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

Whatever the basis for their courtesies, this is still a culture where even a cowgirl gets treated like a lady, and I mean that in the best sense possible. Coming from a big city like New York, where so many people seem afraid to be nice to others, there was more to James than just being a gentleman; he was being neighborly too.

What I realized from boot camp was that the key ingredient to being a cowgirl was the recognition that you were simply free to be.

Western garb and two-stepping aside, the main attraction is the ability to release oneself from the confines of a regimen that leads so many of us to seek respite from weekend packages like these. But the attention at Alisal isn't just cosmetic; there's something very emancipating about getting in touch with one's inner child, in a place where fresh air and the open road come standard.

That's why so many Easterners sought the West in the first place. If a cowgirl's life spoke to the free spirit in all of us, I knew I could forego, guilt-free, that last morning trail ride and opt for my fireside massage instead. Besides, I wanted a jump on planning my next frontier.

Sue Carswell is a reporter/researcher at Vanity Fair, a former senior story editor at "Good Morning America," a contributing launch editor for O, The Oprah Magazine, former executive and senior editor for Random House, Inc., and Pocket Books. Carswell is an adventure columnist for www.wowowow.com.

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