ROOMS: 45 PRICE: $140--$476
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: A FAVE SET FOR HOLLYWOOD ("CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND" WAS FILMED HERE)
MY HORSE IS ON work release. Six years ago the U.S. Border Patrol confiscated Cowboy after he was caught carrying weed across the Mexican border into southern Arizona. After a short furlough with the Arizona Department of Agriculture, he was eventually sold at auction for $1,250, and now Cowboy, presumably reformed, works at the White Stallion Ranch just north of Tucson, helping city slickers learn the basics of horsemanship. I had never ridden a horse before arriving at this ranch amid the foothills of the Tucson Mountains, and I figured that my dark-brown gelding would soon be wishing he were back on the lam. Or at least had Yesica on his back.
Cowboy and I got along well, however, with the help of Carol Bachmann, the ranch's head wrangler. "Cowboy's a good horse for you because he picks up on the skill level of the rider," Carol told me. "And he's very appreciative to be here because he knows what it's like to be on the other side."
It is indeed fun to be a cowboy, even for only 72 sun-baked hours. The day moseys along quite nicely at White Stallion, thanks to the unfailingly accommodating True family, which has operated the ranch since 1965. What started out as a cattle ranch has been expanded into a dude ranch that combines old-fashioned hospitality (three squares a day and an honor-system bar) and modern amenities (a heated pool and wireless Internet access in every room). The biggest draw, of course, is its 130 horses. Guests saddle up daily for slow, fast and mountain rides on terrain featuring prickly pear cacti, Yao Ming--sized saguaros and sweeping vistas of Safford and Panther peaks.
The SI crew quickly felt at home (especially photographer Pamela Hanson, who proudly wore a T-shirt that read SAVE A HORSE. RIDE A COWBOY), even competing in a team cattle-penning event. Nights featured Russell True, with the weathered wisdom of a cowboy and the lean build and laid-back manner to match, telling tales about the history of the ranch. His simple but sage advice about riding: Trust the horse. Even one with a shady past.