrubbery. I didn’t think we had enough alcohol to put another person on Kimba’s prescription. Fortunately we didn’t have to. He landed on his head and no long-term damage was done. I tried to tell him that any landing you walk away from is a good one. He wasn’t amused. He swapped out horses for the afternoon ride and didn’t miss a beat.

Wednesday night we made our initial trip into the Mint. It was the first time we were able to get some idea what hurricane Rita, currently plowing its way toward South Florida, was up to. A few locals wandered in and out of the place, but basically we had it to ourselves. After a shot or two of Cabo Wabo and a few beers, we headed back to the ranch.

Thursday Kimba and Tracine decided to press on to Cody. They were supposed to leave for there on Friday morning to spend a couple of nights before going to Jackson Hole, but because Kimba was too sore to ride and Tracine too hung over to ride that morning, they decided to just go ahead and leave. We were able to triple everyone else’s ration of vodka after they departed. Everyone else but Jose and I went out on an all-day ride. Hose and I followed our usual routine. Of course, our horses didn’t want to do anything without the rest of the group. It was a real test of wills for the first mile or so. Finally my horse Doc and I came to an understanding. From that point forward he was one fine animal. He was a joy the rest of the week in fact. At one point a two-foot rattler slithered across the path about three feet in front of my horse. I don’t know whether Doc didn’t see and hear it or just wasn’t bothered by it. I thought I was a goner, but he kept right on going.

On Friday Rainer was in some pain. Jose listened as Rainer described the symptoms and immediately diagnosed the problem as Hauckbutt. Jose has had some experience with the ailment because Les suffered with it a couple of years ago and we, of course, borrowed his last name to name the affliction: Hauckbutt. Just as with Les, the back of the seat on Rainer’s saddle had turned his tailbone into hamburger. Luckily Les was channeling his Eagle Scout and was armed with the large gauze squares and Neosporin he had purchased to treat his injury a year or two before. He passed it all to Rainer. Rather than take the afternoon ride, we decided to give Rainer’s lower half a rest and went into Sheridan after lunch. We kicked around there for a while and then headed to Buffalo where we had beers at the Occidental Hotel Saloon. We had been there a couple of years ago and had a blast. Dallas, the colorful bartender who served us last time had been replaced by a grunge-type kid. It wasn’t quite the same, but the beer was cheap and we hung out anyway.


That night Porter, Rainer and I made another trip into Sheridan. The Mint was slammed. We eventually managed to get seats at the bar. A barfly named Madge made a run at Porter with the intention of taking him dancing and then who-knows-what? He dodged that bullet.

On Saturday Porter and Rainer left right after breakfast. They had a 3 PM flight out of Billings. The remaining four of us went out on the morning ride. This was the only really cold morning of the trip. It was in the high 30s/low 40s. It was foggy on the mountains and rainy everywhere. They couldn’t even find the horses to bring them in until about 9:30. We had a great ride that morning. Saw several deer along the trail.

We showered at the ranch and headed back to Billings. Our rooms weren’t ready at the Best Western when we tried to check in at 3:00. We moseyed on down to the Montana Brewing Company, had a couple of beers and eventually ate dinner. After checking in, we decided to head out to the Yellowstone Brewery. I have a sixth sense for sniffing out micro breweries. I had seen an ad or a newspaper article on this place and it sounded like a place we should go. We had enjoyed some Yellowstone Fly Ambers or Ales or something during our visit to the Occidental. Located about three blocks from our hotel, the Yellowstone Brewery is situated in a four or five bay garage attached to the rear of the local Enterprise Rent-a-car agency. It is open from 4 until 8 PM Wed-Sat. We walked in and found a Bluegrass band playing to a fairly packed house. What a hoot. Have you ever heard a Bluegrass version of Margaritaville? Excellent beer and fun music: the perfect end to a great week.

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