USA cowboy holiday: Bonanza, a sequel

Ride ’em cowboy: Wrangler Rich athis property. Photo: Ben Groundwater Ride ’em cowboy: Wrangler Rich athis property. Photo: Ben Groundwater
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Ride ’em cowboy: Wrangler Rich athis property. Photo: Ben Groundwater

Ride ’em cowboy: Wrangler Rich athis property. Photo: Ben Groundwater

For those with dreams of embracing the wild, wild west, this is how you do it, writes Ben Groundwater.

‘Being a cowboy is a hands-on experience,” says Wrangler Rich, pausing to adjust his big hat, tipping it back to face the Nevada sun. “It’s fitting saddles, brushing horses, shovelling poop … that’s what it’s all about.”

If that’s true, then right now I’m a cowboy. I might not have a hat to match Wrangler Rich’s, but I do have a big steel brush in hand, and I’ve been stationed next to my steed, Poncho, and ordered to brush him down. It’s partly getting to know the horse, and partly getting to know being a horseman.

Scrape, scrape. I brush down a fairly nonplussed Poncho for a good 10 minutes before Rich calls me over to the shed and points out a saddle. It’s a huge, heavy leather ensemble, and it’s all I can do to heft it back out to the stable and throw it over Poncho’s back.

I’m taught how to strap it on, cowboy style. I check the fit, then walk over to the fence to grab a bridle.

This is a hands-on experience in true cowboy country. The sky is big and blue here in Carson City, the Nevadan state capital set in a wide valley below the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Those snow-capped peaks tower above us today as we walk around the R&D Ranch on the outskirts of town.

This is the place Wrangler Rich now calls home. One of the area’s most famous cowboys, Rich was the last remaining employee on the Ponderosa Ranch, a nearby old theme park based on the Bonanza TV show. These days he’s semi-retired and runs horse-riding expeditions and quad-bike adventures from his Carson City domain.

It’s hands-on and it’s real, which presents a slight problem for me. While I’m feeling professional and calm brushing down my steed and fitting the saddle, when it comes to actually riding a horse I’m much more “coward” that “cowboy”.

Regardless, I’ve come this far, and it’s time to mount up and walk out onto that beautiful Nevadan plateau, a valley of sagebrush under a sky criss-crossed with jet-stream scars. As we hit the track, Wrangler Rich pulls his feet out of his stirrups and spins around in his saddle, sitting backwards to face me.

“Now, you don’t want to just do a nose-to-tail walk,” he says. “That’s boring! Today we’re gonna do it all. We’re gonna trot, we’re gonna canter, we’re gonna go through a river … It’s gonna be a great day.”

I’m still a little nervous, but underneath me Poncho strolls nonchalantly along. If I tilt the reins left, he walks left. Right, he turns right. Give them a little tug and he comes to a patient halt. Wrangler Rich just laughs. “Boy that horse is makin’ you look real good Ben!”

For those with dreams of embracing the wild, wild west, this is how you do it. In prime cowboy country, close to the rodeo town of Reno and the old gold-mining hub of Virginia City, Wrangler Rich offers a small slice of Western life.

True to his word, he soon has me encourage Poncho into a trot (uncomfortable), and then a canter (scary), before we approach a steep drop into the river that cuts the valley in two. It’s here that I get to appreciate just how finely trained my steed is, as Poncho allows me to slowly ease him, one short step at a time, down the ravine.

“Now you’re a proper cowboy,” Rich yelps.

But our riding experience today won’t be limited to horses. That afternoon the two of us pile into Rich’s truck and drive – to a soundtrack of Marty Robbins country and western songs – out to the mountain range behind Reno, an area home to herds of wild mustangs that we’re here to view from a couple of quad-bikes, or ATVs (All Terrian Vehicles).

Now this is a beast I know how to handle. Nevada residents love their toys, Rich says, which is why plenty of people come up here to ride ATVs or shoot their guns. The mountains are riven with rough tracks that allow us to explore for many miles in any direction.

And so off we go, the pair of us roaring through the barren, rocky hills on four-wheeled stallions, pausing every now and then as Rich spots herds of mustangs. “Get your camera out!” he yells at one point. “This is National Geographic stuff!”

Whether it’s the well-trained steeds on the ranch or the wild stallions of the Reno hills, the common thread here is Rich’s passion for horses. His eyes gleam as he talks about the mustangs, pointing out the alpha males, explaining the group behaviour, picking herds out from afar.

Rich is a cowboy to his core. And today, if only briefly, so am I.

The writer travelled as a guest of Travel Nevada.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Fiji Airways flies daily from Melbourne and Sydney to Los Angeles, via Nadi. Connections to Reno are available from LA. For bookings and information call 1800 230 150 or see fijiairways南京夜网.

STAYING THERE

The historic Gold Hill Hotel is about a half-hour drive from R & D Ranch, in Virginia City, and has double rooms from $92. See goldhillhotel.net.

SEE + DO

Wrangler Rich runs horse-riding and quad-bike adventures from his ranch in Carson City, Nevada. The two-hour “Cowboy 101” horse-riding tour costs $110 a person, while wild mustang tours on an ATV cost $163. See randdranch.net.

TICKETS TO RIDE

Reno Rodeo A local favourite, this 10-night event is visited by about 140,000 people every June. Nevada’s finest horsemen come out, and it’s a great place to take in cowboy culture. National Finals Rodeo. The nation’s top 15 horsemen competing in a range of events in Las Vegas. National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Held annually in Elko, Nevada, this celebrates the cowboy trade through poetry, music and stories.

MORE INFORMATION

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