Writer Brittany Hailer and on of the Rolling Hills Ranch horses. Photo by Kyle Hupman.

Mr. Pickles, a half-ton white and blonde horse, leaped over a muddy ravine. The woman riding beside me watched my hair fly forward and yelled, “You have to lean back when they go downhill!”

“These are gonna be the best ribs of my life,” I thought to myself.

I hadn’t been on a horse in more than 20 years, and Mr. Pickles was my ride to dinner.

At Rolling Hills Ranch in Bridgeville, PA, I enjoyed melt-off-the-bone ribs, Italian pasta salad, fresh Italian bread and brown sugar baked beans after riding Mr. Pickles for almost two hours. I sat down at a picnic bench and dug in, barbecue sauce up to my elbows. Mr. Pickles and I had trekked Western Pennsylvania terrain by way of moonlight and Tiki torches tied to trees. Free to steer him as I pleased, Mr. Pickles was a perfect dinner date.

Ranch hands guided our trail, offering advice and words of encouragement to novice riders. My horse, much larger and older than the others (I later found out that easily-spooked riders get the bigger horses), seemed to be a family favorite. Any hand that passed by shouted, “Aw! It’s Mr. Pickles!”

The Rolling Hills Ranch Moonlight Ride and Dinner package costs $60, which might sound pricey for a meal. But with plenty of food to go around, patrons went back for seconds and thirds while a giant bonfire roared. We ate and drank in the middle of more than 70 acres of pasture and forest. So dinner definitely comes with a side of entertainment.

The peaceful nature of the trail surprised me, even with 35 people and animals walking into the woods together. It wasn’t until after the trail ended that both rider and horse seemed to step out of the spell of tranquility. The horses were “set on a run,” as they say, and the stampede was like something out of a western film.

Other veteran moonlight dinner-goers brought their own bottles of wine or six-packs, and once we settled around the fire, bottles started to pop, and trail stories were swapped. As we ate our ribs and sipped our libations, the horses could be heard neighing and galloping in the dark hills around us.

“My horse was a little young buck! He wanted to stay in the front,” a woman across from me shouted.

“Mine was slow. He liked to take his time,” another patron said.

Family owned and operated for more than 50 years, Rolling Hills Ranch feels almost otherworldly despite being only a 20-minute drive from Downtown Pittsburgh. Nestled in Bridgeville, the ranch is sheltered from the light pollution of the city. Just before our tour, I watched a green and gold meteor tear through the sky for a full 10 seconds.

I eventually left happy and full at 11:30 p.m., but even then, it seemed like many of the other patrons were going to be there for at least another hour. The ranch hands didn’t seem to mind.

Rolling Hills is open to the public April through November although, unfortunately, these rides are booked through the fall. Still, they’re worth keeping on your radar for next year, and a visit to the ranch — and a daytime ride — may tide you over. Go to the Rolling Hills Ranch website for details.

Brittany Hailer

Brittany Hailer has taught creative writing classes at the Allegheny County Jail and Sojourner House as part of Chatham University's Words Without Walls program. Her work has appeared in Hobart, The Fairy Tale Review, HEArt Online, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere. She is freelance writer and educator.

Read her work at BrittanyHailer.com