Family vacation. Day 4. 57 degrees. Rain. Sun. Hail. Sun. Thunder. Sun.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch to Fort Collins. 

Thursday, we’re planning on going on a horseback ride. My mom’s been talking about it for a month. “This might be the last horseback ride of my life,” she says.

a) As if that’s widely understood to be a thing.

b) As if she’s going to die tomorrow.

c) As if she simply must go on one.

d) As if she couldn’t make another one happen if, in fact, horseback riding really is so very important to her.

We wake up Thursday morning to pouring down rain. Or—I should say—my mom wakes me up to tell me it’s pouring, that we’re pushing back our horseback ride, and I can go back to sleep. I get up. By the time we eat breakfast, it’s cleared up.

At the stables, we meet Tammi and Toni, the twin goats, a barn kitten without a name, and a very old, white, rheumy-eyed dog who follows me around after I scratch his head. Then we meet our horses.

My horse is Lonesome. He doesn’t always want to hang out with the others—often alone in the corner of the field—and when he goes on trail rides, he gets competitive and pushes to the front. He doesn’t want to lead—leading is more work—but he wants to be second in line. He’s little and a little bit pushy. Classic youngest child. He also doesn’t like anyone following on his tail too closely. I fall in love with him instantly.

My sister’s horse is Lil’ JoeHe’s pretty easygoing. Super nice. Seems to like the other horses. Apparently he kicks, though, if someone makes him mad. Except he’ll never kick Luke, my brother-in-law’s horse. This is because Luke could sit on Lil Joe and crush him.

My brother-in-law’s horse is Luke. Luke is the SUV of horses. He’s the Hummer of SUVs. He’s easily the biggest horse I’ve ever seen a human sit on. Luke’s a draft horse, and he’s all black. His bangs hang down into his eyes, making him look stoned out of his mind. He can’t possibly see but he plods along easily, going straight over what most people would consider small trees. They tell us not to let the horses eat, and I watch my brother-in-law lean back in his saddle, trying to keep Luke’s head up out of the grass, pulling on Luke’s reins with all his weight. Luke looks sort of like maybe a fly is bothering him and gradually turns his head with a bored look.

My dad’s horse is Rambler. Every time we stop and then start again, Rambler makes a move to the front of the pack and Lonesome gets his dander up and aggressively edges him out, preserving his place in line. Our guide tells me Rambler likes to eat and took advantage of some poor hapless soul last week who couldn’t assert authority. My dad has no such problems on Rambler. My dad also thinks it’s really funny to watch Lonesome get pissy and keeps encouraging Rambler in his quest to make it to the front of the line.

My mom’s horse is Susie. She used to be a barrel racer and apparently considers herself a bit fancier than the likes of these other horses. She steps along delicately at the back of the line, giving everyone lots of space. She’s tiny and cute. She appears to like Rambler and is content enough to swing along behind him.

My favorite part of trail rides is when guides tell you, “Don’t let them eat! Don’t let them nip at each other! Turn them around!”

Hahahahahaha. HOW?!? I can barely get my 50-pound dog to listen to me. I have no chance with the 90-lb beast I share an office with. He literally laughed at me the other day when I told him to sit. Sure, he sat. He sat and he barked at me for five minutes, and then he got a treat anyway because I’m a sucker. I have zero control over an 1,100-lb horse. I’m not sure Lonesome knew he had a rider. Luke definitely didn’t realize there was an adult human being on him.

Then we drove to Fort Collins, where both my parents went to school, and where dad’s youngest brother lives with his family. Our whole reason for this vacation in Colorado was ostensibly for his daughter’s wedding.

This is my favorite fact about Fort Collins: Both my parents went to Colorado State University. This always seemed fine to me. Then when I started looking for colleges, I tried to look CSU up in Princeton’s best 364 colleges and universities. It wasn’t there.

I’ve given my parents a lot of shit for this over the years since then. My dad revels in it. He thinks it’s hysterical. This might be because as far as “going” to school….he barely went. My mom doesn’t think it’s quite as funny, but she has five degrees from various schools, so she’s got lots of other academic validation.

In Fort Collins, we go by my uncle’s house to say hi. On the way there, we tell my brother-in-law about their old cat Rudd. Rudd was the biggest cat I’ve ever known. He must have weighed at least 40 pounds, and he was a gray, mangy-looking mother****er who ruled their house.

“Rudd was so big you couldn’t pick him up,” I said.

“Was he the cat that would hang from his paws outside their 2nd story windows, meowing to be let in?” my mom asked.

“No, that was their other cat,” my dad says.

“When Rudd jumped down from the couch, you could feel the floor shake,” I said.

“I feel like you’re going to tell me that when Rudd walked down the street, the trees would fall,” my brother-in-law said. “That dogs would run inside.”

At the house, we greet Ben and Jerry, their Beagles, and Titan, my cousin’s rescue pup who has the blockiest head I’ve ever seen.

“Why’d it take you so long to get dogs?” my mom asks. “You both love dogs.”

“We had to wait for Rudd to go,” my aunt says. “He was so mean to dogs they were all scared of him and we couldn’t get one until he died.”