Shortly after President Reagan was shot, his doctors told him it would be two months before he could ride again. From his hospital bed, Reagan held up one finger, insisting he would be back in the saddle in a month.
Today at his favorite place, his ranch in the hills above the Pacific north of Santa Barbara, on his favorite horse, Little Man, Ronald Reagan finally rode again. It was a little less than two months after the attempt on his life on March 30.
In the California sunshine, as the president's day was reported to a press corps kept miles from the ranch, it all seemed reassuringly normal, like Reagan's visits here before the shooting.
For the Memorial Day weekend, the president is back doing what he always does when he escapes to the privacy of his ranch. His doctor, Daniel Ruge, said earlier this week that Reagan is free to do anything he feels like doing, so the president and his wife, Nancy, started the day, after breakfast, by setting off for a ride of about one hour on the trails of their 688-acre ranch.
Reagan may have been a little slower getting back on a horse than he optimistically predicted in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, but he kept one promise. He had said that he would not visit Rancho Del Cielo (ranch in the sky) until he was fit to ride.
Does the president's return to horseback mean he is fully recovered?
"I wouldn't say completely," deputy press secretary Larry Speakes told reporters today.
"It's going to be a long period of recuperation," Speakes added.
The president has been working a half-day schedule recently in the White House. Speakes' comment reflected the desire of White House officials not to commit Reagan to a full White House work schedule until they are certain he is ready.
Unlike the practice in some past administrations, White House officials have not tried to portray Reagan as doing much more work than he actually is handling. This weekend, for example, the president is said to be reviewing some paperwork, mostly on candidates for presidential appointments, and making some changes in a draft of the speech he will deliver Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy commencement.
More of his time, however, will be devoted to riding and the other activities Reagan has always enjoyed at the ranch. He will be cutting brush and clearing trails with his friend Barney Barnett, who was Reagan's driver when Reagan was governor of California.
Reagan's world at his ranch is a very private one. Except for his wife, a handful of aides and the communications and security people who accompany the president everywhere he goes, Reagan is alone and likes it that way.
He has been forced to compromise on changes to his ranch, however. The president had hoped that he could keep the ranch, with its five-room adobe house and small stable, unchanged, but he has given in to some new construction.
A helicopter landing pad has been built; the foundation has been laid for a helicopter hangar, and plans are afoot for construction of seven 12-foot by 40-foot temporary buildings which will house Secret Service agents, communications technicians and a medical facility. Speakes said all the construction would cost roughly $750,000.
He added that Reagan had ordered that no more money than is absolutely necessary be spent on the new facilities and that as much as possible of the construction be done in such a way that it can be removed when Reagan is no longer president.