The Home Ranch: Women, Yoga and Horses
When a friend said she had signed up to spend a week at a Colorado ranch riding horses and doing yoga with a bunch of women, I said sign me up. I have no idea why I said that. I neither ride nor yoga. Turns out to be one of my better decisions.
The Home Ranch is in Clark, Colorado, a short flight or three hour drive from Denver. My friend Sande, her friend Joan who I did not know but bonded with immediately and I arrived at the Hayden airport on a Sunday early October afternoon. Ben, a wrangler, picked us up. Our first cowboy. That was good. What was not so good was the snowfall, and lots of it. We did not have a huge number of expectations, but snow certainly was not on our radar screen or our weather channel. True to form, we worried. We wouldn’t be able to experience the beautiful mountains. We didn’t have the right clothes. Ben promised it would be fine. We were skeptical. He was right. One day of muddy trails, but then gorgeous mountain weather.
The 5000 acre ranch is a family affair, owned by the Stranahan family of Chicago. Two of us stayed at the lodge, one in a cabin blessed with a private hot tub, all in true log cabin style. No TVs anywhere. Rustic. But, lest you get too concerned, the Home Ranch is a Relais & Chateaux property where personal service, food and amenities are everything. The people who work there-- from wranglers to chefs to ranch hands to fly fishermen-- are clearly carefully chosen. There are fresh flowers, everywhere. And, the food! Three sublime meals a day. (How does rosewater creme brulee sound? Or diver scallops with fresh pea risotto and truffle sauce?) We ate way too much but savored it all, trying desperately to control caloric intake by splitting scrumptious deserts three ways. Not sure the purpose though, as we freely helped ourselves to the fresh out of the oven cookies and brownies that waited for us after the afternoon ride.
Now to the program led by two amazing women. Tammy is a horsewoman from Montana. As far as we could tell, she can do everything. Ride horses, corral cattle, do every yoga pose beautifully, teach, dance the two step, fix everybody and everything, and be calm and beautiful all at the same time. Janice lives in Florida but has been teaching with Tammy at the ranch for 12 years. (We unfortunately didn't see her ride since she was on crutches after a bad horse fall.) Janice is a social worker by profession and has studied yoga and meditation, all forms and deeply, since the 60's. Her narratives are informing and soothing. She takes the time to know each of us and our limits. There is a light within her that attracts you like a bee to honey. Makes me think doing the sun salutation pose every morning as she does may be just the thing.
From the first night, Tammy and Janice, working together, set the tone. Whether we are skilled horsewomen, yoga practitioners or novices like me doesn't matter. They are clear. We are here to try, to learn, to have a good time. To enjoy each other’s company. Their patience, kindness and good humor—as well as knowledge and skills— made us all comfortable. As a group, we came together quickly. No competition. Applause for the good. Help and coaching for the needy like me. Lots of good conversation and laughs, mostly at ourselves. Every day is different. Some days more yoga than horse, others more riding than studio. And what you do in each differs too. From trails to herding cattle to meadows and from poses to stretches to swings and handstands. Music and barn dancing after dinner round out the schedule. The musicians are top notch. Can't say as much for the (guest) dancers.
So who goes to something like this? Turns out, amazing women! A young British woman who needed a break from her three children, saw an ad, and decided she had never been to Colorado or ridden a horse. Two career women from Hawaii, who knew of this program, realized it fit with a business trip to the Mainland and immediately booked. Another career woman from Chicago who hadn’t had a vacation in ten years, rides horses and read about the ranch in the Chicago Tribune. Several women who have been coming for years, one an executive in Boston and the other a retired school psychologist from Delaware who began riding after she retired. A neurologist Mom from Louisiana, a skilled horsewoman, and her two novice daughters, one a vet and the other a psychologist specializing in the deaf. There were 17 of us in all. Young and older. Experts and, thankfully, more beginners than just me. (I think Sande was worried about that.) Interesting each and every one. Many of us will stay in touch. Not surprising how easily women can form a community.
This trip made more of an impression than I expected. I took a risk and found I was comfortable and felt satisfied just to be trying. Different is good. I admit I was a little afraid on the horse side. It wasn't comforting to be told that my horse Slugger was wild once but is older now and calmer. I am older but still have an occasional wild streak. But my fear didn't get the better of me. The mental and breathing exercises in the yoga studio helped. At the end of the day, so panicked, no panic. And I had never been on an all women’s retreat. I liked it. A lot.
So thank you, Tammy and Janice, the Ranch staff and all my fellow retreaters . It was an experience I won’t easily forget. I might even do it again!