Life with Ladybug: Horses, cabins, friends, no leashes

candle polaroid

By Shannon Magsam

When we talked about what Ladybug wanted to do for her 13th birthday, she expressed a sentiment that I could relate to: “Mom, I just want to be off the leash for a little while.”

Baby, I understand.

Sometimes I feel tethered to my computer, my iPhone, the dirty dishes in the sink. Since I work from home, paid work is always staring me in the face and so is the unpaid housework.

So we made our escape over the weekend. We traveled to a little ranch just outside Alpena (Arkansas) to hang out in a cozy cabin and ride horses. We took a few of Ladybug’s closest friends to help celebrate the transition from 12-year-old to teen.

On Saturday, the birthday girl, her dad, her friends, and her mama saddled up for a trail ride.

As I breathed in the smell of my dusty horse, I remembered that it’s one of my most favorite scents ever. Yes, I love the smell of Bath & Body Works blue spa lotion and chocolate chip cookies as they’re being lifted out of the oven, but to smell a horse grounds me and pulls me up to my happy place by the roots.

I was always a horse girl. My grandmother used to tell me about the day she looked out the kitchen window and saw me sitting atop a large stallion. I had lured him over to the septic tank and jumped on. I had no fear. The beast didn’t mind the light weight of my 4-year-old self, but my Nannie still felt panicked. I can almost hear her praying as she walked up, very slowly, and pulled me down from the horse.

Ladybug also has a way with horses. When we were at the Rockin’ Z Ranch she rode a dark horse named Pistol. She was a natural. She really wanted to gallop, but knew it would make her friends’ horses gallop, too. So she just trotted occasionally on our hour-long trail ride.

Ladybug on pistol

When we made it back to the ranch, she and Pistol kept going while everyone else’s steeds were being unsaddled and unbridled. She urged her horse to go, go, go and she rode him with such ease a passerby wouldn’t have known it had probably been about two years since she’d been on a horse.

It took a while, but we eventually pried the birthday girl and her friends away from the main house – which was difficult since it’s populated with a herd of goats, some sweet dogs, lots and lots of horses and a few cantankerous miniature ponies. It was getting dark, so the friendly ranch owner, Steve, set us up with an outdoor campfire. We roasted hot dogs and toasted marshmallows for s’mores.

We pretended we were roughing it, even though we’d stocked up with snack food of every sort, had the warmth of a gas heater, and slept with blankets and pillows on soft beds.

After the girls had gone up to their loft bedroom to listen to music (too loudly, but we were out in the middle of the woods and weren’t bothering any neighbors), my husband and I chatted and got some reading in. How often have we had time to really talk lately? Or read more than a chapter in one sitting?

rockin zOn Sunday morning, I cooked a pound of bacon and other breakfast food. The girls played a few more hands of Uno at the kitchen table before heading out to take a walk. They headed down to visit the animals at the main house and we drove down to meet them shortly.

We said goodbye to Steve, his super-kind wife, Karen, and two of their six children (the others are in college or otherwise living on their own). We said goodbye to all the livestock (including lots of cows and several adorable calves) and piled into the getaway car.

On the drive home, the girls reminisced about their weekend.

One summed it up: “Horses. Cabin. Ranch. Dance party.”

I added: “Billy goat (he thought hard about ramming our vehicle the first time we drove down to the ranch and he chased the girls into the vehicle on the way out on Sunday. They might have provoked him. Probably.). Uno (who knew how fiercely competitive 13-year-old girls could be while playing Uno at 1 a.m.?).

I looked back at my daughter and also added (silently): “Unleashed.”

Shannon close up, peachShannon Magsam is co-founder of and She’s married to an awesome newspaperman and they have a fun-loving, artsy teen (officially!) who loves watching tv with them and drawing cats. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to or leave a comment here.


  1. Your ladybug gets kudos for choosing a more nontraditional 13th birthday party! Definitely sounds like something I would have done as a 13 year old. And you are quite the mother to do this special treat for her and her friends!

    • Thank you, Kaylin 🙂 I wanted it to be something she would love — and always remember! It was a bonus that I loved it, too!

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