A few weeks before Christmas my friend, Anne, asked if I was a horseback rider. The assumption that I know a darn thing about horses is of course a common misnomer simply because I arrived in Mexico by way of 50 plus years residence in the great state of Texas. While I proudly claim a love for sunsets at Enchanted Rock, the Dallas Stars hockey team, inner tube floats down the Comal River, the eruption of beautiful Bluebonnet blossoms in the spring and the extra spicy flavor of a Tex-Mex meal, I am not a cowgirl. I’ll admit there was a period of time in my earlier days when I fancied myself a honky-tonker wearing Wrangler jeans, Justin boots, an oversized belt buckle and two steppin’ with the best of them. However, that phase purely coincided with the release of the movie, Urban Cowboy, and was over fairly quickly. As a matter of fact the most time I’ve spent around the equine breed took place far away from Texas during a family trip to the Vee Bar Dude Ranch in Wyoming. Thus, it was easy for me to answer Anne’s question with a simple, “No.”
Nonetheless, three days later I found myself straddling the back of a fine stallion named Ziggy. Why, one might ask? The answer is about much more than wanting to horse around a little. Vacationers to San Carlos have been limited since last spring and most of the snowbird residents are staying put in the north this year. The low number of visitors has had a detrimental effect on businesses providing recreational services. Horses still need to be housed, fed and attended and diligent ranch hands still need to provide for their families. To provide support, Anne put out a message asking locals to saddle up for the local stables. So, three days later I was ready to go for a ladies’ beach ride alongside seven other San Carlos women. Due to my lengthy experience with horses, Astrid, the owner of El Rancho del Desierto, trusted me with a more “assertive” steed. I could handle him. Right?
I clambered onto the horse, tightened up the reins, grasped my trusty crop and began gently guiding him around the yard as I watched my friends mount Sylvester, Tequila, Cheyenne, Frijole, Zorro and Wagon. Astrid climbed on her horse, Gordo, and off we started through the desert. Cacti and other thorny plants spread out ahead of us.
I’d been warned that Ziggy had a passion for snacking on anything green which meant he pulled toward prickly, human ankle height foliage along the way. I held him tight but eventually relaxed as he seemed to be gently following along behind Cheyenne. What I didn’t know then was that good ole’ Ziggy was figuring out who was in charge. The endless blue sky, whistling breeze and a chorus of chatter and laughter from the group gave me a false feeling of ease. I unknowingly loosened the grip on Ziggy’s rein. He slowed, allowing space to open between himself and Cheyenne. In a split second, the boss of this riding partnership saw his opportunity and picked up the pace. What I should really say is, the spirited guy took off in a trot. Then for a few seconds, which seemed much longer at the time, he galloped through the desert as I bounced up and down in the saddle, groped at the reins, tightened my knees and pulled back to eventually slow him down. It was at that moment I firmly understood that Ziggy was the true jefe. For the remainder of the ride I kept his reins tight and the two of us developed a respectful understanding.
As a group we made our way across a small road, through the remains of a long abandoned Club Med resort, past a lagoon and onto the pristine, white sand of Playa los Algodones. Small, crystal clear waves lapped the shore as we took in the solitude of the sea. Listening to gulls call to amigos, watching optimistic pelicans dive headfirst into the water and avoiding dog walkers so as to not spook the horses our pleasant posse continued down the beach.
I imagined the appearance of this stretch of beach as it was before the building of homes, restaurants and the high rise Playa Blanca condominiums. The experience was holistically stunning. Eventually we made our way back over the rippled dunes and headed toward the barn.
Ziggy knew a cool drink of water and a tortilla chip treat awaited him back at the ranch so he picked up speed. I held tight reminding him that while he might be the boss, I was not up for another ricocheting ride. We rounded the fence, where I dismounted and gave my buddy a gentle pat on the neck handing the reins over to someone more seasoned. The ranch hand pulled the scoundrel toward the watering hole where he drank his fill while I reached for a handful of tortilla chips to thank Ziggy for today’s tiny brush with the “cowboy/vaquero way”.While it looks as if the new year will ring in healthier, happier and more hopeful, El Rancho del Desierto, will likely see a positive turn, too. Our little riding group has committed to monthly rides to support the business but also to revisit the lovely experience. Knowing several of the women have passed along the idea to others, there should be plenty of oats and hay filling Ziggy’s belly and an assortment of new riders savoring moments in his saddle. Am I headed for the life of a vaquera? Not today, but one never knows what adventures, changes and fresh starts 2021 will yield.
December 23, 2020
Can we agree that in 2015 not a single person got the correct answer to the lame interview question, “Where do you see yourself five years from now?”– Taken from a photo my sister, Wrenn, sent to me last week.