Have you ever dreamed of living on a Wyoming horse ranch where you can stand on the front porch and see forever? Does an authentic, working horse/cattle ranch experience, complete with chores and responsibilities, interest you?
How about starting young colts? What about riding? Lots of riding! Endless opportunities to ride over 66,000 acres, ranging from sagebrush flats, grassy slopes, to magnificent sculptured rims and ridges.
Then you'll want to head to Horseworks Wyoming, owned by Nate and MaeCile Brown. Their ranch is located in Grass Creek, between Thermopolis and Cody. This area is on the Absaroka Front, a prong of the Rocky Mountains
At Horseworks Wyoming, you can choose how long you'll stay, from one day to three weeks. This isn't a fancy dude ranch. No hot tub, maid service, or gourmet meals! It's a rustic, simple, sagebrush-y cattle ranch, modestly priced and affordable to the general public. Included in your stay are delicious meals, cabin accommodations, and a great selection of mounts.
There are no staged ranch events, just honest ranch work and activities. Some days are long and hot; others, relaxing and laid back. Selected weeks are oriented toward clinics, cattle drives, all-men's/all-women's groups, families, and youths.
The ranch also holds horse sales. It'd be almost impossible to buy the wrong horse. Why? Because you can ride the prospect at the ranch for a week or more until you're certain he's right for you. Also, you have the expertise of Nate and MaeCile, who love and know their horses. They want to sell you the best horse for your needs, riding ability, and personality.
As a guest, the schedule is flexible. At any time, you may take a break or a day off, and with good reason. We soon discovered that we were no match for Nate, who's 86 years old. He ran circles around us! He spearheaded jobs and led the rides. He also worked colts from 5:30 to 7 a.m. Coffee cups in hands, we'd observe the last half-hour of training. We never did catch the entire morning training session.
Peacefulness is guaranteed. There's a bone-weary peace that comes after a day of hard work performed outdoors and on the back of a good horse. Muscles ache, and there's no question about a good night's sleep!
Also, there's the visual peace you feel when you watch a fiery sunset, gaze into a campfire while listening to a softly strummed guitar, and gape at a black-velvet sky ablaze with diamonds.
Horseworks Wyoming offers horse folks something truly unique: an opportunity to learn from a living legend. Nate Brown is a Wyoming cowboy, horse trainer, and natural-born storyteller. He's featured in the book, Meeteetse, Wyoming Ranches & Cowboys: A Legacy (published by the Meeteetse Museum, 307/868-2454). His work ethic, philosophy, stories, and horse wisdom are priceless.
Nate has ranched and cowboyed for almost eight decades. He's a poet and co-author of a children's book, Roll On, Little Dogies (Gibbs Smith, Publisher; www.gibbs-smith.com).
Years have stooped Nate's back, but certainly not his spirit. The first thing you'll notice about Nate are his eyes. Bright blue, twinkling eyes that catch everything and seem to gleam with inner happiness. You'll also notice that his face is almost devoid of wrinkles.
"Nate, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"How come your face is so smooth, no wrinkles?"
Nate grinned and laughed. "I get that question a lot. I think it's 'cause in the winter, I freeze my face, then in the summer, I bake it!"
Nate treats each day as a gift, and he spends it doing what he loves: riding, training horses, and working on his ranch. People who come to the ranch are fortunate. They have the opportunity to learn how to "get the kinks out of their rope" from this gentle, wise, old cowboy.
Nate and MaeCile met 14 years ago. At the time, MaeCile was working at a dude ranch, decompressing from her stressful, fast-paced life as a company president. Part of her job consisted of being a liaison for international business negotiations. She'd spent 10 years in China, and speaks, reads, and writes Chinese fluently.
MaeCile grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, in the heart of horse country. She holds two master degrees from Harvard and had almost completed her doctorate when she met Nate.
According to Nate, he was wrangling for a dude ranch where MaeCile had taken a summer cooking job. When telling this story, his eyes light up, and his face becomes wreathed in a grin. "The owners wanted the outside help to meet the inside help," he recalled. "There I was, lined up with all these good-looking young bucks. We were all checking out the inside help, particularly a good-lookin' woman named MaeCile."
Nate smiled mischievously. "To my surprise, MaeCile looked at me and said, 'May I hug you?' "
Nate's happy reply, "Anytime you want!"
And for the rest of the story - between MaeCile's management skills and business acumen, and Nate's knowledge of horses, Horseworks Wyoming was created.
Never Stop Learning
Most horse problems are people problems; the Browns help guests increase their understanding of horses and learn how to ride safely. They put a great deal of emphasis on safety, and learning to better communicate with horses.
According to Nate, many riders allow their egos to get in the way of learning from horses. "My riding instructors were all horses," he said. "Every horse has something to teach a rider, if the rider is open to learning."
The three-week Ranch Wrangler Internship programs are for serious students and folks who want to get totally immersed in working on a Wyoming ranch and learning horsemanship skills. Participants sharpen their trail-riding skills and/or learn ranch activities, such as team penning and cattle cutting/gathering.
We were fortunate to visit Nate and MaeCile while they had eight guests from England in the internship program. Enthusiasm, energy, and good humor were in abundance as these young adults performed chores, participated in ranch activities, and learned horsemanship techniques.
"The kids" ranged from ages 18 to 24 and were nearing the end of their program. As often seems to be the case, the majority were horse-crazy females; the lone male, Peter, seemed to handle the odds quite well. The young interns told us they liked MaeCile's upfront, direct approach of expected behavior while at the ranch.
Interns wishing to learn how to train colts arose at 5:00 a.m. to learn from Nate. For 24-year-old Katie, this was a highlight of her internship. "It's exciting to form bonds with [the colts], to be the first to sit on them. It gave me a sense of accomplishment," she said.
It was great fun watching the interns try their hands at team penning, especially 19-year-old Lucy. She was a little apprehensive at first, but was paired with a well-trained, experienced horse. When her team got the designated cattle penned, she beamed with pleasure at the feeling of a job well done. We were also smiling; it was enjoyable to watch these beautiful young people working so hard at living their Western dream.
The ranch also offers clinics conducted by professional horsemen. We watched a C.J. Nye clinic. He worked with a 6-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter that bucked - a lot! Patiently, slowly, and quietly, C.J. took his time talking to and stroking the horse.
When the session ended, the horse had stopped bucking, and C.J. rode him around and around the arena. We were impressed with the gentleness and kindness that C.J. showed the horse. It was obvious that this was about the horse, not an opportunity for "showmanship."
After C.J. and the bucking horse had everyone's attention, Kent's Missouri Fox Trotter, Buddy, decided it was his turn to put on a show. Buddy has been working very hard at learning tricks. He loves performing; he loves the alfalfa pellets that follow each trick!
He knows 10 tricks; counting and retrieving are two of them. Our favorite trick is when Buddy picks up dropped items, such as hats or gloves, with his mouth, then cranks his neck back, and hands them to his rider.
On our last evening at Horseworks Wyoming, Nate led us on a gorgeous trail ride. Having spent his life living in this area, he knows every square foot and certainly knows beautiful trails.
Our trail ride looped, twisted, turned, and climbed over varied terrain, one calendar scene after another. MaeCile happily took photos. We learned later that she planned to send each intern a photo CD of their visit.
In addition to photographing the interns, MaeCile encourages them to keep a journal. Through journaling, interns can track their experiences and growth; these journals can also be used as springboards for discussions.
Horses are gathered and moved back to the ranch every morning and out to vast pastures for evening graze. This is done amid thundering clouds of dust and clattering hooves, as the multi-colored herd pounds its way back and forth.
For many of the interns, horse wrangling had become a favorite part of their work day, because it's an adrenaline rush. You might be an English intern, but when you're wrangling horses at daybreak, you feel like a cowboy!
Some guests leave special memories that deserve to be shared. So it was with the unforgettable Norwegians.
A couple of years ago, 12 Norwegian men arrived to spend a week at the ranch. They came from varied backgrounds and different professions. At dinner, MaeCile mentioned to them that Nate's grandmother's cabin had been disassembled two years earlier. The cabin was very special to Nate. He had childhood memories of his grandmother living in this little cabin; she quietly died there. But it was now just a pile of logs, waiting to be reassembled.
The next morning, the group leader approached MaeCile and Nate, and said, "We discussed it and decided to rebuild the cabin." They looked the project over and gave MaeCile a list of what they'd need.
They spent the next four days riding; then the supplies arrived on the designated reconstruction day. Katrina, the English cowgirl, said, "I marveled at the teamwork of 12 men who didn't know each other that well prior to this trip, who brought to bear on a single project, and found joy in the process of working and pride in the quality of the result."
The fog rolled in, and a fall chill sharpened the air, and the men still worked. MaeCile sent an exhausted Nate to nap; then she kept watch as the men labored throughout the afternoon. As she did, she noticed something. Every so often, a Norwegian would leave the work group, sit alone by the fire, and hunch over a clipboard. This pattern continued throughout the afternoon.
About suppertime, Nate stepped outside and saw his grandmother's reconstructed cabin; something he didn't think he'd ever see again. The Norwegians had one more gift - a song commemorating this event. Each one had written a verse in his time alone by the fire.
As they sat and sang their song in the cabin, Nate and MaeCile listened, tears of joy and thankfulness streaming down their faces.
This story touched our hearts.
Our last ride with Nate and MaeCile Brown was in the Meeteetse Day of the Cowboy Parade, created by the state of Wyoming to honor old-time cowboys and ranchers.
All the cowboys and ranchers rode on the back of a horse-drawn wagon, except for Nate. On horseback, he proudly led the Horseworks Wyoming group (wearing blue Horseworks Wyoming shirts) through the town of Meeteetse.
Our horses also enjoyed the parade. Buddy "smiled" for the pretty girls, and Scout tried to eat hay off a float.
Afterward, we went to a picnic barbecue. Children wearing boots and cowboy hats pushed one another on the merry-go-round, while their folks visited with friends and neighbors. A band composed of grizzled cowboys played foot-stomping dance tunes. Nate and MaeCile headed out and danced up a storm. Inspired, we gave it our best shot!
One night, we spent a couple hours visiting with Nate around a campfire. When asked about his favorite horse, he replied, "The one I'm riding at the moment."
I'm certain that 86-year-old Nate Brown has aches and pains. MaeCile told us that he'd been bucked off three times in the previous two months. Yet, he was pushing wheelbarrows, moving horses, and working steadily until dark without a single complaint.
We marveled at the ease Nate had in the midst of all the young English interns. He was unfazed by the age and cultural differences. Visiting one-on-one with Nate is the best way to hear and appreciate his stories. He spins one horse story after another; most of them are probably true!
Cowboy up at Horseworks Wyoming for a genuine Western adventure. You'll ride away knowing more about horses - and yourself.