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SADDLE UP WITH THE KIDS AT CATSKILLS RANCH

Bo knows.

At least that's what I wanted to believe as I pulled myself up onto the chestnut horse's wide back. It felt as if I was perched on top of my minivan, minus the roof rack.

Bo waited patiently. I fiddled a bit, making sure that my feet were securely in the stirrups before I picked up his reins and confidently said, "OK."

This meant nothing to Bo, who continued to wait, patiently.

I shook the reins and clucked. We remained motionless. I patted the side of his huge neck and called him a "good boy." Nothing happened.

Then a cheerful wrangler rode up. "You gotta give him a kick," she said.

I kicked. We stood.

"Harder!" she urged.

My 9-year-old daughter was already in line with the other riders at the Pinegrove Dude Ranch in Kerhonkson. They were ready to head out into the woods at the Western-style Catskills resort.

I kicked with a bit more authority. Bo moved forward, right for the water trough. He bent his head and drank deeply. I didn't fall off.

We took our place in line. The head wrangler gave us basic horse-handling instructions and the ride began.

As our animals clopped a slow walking pace, we passed fenced pastures where the resort's other horses -- there are about 100 total, from Appaloosas to Thoroughbreds -- enjoyed their freedom. We took in the surrounding mountain views, then entered the woods. The intermediate and advanced riders split off to trot and canter. (Riders are screened by ranch staff to assure skill level.)

Since this was my first horseback riding experience, I was happy to stay on the beginners' trail. My daughter, who took riding lessons this spring, moved up to intermediate level on a later ride.

The beginners' route was gently challenging enough for someone still learning how to steer and stop a 1,000-pound creature. Several wranglers offered advice and kept things moving, especially when Bo stopped for an unexpected leaf snack and then for a bathroom break. The pace was enjoyable and relaxing. It was exhilarating to ride on a real trail even though I had never been on a horse before.

Forty minutes later, we returned to the corral. I climbed down, a bit stiffly. Bo ducked his head. I patted him.

At the 600-acre ranch, it doesn't take long to change from a dude to a cowpoke. Horses like Bo make it easy, even for novice riders. Guests receive one scheduled ride per day, but you can wait in a stand-by line for additional rides at other times. When we visited, there were always available horses.

All of Pinegrove's horses have Western saddles. Riders are advised to wear jeans and boots. Helmets are provided for riders, but bring small-sized ones for young children. State law requires everyone 14 and under to wear a helmet when riding.

Children aged 8 and above may ride on the trails; younger ones stay in the corral and receive horseback instruction. Pre-schoolers get treated to hand-led pony rides.

Pinegrove's rates are per guest for an all-inclusive package. Seasonal and holiday packages abound. There's also an additional 15 percent service charge, which the resort says covers staffing.

Packages include riding, three meals daily in a longhorn-adorned dining room, sports activities, open snack bar (called "the chuckwagon"), pre-dinner drinks and hors d'oeuvres, and room rental. There's an outdoor pool with twin-tube water slides, a smaller indoor pool in an aging subterranean area, a petting zoo of farm animals, beginners' ski slope, rock-climbing wall, large playground and fitness center. Depending upon the season, activities include snow tubing, shuffleboard, bocce, karaoke contests, ice skating, bingo, paddleball, ping-pong, and, of course, horseshoes.

The resort also has a small, peaceful lake, reached by walking a fair distance or taking a tractor-pulled hayride (we chose the latter and were glad). Paddle boats, life jackets and fishing gear are provided lakeside, where the fishing's easy from dock or bank. We saw a young boy haul in three spots in just five minutes; others nearby caught small bass.

Pinegrove is kid heaven and easy enough to reach for a weekend or holiday getaway. It attracts families of all sizes as well as reunion groups and other organizations.

The riding is worth the per-person package price, but don't hope for luxurious amenities in a place with bootscrapers in the halls. Some parts of the resort are aging and worn. Guest room furnishings are basic and food is dull, with meals pre-prepared for efficiency (lunch and dinner are only served for an hour).

Pluses include attractive perennial gardens, the availability of free burgers, hot dogs, drinks, soft ice cream and snacks from 10 a.m. until midnight (so kids can eat on their own schedules), and the resort's helpful, experienced staff-from wranglers to waiters.

Horseback riding is Pinegrove's chief strength, and it delivers on that admirably. Dude or not, if you want to ride -- and, especially, ride with your kids -- this is a great place to do it, in any season.

Mapping it out

Pinegrove Dude Ranch, near Route 209 and Samsonville Road, Kerhonkson

For info: (800) 346-4626; www.pinegrove-ranch.com