By Preston Bates
Twenty-some years ago a big gooseneck trailer pulled in the yard and a fella got out wanting to sell some horses. He was a friend of a friend from North Dakota and knew I was always in the market for good riding geldings. There were three horses on board, and I bought all three of them. Two were coming 3-year-olds, a fancy-looking striped-up dun and a poster perfect bay, these were Dakota and Chico. (Photo of Chico and I sorting in the pens)
The other one was a handsome sorrel with a blaze face and one blue eye, we called him Cooleye. Cooleye worked here for about ten years then a longtime friend in California begged him off me. Dakota was to become one of my main rides for years and a true friend and partner. Chico was a bit too forward for most of the guests who came so he was pretty much always a wrangler/guide horse. My oh my what a smooth light jog he had!
About the same time they arrived, we went to a fella's ranch to look at some Hancock horses he had for sale. I wasn’t impressed enough with them to fork over the money he was asking but along the way to their pasture, we passed a big sorrel weanling in a corral with a couple of others. He had four white socks and a big blaze face he hung over the fence as we drove by. We caught each other’s eye.
The next morning, I was thinking of that colt as I had been the whole night before, when Maggie said, “I just can’t stop thinking of that sorrel colt we saw yesterday”. Well, I called the man and made a deal on the horse. I had to make payments, but he let me take the horse home. We named him “Chili”. Chili was to become one of the greatest all-around horses we have ever had. Working cattle or traveling trails he made a guest happy every week for years and years. (Photo of Chili and I working the Arizona border country as a 4-year-old)
Then the recession came and the guest business went. My field was full of horses and my barn was empty of hay and my bank account empty of funds. One of my best friends is a hay grower and we made a deal to trade Chico and Chili for a years worth of hay. Both horses were in their late teens, both had thousands of miles on them, and both needed a bit easier life. My friend was going to ride Chico and he had a young daughter who Chili was going to love. I knew they were going to a great home and claimed first dibs if he should need to part with them. Maggie was not happy about them leaving but understood and accepted the situation. I wasn’t feeling real thrilled about it myself. But it was what it was. (Photo of Maggie and Chili after a day of gathering cattle out in a burn area)
I got to see the boys every time I went and got hay. I smiled when I saw them knee-deep in green grass and when the horses up here were standing in the snow, they were down enjoying a mild winter in the Rio Grande valley.
Then a sudden move came into my friend’s life and they offered Chili and Chico back to us. HOOORAYYYY!!!!!!
I went last week and picked them up. Coming home as I neared the ranch, I felt them moving around in the trailer knowing where they were. Just as I was coming down the drive into our valley a big snow squall kicked up plastering them in the slat-sided stock trailer. I pulled in the barnyard and Maggie came out to greet them as sideways snow caused near white-out conditions. (Dakota, Chili, and Chico - the three amigos together again!)
“Welcome home boys” I thought as I opened the back gates and they both leapt out side by side. The other horses had come in the corrals to see what was going on with a trailer in this kind of weather. I had Chico in hand when Dakota stuck his head over the fence - I thought that over the years I had heard every kind of noise a horse could make but I was wrong. I can’t even describe the short, excited, amazed sound that Chico made when he saw Dakota’s silly face.
The lousy weather kept the camera in my pocket but there wasn’t a lot of action anyway. They are mature guys. Just a lot of chortling and nose huffing then a trot around the pasture.
It is sure good to have these guys home.
A big thank you to young Miss P. for taking such good care of the boys! (Photo: Chili is the outlaw on the left!)
Preston Bates is the owner of NBar Ranch in New Mexico – one of HTCAA’s Premier Trail Riding Destinations!