Thursday, June 27, 2013
The Heart of the Ranch
In the mountains of southern Colorado, opportunities to explore, enjoy and envision are truly endless. I have ridden in the rocky cradle of the canyon, galloped across the grassy meadows of the mountain, and lounged in the evening’s crimson sunsets as they blossomed over a distant peak. This is an entirely different world than the one I came to love in Ireland. I have a completely untamed, unknown land to explore. And none of my discoveries could have been made without the heart of the ranch.
This ranch has six horses, one pony and a mule who call it home. They each have seen many more seasons than my own horse and even in their ever climbing age, I can’t think of many animals that are luckier. If I were a horse, this is where I would want to retire. Here, the animals have a vast expanse of green pasture to roam while soaking up the rays of a heartwarming sun; all the while still able to take on a rider and explore the wild Rockies.
Perhaps the most majestic of the six horses is the Andalusian gelding, Llanero. With his solid neck and massive hooves, Llanero makes an intimidating presentation. One second in his pasture, however, proves that looks can be deceiving. He is a kind, curious soul who will back halfway to Canada if he thinks there’s a chance to get his back scratched. With a big appearance and a heart to match, Llanero adds an impressive spirit to the valley.
Llanero’s counterpart would have to be the very, er, full bodied pony: Summer. Her quiet, fearless nature makes her the pony of choice for many of the ranch’s riders. She is, as they say, ‘bomb-proof’. Not only will Summer get a rancher home safely, she will do it in only a halter. No matter where a person ventures, Summer knows her way home.
One of the most difficult of the geldings to photograph has to be the kindly Quarter Horse: Ray. This isn’t due to lack of participation—quite the opposite, really. When I entered their pasture, Ray trotted up to me and that is where he stayed for the remainder of my photo shoot. Even when I sat on the ground in the corner and tried to look as unobtrusive as possible, Ray’s nose was in my camera. Finally, I gave in. Ray gets the ‘totally hypnotized’ picture.
Just as Llanero had his opposite, so does Ray. The two old girls of the back pasture have been retired from riding for more years than I’ve been alive. Sugar, the aging mare, has the quiet, sleepy understanding that comes with experience. She does not seem to care if someone is brushing her or if she is relaxing in the shade of one of the ponderosa pines. The mule, however, has not let anyone get close to her for years. Aside from Sugar’s company, the mule remains completely happy to be left alone. On my first day at the ranch, I looked out the window and was surprised to see the mule trotting through the backyard. Catching her was proving to be an impossible task until someone realized that all the mule needed was for someone to put Sugar back in the pasture. Like two old friends reveling in each other’s quiet, the mule went where the easy going mare went. If not for Sugar, I don’t doubt that she would be halfway to Texas by now.
One of my favorite geldings to ride is Knot. He is soft, smart and remarkably curious. When I was in his pasture, Knot hurried over and stood next to me, resting his head against me as he waited to get his neck rubbed. Like Ray, he was so persistent that I couldn’t get far enough away to snap a picture. Even when I gave up and went into the next pasture over, Knot was sure he could squeeze through the panels to pursue his new admirer.
Another pleasure to ride is the old ranch horse, Hank. He’s a big Quarter Horse with powerful legs and a soft mouth, making him ideal for working cattle or climbing out of the canyon. Used to my little Palomino gelding, Capelli D’oro, riding Hank was an entirely new experience. Luckily for me, he made it a good one.
If Llanero gives the valley its power, the Arabian gelding Antara gives it its eloquence. With the endurance of its desert racing forefathers and the quiet of his curious spirit, Antara offers a beautiful ride as well as a pleasant companion. I discovered while readying him for his portrait that Antara’s sweet spot is right under his chin; he would have let me pet him all day long.
Whether they were rescued from an abusive past or raised right here, these eight spirits are what give the ranch its character. Gentle and curious, the horses are perfectly content nuzzling a photographer’s shoulder and waiting for their rub downs. Now I only have to keep straight who wants their chin scratched, their back rubbed and their neck massaged. Who owns who here?