Riding among the ghosts in the hills

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LAKE LUZERNE, N.Y. — My afternoon alone began with a big bowl of mac’n’cheese with a baked-on crumble of croutons.

It was high noon, the rest of my party was at an amusement park, and I was the only diner in the cowboy bar. The Long Horn was decked out for Halloween and I sat near a window where a real spider crawled over a fake web. The country music was exactly loud enough and the ice water was served with a chunk of lemon.

After lunch, Alpha the GPS got it into his head to take me on a little adventure. Rather than driving two miles on the 9N straight to the riding stables, he decided it’d be more fun to take a twisty, partly dirt road past old farmhouses, a few campgrounds and several falling-down shacks where people might or might not have been living.

By the time he led me to Painted Pony Ranch, a group was saddled up and about to head onto the trail. A man—maybe the owner—met me at the truck to ask if I was there for a ride. “We’re about to head out,” he said. “Sign this. Have you ridden before?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, here’s Sissy.” I learned later that most people are afraid of gentle Sissy, who was the biggest horse saddled up. Certainly I needed to stand on the box to mount her, but once seated, her wide back and lazy stroll were comfortable and anything but frightening. Sissy and I took up the rear, so I gave her her head, leaned back and daydreamed.

We were on a narrow trail on the side of a rocky hill and, as I do, I thought about those first Westerners in the area, the men who came after Samuel de Champlain to explore and settle the area. Their horses would have had to be as surefooted as these and their riders needed a strong sense of adventure and direction. There would be fewer trails for them—just tree-by-tree choices made through the forest. Perhaps they would hug the river. Perhaps they, like us, would venture farther from the large bodies of water, tramping through streams and climbing up the rock, leaning forward in their saddles, a hand pressed against the cantle.

This area was chosen more for its strategic geography than its heavenly beauty, as it’s part of the nautical highway from Montreal south through New York. The French and English fought hard for the land, using as allies the Mohawks and Huron—the very people whose land they were stealing in the first place. Land grants were issued to retired soldiers in the 1700s and by the latter part of that century Westerners were farming in these hills and riding their horses on trails that had been tramped down decades earlier by aboriginal peoples.

Sissy and I clomped along in the quiet and paid no heed to brown and amber leaves falling around us in the bare wind, stepping carefully so as not to disturb the ghosts in the hills.

painted pony ranch lake luzerne ny

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