Yesterday I drove the white Honda six miles south of Grants Pass to scope out a ranch where I might move Brad, my handsome sorrel equine partner and plot-development guru. I’ve visited Nelson Cutting Horses and Saddle Mountain Cattle Company before. I felt drawn to its state-of-the-art stable, sweeping fields and covered arena. Perfect for keeping a horse clean and slick, and a rider sheltered, during the punishing days of our cold, wet winters and sizzling summers.

Plus there was the prospect of riding a grand 300 acres of irrigated pasture and exploring the tree-lined banks of the Applegate River — a fish-rich tributary of the mighty Rogue. Big skies, picturesque green hills, lush pastures for black Angus cow-calf pairs that roam at will. All this and a clean, well lighted stable, too. What wasn’t to love?

My only sticking points were, as before, the depth of the arena footing (deep, for cutting horses), a community tack-room where one’s saddle, etc. could be “borrowed” at any time by a guest or another boarder, and that there might not be like-minded souls to ride with.

Don’t get me wrong. I have loved keeping The Bradster (Shiny Good Bar) — the semi-retired Western show horse seen on my “Saddle Tramps” book cover – the past two years at Cedar Tree Stables near town. It’s beautiful, too, and features perfect footing in the outdoor (only) arena and grassy arena-trail course. The stable is clean and safe with outdoor pens for every horse. But most times I ride alone, as other owners have other priorities. And I ride outdoors only, even in extreme weather. If the other horses are turned out, Brad has to stay out with no shelter: He freaks at being the only horse in the barn!

All this circled around my mind again as I drove the packed-gravel drive along the river toward Saddle Mountain’s stable and arena. The pastures spread away to a forested ridge to my right. The giant, rolling Rainbird sprinklers were arrayed sparingly. Black cattle dotted the grassland. A red-tailed hawk picked at his ground-squirrel breakfast on a boulder by a watering hole.

An “aaahhh” feeling filled my heart and made me smile. Would this be our new home? Would this be enough to seal my decision to relocate Brad? However, despite the ranch’s beauty, I still had reservations, as  noted. Would I, would he, be happy here?

Then I saw the dozens of pickups and horse trailers parked outside the arena. Riders coming and gong. There was a monthly barrel race set to begin! I parked, walked into the stable and met a darling younger woman, Katie, who boarded there. “I love it,” she beamed, saying she rides her older Paint horse often in the fields and beside the river. I learned the tack-room situation might be improved, and that Brad could be legged-up (conditioned) to stay sound in the arena footing.

Climbing into the small covered grandstand that overlooks the arena, I was surprised to see and chat with a longtime, horsey artisan-friend, Spirit, who’d brought her daughter to the races. The excitement and camaraderie there were electric. Here were my people — all ages, active, outdoorsy, fit and dedicated to The Sport of the Horse!

As I prepared to leave, I spied a quartet of young women sitting their horses outside the arena wall, looking across it at the barrel-racing action. They radiated youthful energy, fearlessness,  can-do attitude. Sixty years ago, I was one of those girls. (Still am, in my opinion.)

That did it. Hey, Nelson Cutting Horses & Saddle Mountain Cattle Company? Brad and I are so THERE. Or we will be in a few weeks. I can hardly wait.

Change and experiment are good. They open minds, spur growth. But nothing compares with the feeling of being where you belong, being among your own — be they riders, readers or writers.

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