Cowgirl Vacation: A Women's Escape at a California Ranch

By midday on my third day, I have some important decisions to make. We've been given the afternoon to do as we wish -- to take advantage of the ranch's facilities, from golfing to mountain biking and hiking. Most of my group is eager to hit the streets of nearby Solvang, which improbably resembles a storybook Danish village, a town torn from the pages of Hansel and Gretel (really -- it even has a Hans Christian Andersen Museum).

Buying trinkets is the furthest idea from my mind, especially when a Jacuzzi and a frozen margarita are some of my other options. A siesta before the evening's line-dancing lesson to rest the tired muscles I've used casting my lure or hugging the sides of a horse with my legs is in order, if I'm going to hit the town this evening.

Generally, I'm a girl who can't flee fast enough from group dancing; there's something silly about trying to mimic all those synchronized steps when the best part of dancing -- the physical expression -- is so studied. I've never been a Hustler, and the Electric Slide is, as I see it, one big power outage.

Still, I'm at Boot Camp, where the whole point is the participation, so I remain open-minded. Lisa, our instructor, sets down a small boom box in the recreation room off the main lodge. The furniture has been removed and the Indian-weave carpets rolled up to reveal a barnlike setting, with unvarnished hardwood walls and floors and very little in the way of decorative distractions. She selects Shania Twain's "Oh, No."

My sentiments exactly.

Within 20 minutes, though, I'm actually catching on to the boot-boot-heel-heel-step move, just before backsliding into the boot-heel-fall-flat-on-the-floor-and-rise-for-more-cardio torture.

Determined, Lisa continues her Sisyphean battle to ready the group for our two-stepping public debut, chiding us for giving up too easily when we don't quite coordinate the steps, and warning us that we can either master the dance moves here, or suffer our fates before an audience of inveterate two-steppers. Cowed by the prospect, we make every effort to catch on.

A couple of the Richmond Hill girls, old hands at this sort of entertainment, assist Lisa with some of the more difficult dancers, like me.

One hour later, we load a bus and hit Solvang's Maverick Saloon.

That personal attention has paid off. I waste no time cozying up to a man that wrangler Lori tells me is a noted bronco rider and ask him to dance. I'm unsure of the social customs in these parts, but after a couple days on a recalcitrant Redman and the fly-fishing that was neither, I can't handle being a wallflower to boot.

"Do you understand the 10-step?" the bronco asks curiously. I shake my head sheepishly, and hope it won't matter. "Might be best then if we wait for the two-step," he suggests.

Chivalry, I can attest, has never left the old West.

Some of the other gals have also surrendered themselves to the attendant cowboys sipping Budweiser from long-necked bottles. Thankfully, my bronco, James, never once bucks at my awkward footfalls; instead he rewards me with an airborne twirl and a polite, "Thank you, ma'am." Cowboys who dance seem to have the lightest touch. Maybe it's because they save their strength for creatures on all fours.

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