By LINDON DODD
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
My favorite cowboy list includes John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Lindon Dodd?!!!!
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon somewhere in the wilderness of the hills of Tennessee. I was riding point on the right flank controlling a herd of cattle we were charged with moving from the main corral somewhere to a pasture in the lower forty (I am not sure about the accuracy of the lower forty location but it sure sounds like western talk). I watched my wife Kim across the way riding into the edge of the woods to redirect a stray back into the clearing.
As I sat high in my saddle I could see my son Cameron riding up the rear to keep any stragglers from leaving the herd. It was at that moment that a train whistle could be heard approaching from my front. Shawn, our trail boss, barked out orders to move the entire herd well away from the railroad tracks. I quickly began forcing the herd towards the middle of the opening. This cowboy didn’t want to see the cow catcher on the front of the locomotive live up to its name. After the train and the danger passed, we resumed a leisurely ride down the path moving the herd to its afternoon respite.
Our cattle crew then returned to the stable to unsaddle and brush down the horses. After a cool down walk we returned to the cabin to prepare for some grub and nighttime entertainment. We had just finished our second ride of the afternoon. I now understood why John Wayne had that famous walk. My inner thighs felt in places where I never knew I had places. Kim, Cameron, and I spent a few well deserved moments of rest on the bed. We had all survived our first cattle drive.
I once owned a horse and rode daily some thirty years ago. Horseback riding is not like riding a bike. It’s more like the Calculus I studied thirty years ago. You don’t want to be tested on it without some brush-up lessons.
This past Saturday our family traveled to Del Rio Tennessee to the French Broad Outpost and Dude Ranch. It was a trip back in time in many respects. To reach the facilities the last mile-and-a-half is by an isolated gravel road. The setting is picturesque and right out of an old western film complete with the adjacent flowing French Broad River. It’s impossible to imagine a more serene setting in which to have spent a couple of days of Cameron’s fall break.
I am the first to admit that I am to John Wayne what Richard Simmons is to manhood. The make-believe world of playing cowboy was loads of fun. When we weren’t on horseback the serenity and laid back pace was very relaxing. No electronics were allowed in the dining hall or dance hall/saloon. There are no televisions in the rooms. The evening entertainment was full of personal interaction including bingo and square dancing. The meals were served on large wooden tables family style and shared with other ranch visitors who quickly became friends.
Shawn Gannon, the proprietor, is a real cowboy. He started the ranch mostly as a way to finance his love for his horses. A regular visitor to the ranch told us Shawn has such a reputation as an animal lover that it is not infrequent that a stray horse, goat, or dog might be left at the front gate. I saw an old hobbled goat and a blinded horse under his care. He spent the better part of an hour demonstrating to the group horse care and riding skills before he let any of us near one of his steeds. His methods were gentle but firm persuasion and always were for the benefit of the horse and not the rider.
And once we were ready to be assigned our mounts the whole hands on experience began. We were given a lead rope and a description and location of our horse. It was up to us to find and lead it back to the stable where we were to brush the horse down, personally saddle up and mount for the ride. After a ride was completed we removed all of the gear, brushed down our rides, and had a cool down walk before returning them to their respective corral or pasture.
In between activities all of us city dudes were well fed with delicious old country-style cooking like grandma would have put on your table at a family gathering. Nobody was hungry and all of the meals were included in the ranch price.
The lodge style room in which we stayed was a throwback to the western era. It was rustic and beautiful with a private bath. The entire weekend was a real step back into a past romantic western experience. The three of us had a great weekend which all but was the definition of quality family time. Two-and-a-half days seemed all too short of a ranch experience.
I think I was most proud of Cameron who was a bit scared of the whole horseback idea. However, by the time we were on the cattle drive Cameron was performing like a more confidant and seasoned rider. For a computer game kid his wilderness experience was a needed escape from the world of electronics. Kim and I sensed he really relished the escape. At 16 years of age we really treasure such time away from all of life’s pressures and responsibilities to just have fun as a family. The awareness of fleeting time left for the three of us usually dictates the adventures Kim plans for us.
I would like to give Shawn and the gang a plug. The ranch was about a five-and-a-half hour drive from our home in Otisco. For those familiar with Gatlinburg the Newport exit off of I-40 is around 30 miles past the Gatlinburg exit. Del Rio is about 13 miles out of Newport. You can pull up their website by entering French Broad Outpost Ranch in the search engine or call them for more information at 1-800-995-7678.
Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who lives in Otisco and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org