Al­most there

Af­ter a long, hot sum­mer in Texas, we head to New Mex­ico to pre­pare for our big move.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Bob­bie Jo Lieber­man

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.

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