"Clang, Clang, Clang!" The sound of the bells were bellowing, announcing our first dinner.
What was I doing? I was a city slicker who had never been to a dude ranch before. But there I was at the Don K. Dude Ranch in southern Colorado in August, a few years ago, during my mother-in-law's annual family vacation.
However, the next question was what in the world would we do at the ranch, or more specifically, what would I do there, as I am disabled?
As the bells continued to ring (loudly, I might add) I headed toward a building called The Mess Hall. I thought, I've only lived in large metropolitan cities, none of which had a restaurant called The Mess Hall. I knew this was going to be a long -- very long -- week.
After dinner and the introductions, the "head cowboy" got up. He said, "Welcome to the Don K." He was speaking with a slow, southern twang as he continued, "Y'all better get some rest cuz we're hitting the trails first thing after breakfast. At the Don K. we ride horses twice each day -- in the morning and in the afternoon. I see many of you from years back, and I know y'all can ride. But the new ones, how many of you know how to ride?"
After he got his answers, the bell started to ring again indicating time for bed. At 8:30? Who ever heard of an adult going to bed at 8:30? What about TV? I quickly learned there were no televisions in any of the rooms, except for one in the main house.
Walking back to our bunk (for bed, yes, at 8:30) my mother-in-law told those of us in her family, "I don't know about this place. Maybe my family is not meant for slow country life on a ranch. But please give it a try. Besides, dinner was pretty good, wasn't it?"
That night many of the family had problems sleeping. Maybe, it was too much fresh air. However, all were asleep in the early morning when once again those bells started clanging. Waking and stretching, I thought, "How many times will those bells -- those annoying bells -- ring throughout the day, and week?"
I learned that the huge bell, as well as the others they had throughout the ranch, was very symbolic. Every time a guest did something special it was met with the clanging bells. Possibly the cowboys on the ranch were trying to borrow some psychology with Pavlov's behavioral therapy techniques. I don't know, but I just wanted to have the bells ring one time for me.
I was beginning to thoroughly enjoy the ranch, as well as the slow, peaceful, beauty of the Don K. When we were not riding, we were relaxing, reading in hammocks while the children were busy playing with each other in the fields. I was beginning to love the Don K.
Each morning after breakfast the entire group of guests would break up into four divisions for our morning ride. One group was for the superior riders, a second group was for good riders, a third group was for the beginners. The fourth group -- well, that was for me and my personal cowboy, Cowboy Dan, known as C.D.
At first C.D. made sure I had the correct gear, including a helmet. Then, he had to figure out a way for me to get up on CoCo, my beautiful black horse. We finally used a wedge ladder for me to finally, and slowly, climb aboard CoCo.
Smiling with pride when I finally mounted my horse, I heard C.D. softly say "Click click, come on CoCo," as he motioned to me to softly kick my legs into CoCo's body.
We all started moving, very slowly, riding on our walking horses up and down the path. The next day, we went up and down the magnificent hills and I was beginning to have fun, and my family was having fun too. We were beginning to hope that our time at the ranch would not end.
Throughout my days of riding on CoCo, I could hear the bells ringing so often, fulfilling the Don K. tradition of ringing the bells anytime a guest did something special. It was as if the bells were saying, "Good job." I wanted the bells to ring for me, even if was just once, but how?
C.D. started teaching me to trot on CoCo. As I was concentrating on my trotting, I heard C.D. ask, "What are you going to do for the rodeo?" "Rodeo?! What rodeo?" I thought in panic. C.D. led CoCo and me to the Rodeo Corral, that consisted of enclosed bleachers.
C.D. said, "We need to practice for the rodeo that's in two days." We practiced and practiced some more. I thought I had it down, but I was not positive. Whatever I did at the rodeo, whether I was successful or not, I knew one thing -- the rodeo was going to be a blast.
Excitement was in the air the morning of the rodeo. Each guest saddled up and rode to the rodeo. The corral's fairgrounds were very festive with balloons and ribbons. However, I did not take notice of the other decorations nor the audience, that consisted of citizens from the nearby towns, filling up the bleachers.
All of a sudden, the first group of experienced riders roared by into the corral, circling very quickly. The announcer barked over the loud speaker, "Welcome to this rodeo, the last summer for rodeos at the Don K., as the ranch will be transformed into a working ranch in the fall."
The guests and the citizens of the nearby towns who were in the audience were all shocked. The guests had worked together throughout the week, and many throughout the years, to become a team. Silence filled the air. With this announcement, the "team" would be no more -- at least not at the Don K.
Each guest vowed to make this rodeo a very special one. Just then, a cowboy clown appeared in the corral indicating, in a sense, the "show must go on." The cowboys had the adult guests start the rodeo, followed by the children guests who showed the riding skills they had achieved throughout the week.
Then C.D said, "Mike, your turn. Come on CoCo." With those words I quickly kicked CoCo on his sides. We began trotting around the barrels until I stopped about 100 yards away from the beginning. As we stopped, the rodeo clown ran towards the bell and started ringing it.
I was in shock! THE BELL WAS RINGING FOR ME! Everyone was applauding. I could even hear through the loud clapping two of the experienced riders shouting, "You can ride with me anytime!" I just blushed.
Yes, I had done it.
I had worked hard. However, this story is not so much about a dude ranch or a horse. It is about setting goals. Everyone needs to set goals -- whether it's as simple as getting up in the morning, hopefully with a smile, or as complicated as studying physics theory, or learning ways to overcome one's obstacles.
Everyone has his own obstacle. I believe that is the definition of being human.
I thought of that as I smiled even more and gave CoCo a sugar cube for helping me achieve my goal.
~ Michael Segal ~