After a long, hot summer in Texas, we head to New Mexico to prepare for our big move.
After a long, hot summer in Texas, we head to New Mexico to prepare for our big move.
Ithought we’d never get here. A series of events over the spring and summer---some planned, others unexpected---delayed our return to Pie Town. We had decided that, rather than shuttle back and forth between the two locations (a grueling two-day drive), we would stay at our Hondo, Texas, property until it was ready to put on the market. The logistics of running two ranches had proved daunting.
Our work preparing the Texas ranch for sale was chugging along nicely until the rains came. Nearly 30 inches fell in a three-week period, which spelled disaster for our plans and progress. The creek flooded the low-water bridge near our property and mud made it nearly impossible to get our unwanted materials and equipment into the 30-yard dumpster we had rented.
Our attention shifted from migration to survival---laying down gravel in horse paddocks, trimming mud-caked hooves, fixing machinery. We had been planning to head for Pie Town in early July and had even pulled interstate health certificates on three horses. Sadly, that trip was scuttled, although my friend Audrey Hager and I did manage to make it to an endurance ride in Fort Stanton, New Mexico (see “Moving Parts,” EQUUS 493).
In our part of Texas, summer sets in sometime in April and escalates
from unpleasant to unbearable as the months go by. By September the extreme heat and humidity, coupled with the rain, had brought not only mud but a bumper crop of flies and gnats. Our imported Icelandic mare Gloria bore the worst of it.
Although she had never shown signs of summer eczema, about one-third of Icelandic horses have a genetic predisposition for the problem, which is commonly known as sweet itch. Now, it seemed she might be part of that third: She was beginning to itch and rub uncontrollably, and her legs and shoulders were covered with scabby bumps. Adding to our stress was the fact that in August we had to euthanatize our Arabian mare Fine Touch due to advancing chronic heaves.
Gloria’s increasing discomfort gave us the impetus to get on the road. Finally I said, “We must go!”
Already in New Mexico were Jasmine, our 4-year-old liver chestnut, curly-coated Fox Trotter, and Legacy, our 16-year-old gray Fox Trotter who would again be spending the summer season in Silver City with Susan Dent. For the time being, the other seven horses in our herd and our two donkeys would remain behind in Texas with our wonderful ranch caretaker, Lupe Neault.
By early October Kenny and I were packed and ready to set off, only to discover that Gloria was determined not to load. Our step-up trailer was higher than any she had encountered and, amid all of our preparations, I had neglected to work with her on loading. We felt like we didn’t have time to go back to square one with Gloria, so we came up with an almost literal workaround: Load the mare onto our stock trailer, which she was familiar with, back it up to the step-up trailer, and lead her across. Success!
At last, we were all on board with cattle dog Maddie and Siamese kitty Magdalena, heading west. Our friend and New Mexico neighbor Karl Phaler described this long-awaited moment as, “The axis of the earth tilted several degrees to get you out of Texas.”
DESTINATION: PIE TOWN
However, the gremlins continued to follow us onto the highway. As the vast expanse of western Texas slipped by, the truck began making odd noises and emitting strange odors. We worried that the engine was working too hard; besides the trailer, its load included 150-some T-posts we had piled in the truck’s bed. We became fixated on the dashboard gauges---temperature, oil pressure, RPMs---with each passing mile. Fortunately, the engine did not falter despite its “complaints.”
Our usual layover place was the fairgrounds at Fort Stockton, Texas, but given the difficulty we had loading Gloria, we decided to drive through the night and aim to get to New Mexico
in 24 hours. Fortunately, the 13.1hand Icelandic had room to turn around in the trailer and lower her head (she was not tied). But this is not a regimen we would recommend for horses---or humans, for that matter. It meant little sleep for Kenny and me, adding to our stress levels. It was all becoming a blur.
We pulled into Karl’s driveway about 3 p.m. on Monday, October 1. It was hard to say who was more relieved ---Kenny and me or the animals. Happily, we all bounced back quickly.
The next several days were spent recovering, making lists, setting up appointments and generally taking in the landscape. We drove 80 miles to Socorro and purchased 100 bales of gorgeous grass/alfalfa mix hay. We checked out the local Walmart and discovered they were carrying more organic produce than last year. We marveled anew at the stunning beauty of the surrounding mountains, the clouds dancing over Alegres’ peak in the morning, the brilliant afternoon sunshine and shifting shadows, the black night sky full of sparking diamond stars.
Gloria’s skin bumps faded away and her coat fluffed up. This was the climate she was bred for, and she began to thrive. She quickly enchanted her two new pasture pals, the Arabian geldings Dizzy and Phoenix, and emulated their airy floating trot with flagged tail.
We breathed in the cool, fresh air. We were home. “Welcome back to paradise,” said Karl.
OUR OWN PRIVATE INFRASTRUCTURE WEEK
We had a list of projects a mile long. One of our first priorities: Get our solar well completed and winterized before freezing temperatures set in---and according to forecasts they were coming soon. We also decided to put in electrictape fencing with alternating T-posts and step-ins---not elegant, but fast to install and easy to change as we get to know the land. We’ve noticed that the fluttering of the half-inch white tape seems to deter the elk from encroaching. And our horses respect electric fencing, even when it isn’t on.
I was eager to clean up our doublewide, which had been delivered last summer, so it would begin to look like a home. It had been cluttered with the tools, textiles, boxes and construction materials that come along with a resourceful, do-it-yourself husband. Over the course of an afternoon, listening to Gloria Estefan on a boom box just unpacked, the living room and kitchen were transformed into a place I couldn’t wait to live in. The views out of every window were stunning---during our four-month stay last summer we had spent much time determining the orientation of the house to optimize the views, and our efforts paid off.
On the Friday before we left Texas, we had a call from Bill Harris, the lead
technician on our regional electric service. We had dithered over the last several months between above-ground and underground power, occasionally even considering off-the-grid solar. But after chatting with Bill and learning about the current limitations (and expense!) of the ever-changing solar technology, we decided to go with our original goal---lay underground conduit. And Bill knew just the electrician who could do the trenching, complete the installation and put in our septic system to boot. We were elated. We would also enroll in our electric co-op’s Green Energy program, which uses mostly wind power for energy.
Repairing the downed panel on our solar well was the next project. A combination of some loose bolts and winds gusting to 80 mph had “liberated” one of the panels a few months ago, and when it fell to the ground it took out some wiring. Kenny, with Karl’s help, repaired and re-installed the panel and reconnected the wiring, and the well is again pumping clean, clear water into the 300-gallon stock tank for Jasmine and Legacy, our two overwintering resident mares.
Soon after our arrival, we also closed on an additional 100 acres across from our main property on Rutter Ranch Road. This new acquisition would give us more than 200 acres total---plenty of space for our herd to graze without overtaxing our pastures. And lots of room to run, roam and ride.
Much of the monsoon had missed our place this summer, leaving the already fragile grama grass even more vulnerable to equine hooves and teeth. With the additional land,
we will now be able to keep two to three horses on each pasture, with “sacrifice” paddocks planned to further protect the landscape.
Following the traditional Saturday “Breakfast in Datil” gathering, we visited our friends Sue De Laurentis and Allen Pogue at their new Pie Town ranch. They had sold their Red Horse Ranch in Texas and left for Pie Town just three months earlier with seven horses and two Minis. Allen is building 16- by 12-foot run-in sheds with an 18-foot overhang for large square bales to protect both horses and hay from the elements. We took notes to emulate the design. We admired their use of five-foot-tall, no-climb fencing for their interior paddocks. They’ve also made good use of a heavy-duty tarp to cover their supply of large square hay bales. Sue has been riding several days per week on the BLM land that adjoins their property.
We’ve made great progress in just one week and look forward to achieving much more. Although we are planning to head back to Hondo sometime in December to continue prepping the Texas ranch for sale, we hope to spend time in Pie Town this winter and bring out more horses as infrastructure is finished. Our immediate goal is the completion of all utilities---electric, septic, water and propane.
In contrast to hot, humid Texas, the cool New Mexico climate is invigorating. Daytime highs have been in the 50s and 60s and nights in the 30s and 40s, although a chillier stretch is upon us and freezing temps are just ahead. On a recent morning we awoke to sleet, hail and the promise of snow. It’s a delight to don long-sleeved flannel shirts, jackets, hats and gloves.
Of course, “real” winter is not here yet, and gusty winds are frequent. So far, the altitude has not affected us nearly as much as it did last summer. Perhaps we are adapting to our new home at last.
RESPITE: Gloria, our 6-yearold Icelandic mare, thrived once we got to New Mexico. Flowers brighten the southern line of our new property (right).
NEW HOME: Kenny spends a moment with Jazzy Sunday (Jasmine), our 4-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter mare.
SUNNY OUTLOOK: Jasmine (left) and Legacy watch Kenny repair and re-install a solar panel on the well, which will supply water for a 300-gallon stock tank.
A NEW DAY: Our neighbor Karl Phaler snapped this shot of Alegres Mountain at sunrise.