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With Preston Bates

This story takes place decades ago at a different time from now... Names are omitted to protect the guilty. No photos were taken of this adventure either. Believe the story or not... it’s your choice.

As we traveled deeper into Mexico he filled me in on his friends and all the horse-trading they had done, over the years and all the money he had made. There was never any simple condensed version of any of my partners’ stories and he filled the next hour nonstop before we turned off onto a smaller but well-maintained road. Soon there were no lights to be seen anywhere. As we climbed several mile-long grades and then topped out and dropped several gentler miles down the other side, each elevation change brought new smells through the vent windows. The headlights on the old truck were only fair and shone no more than 30 yards ahead, illuminating stands of Ocotillo cactus and bunchgrass. About every minute a jackrabbit would dart in front of us, I had never seen so many in my life. My partner kept a foot on the gas leaving a coyote buffet in our wake. Suddenly there was a tall adobe wall running alongside the road, as we slowly came to a stop at a heavy wooden gate. I checked the time and saw it was after 2 am. “Your friend knows your coming to see about his horse?” I asked. “He does indeed”. He replied. No sooner were the words out of his mouth, that the gate swung open and a man with a flashlight appeared and waved us through. The headlights flashed across a parking area in which there were several pickups parked to one side; we pulled alongside one of the trucks and shut down.

My partner got out and I followed suit; waiting as the flashlight man closed and secured the heavy gate. He then came over and greeted my partner in a friendly, courteous manner, both talking quietly for a few moments. Then my partner said to me, “Grab our bedrolls and follow along.”

Now if you have ever handled a real cowboy’s bedroll you know it’s a bit more involved than a sleeping bag. It has a change or two of clothes in there, socks, undergarments which could be clean or dirty. There is also a flashlight, a pair of camp shoes, a towel, a small bag with a toothbrush, paste, deodorant, shaving gear & first aid stuff. More than likely there is a pistol and a box of cartridges. A pillow (yes, a pillow. Sleeping with your head on your saddle is done only when you have no choice. Most cowboys like choices). So, by the time you roll that thing up, it is 3 feet round, 4 feet wide, and could weigh in at 35 pounds or more, more if you're hefting my partner’s bedroll because he, of course, will have in there several large volume coverings - some esoteric of subject; which was his interest of the week.

I almost told him to get his own damn bedroll but I didn’t want to start off wrong, so I hefted both rolls and followed him and the flashlight man through another gate into another wall. We entered a courtyard. There were lights along the path and on the walls of a building.

Everything was adobe and everything was old. We walked a narrow stone path through a well-tended flower garden. The sweet fragrance of many kinds of blooms mixed in the heavy summer night air. I was having a hard time keeping the bedrolls from smashing the vegetation, having to kick one along as I dragged the other. I had resorted to dragging my partners. We came to some stairs and he finally took pity on me, grabbing his roll, mumbling under his breath. At the head of the stairs, we walked on a covered walkway overlooking the courtyard till we came to a door that the flashlight man opened to reveal a large comfortable room with two large beds. He and my partner exchanged a few quiet words and he then silently closed the door and left. “What is this place?” I queried my partner as I took in the huge vigas in the roof and lattila ceiling, the 20-inch-wide floorboards, and 2-foot-thick walls.

“One of the oldest haciendas in Chihuahua, built and owned by the same family since the 1600s. The De Garza family came directly from Spain to this land which is an old grant given by the king.” He said. As my partner rambled on about it I sat on one of the beds, feather bed, pulled my boots, and fell back.

I missed my partner’s history lesson, though I truly was interested, I was exhausted. It had been a day like I would never have imagined.

Moments later it seemed though it was really hours I woke to a light tap, tap, tapping on our door. My partner was closest to the door but I could tell by his breathing he was so sound asleep he wasn’t getting up so I did.

At the door was flashlight man who bid “Bueno Diaz” with a bright smile and no sign of his late night we had caused him. I replied the same which he mistakenly took for my having the ability to converse with him and started into what was obviously some kind instructions... “Whoa Ho Amigo! No hable de Spanish.” I said. He chuckled and said in perfect English “Don DeGarza will meet you over the horse corrals in 45 minutes Senor.” “OK, and where are the horse corrals?” “To your right when you leave your door. You will walk right to them. Would you like me to send someone to escort you there?” he asked.

“No, I’m sure we can find them alright. What time is it?” I asked in return.

“It is just after five Senor.”

“Alright well, we’ll be along then.”

“You appear to be in need of some coffee Senor, yes?” He asked with a smile on his face.

“You are an observant man indeed.” I smiled back.

“I will have some sent here then.”

I stuck out my hand which he took and introduced myself. and he replied, “I am Jorge.” The smile had never left his face and when he left there was one on mine.

I turned around and my my partner was sounding way to comfortable and happy in his feather bed so I kicked him.


“Get your ass up. Jorge said Don DeGarza wants to show you the horse in the dark.”

“What in the hell are you talking about?” he moaned and mumbled.

“Jorge said to meet Don DeGarza in 30 minutes at the corrals. The sun’s not up yet so I guess he wants to show you the horse in the dark.”

I told him 30 minutes 'cause if I had said 45 he would have dragged it out as long as he could.

“I’m gonna shower and you be clear of that bed when I get out,” I ordered.

The shower was just what I needed washing away the fear, stress, tiredness, and exhausted excitement of the last 24 hours. Heck, it hadn’t even been 24 hours yet!

When I came out of the bathing room I found my partner up and pouring himself a cup of coffee from a tray on the sideboard. I went and poured one myself and raised my cup to him.

“This is living now partner.” I toasted.

“You ain’t shittin'," he muttered as he went into the bathing room.

My partner, it seemed, was not his usual eloquent self yet. But when he came out of the bathing room he was back to himself.

“You, my young friend, are about to see one of the most amazing things, and few men ever get to see it. You will be astounded, and you will be amazed!” He said with a smile.

“Are we going to the circus?” I asked to be a smart ass.

“Of a sort, yes of a sort, indeed we are!”

“Well, what are we going to see?” I inquired.

“I’m not going to spoil it for you. You just have to wait” He had a mischievous sort of sparkle in his blue eye and I just wasn’t sure if I should be on the wary of something.

“Come on, we best get on over to the corrals,” he said looking at his watch.

“Relax, we were to meet him in 45 minutes, not 30. I told ya that just to get you going.”

‘“That’s all well and fine. Let’s get outside anyway and breathe it all in.” he suggested to which I concurred.

There was a rosy hue on the eastern horizon backlighting a ridge in the distance, to the west there was a sliver of a moon and stars still shining bright. We stood and sipped our coffee listening to the coo of a mourning dove and again smelling the blooms that were below us in the garden. I deeply breathed it all in.

After a few minutes, my partner nodded and we walked in the direction of the corrals. The walkway we were on was soon no longer overlooking the gardens but a large rectangular adobe block corral. There were large double solid wood gates at each end, the walls were ten feet high. I was staring at the perfection of the corral and almost walked into my partner when he stopped and engaged a man in conversation. It was clear they were glad to see each other, plenty of back pats and smiles. After a moment, my partner introduced me to the Don...

“I am happy to meet a friend of my friend but I must confess I did not know he had another,” he said smiling as we shook hands.

“It is a pleasure to meet you Don DeGarza and I thank you for your hospitality. But to be honest the use of the term 'Friend' between this man and myself at this point in time may be presumptuous.” I smiled back.

“Ha! I like this young man!” the Don exclaimed.

At this moment, Jorge appeared with a tray of coffee and fresh ubiquitous. He and the Don spoke quietly for a moment and then the Don poured and handed Jorge a cup of coffee then everything fell silent other than the still cooing dove.

Dawn had gained some momentum and the world was getting lighter. Again, we all were breathing it in. Several minutes passed as we each enjoyed the morning for our own reasons. I was in awe of the hacienda as it came more visible, sprawling across the mesa a collection of rooms and buildings, walls and courtyards, gardens, trees, and paths. This place was cool!

I didn’t notice the slight intrusion on the silence at first. It was at a distance but soon gained volume...

It was the sound that sets hearts pounding. It was the thunder of running horses.

Then there was a “Yip, hiiiiiiiieeeee yip, yip!” The universally used human language of moving horses. The first came into sight, the lead horses clear in the morning light and others behind just phantoms in the rising dust. Two vaqueros on either side staying far enough out to avoid most of the dust but close enough to control the herd. It was like something out of a movie: the sun rising, the horses, the dust, the vaqueros. It was breathtaking!

Through the big double gates, they ran into the corral below us, over two dozen raven-black horses with flowing manes and tails whirling and bucking and spinning. The vaqueros slid to a stop at the gate, each shook a small loop in their long reatas and each tossed it on the handle of a gate pulling them both closed. They then walked their horses into the milling mass of over-excited horses and while doing this they looped their 60-foot reatas together.

Once in the middle they stopped and then started riding away from each other stretching the rope tight between them. As the rope tightened and rose higher off the ground the excitement in the loose horses settled down. When the rope was horse-butt high the thirty horses all shifted and shuffled around until they were lined up shoulder to shoulder with butts backed up to the rope...

And there they stood as the dust settled.

Sides heaving from the run, ears twitched, a few tails swished, a hoof stamped once or twice but there they stood. 30 horses, shoulder to shoulder, butts to the rope, perfectly still. An elbow nudged mine jostling my half cup of now cold coffee... “You can pick your jaw up off the floor now,” my partner said. I turned to him and just grinned, I was speechless. Then a man walked out from below us holding a halter and looked up at the Don who said something to him, obviously, the name of a horse. To me, each horse was identical, all black, not a spot of white anywhere. They were magnificent. But the man knew his horses and he walked up to one not far from the middle of the line and slipped the halter on the horse and walked him out of line and then disappeared below us out of sight into a stable area. The Don spoke a few moments with the vaqueros and all those horses stood like statues while he did. The man below appeared again and walked over and opened the double gates. The horses all watched him but did not move. They didn’t move until the two vaqueros dropped their ropes and then boy howdy they moved! They reared and spun and whirled and took off out of that big corral like the devil was after their tails! I turned to the Don and stammered “How did you teach them to do that?!” “It was not me. Two hundred years ago my many great grandfathers, he and Jorge’s many great grandfathers, they teach two horses to do it. Then they get a third horse and the first two they teach that new horse to do it. Since long ago the older horses they teach the younger horse to do it.” He explained.

“And you do nothing?” I asked unbelievingly. “That is right we do nothing it is all the horses” He nodded. “Amazing!” I said. My partner asked, “Astounding, too isn’t it?” with a smile. I could only nod dumbly “Amazing and astounding,” I agreed. We went down the stairs to the stable area and found the horse that was selected from the corral ground tied in a wide alley. He was magnificent! I had seen photos of these old school Spanish horses but had never met one. His mane waved down past the point of his shoulder, tail dragged the ground and leg feathers dusted his tracks. His eye is what caught mine and mine his. He was deep, thoughtful, and proud. We held our gaze for a long moment then he reached out and sniffed then blew in my face. I did the same to him. Don De Garza said something in Spanish and everyone else smiled and nodded. “He likes you. Even if you are a friend of my friend!” he said smiling with a chuckle. “This horse and all the others before him know few men. They have only known us, so they have the trust of all men other horses cannot. Place your hand between his eyes and tell me what you feel.” I laid my hand on the horse’s forehead and we looked into each other’s eyes. “Well?” Don DeGarza queried. “I cannot describe what I am feeling..” I truthfully told him. “Bueno!" he said smiling and laid his hand on my shoulder. “Bueno, Bueno, Bueno”.

We spent an hour over a plentiful but simple breakfast and I got to hear the history of the ranch and the horses. I could have spent the entire day listening to Don DeGarza but as the sun was well up he announced he had business to attend to in the city. Wherever that was. My partner announced that we too needed to get on the road North so we said our adios’. “You are welcome to visit any time my new friend and you do not need to always bring along our old friend, eh?” Don DeGarza told me as he warmly shook my hand. My partner and I had not had time alone to talk since the morning began, but now that we did I could not wait to ask. “Is that horse coming back with us?” “It is.” “What are we going to do with it?” I eagerly asked. “First off there is no 'WE' when it comes to that horse. I’m selling it to a young lady in Santa Fe” I replied. I was disappointed to hear that news but had to ask the burning question, “Do I get to ride him across the border?” “You do”. He said. I was excited to the point of vibrating. It was late afternoon when we pulled into the border corrals. We unloaded the horse and I tossed my saddle on and swung up. “Same place in three hours,” my partner told me. “Don’t be in a hurry,” I replied, with a large grin.

I gave the horse a 100th of an ounce of leg pressure and he moved right off. I grinned and started glowing inside. With every step, it got better and better. I moved him into a trot, I smiled and chuckled. After about a half a mile I thought of asking him to lope. He knew, he stepped into his lead and into a lope...

I smiled, I laughed and glowed from my toes to my ears.

Whatever I thought, he did it. We weaved between mesquite and greasewood brush, I just had to look where I wanted to go and he went there. I wasn’t sure his feet were even touching the ground he was so smooth. I looked to see if Pegasus wings had sprouted and was surprised not to see them.

Only too soon I got to the meeting spot. I swung down and rubbed him, and yes hugged him. I opened my canteen into my hand which he muzzled, rinsed his mouth then spit out and gave me a wink. I settled into a bit of shade from a big mesquite; he stood next to me never lowering his head to graze or move about. I just sat and marveled over him 'till my partner showed up.

Early the next morning my partner loaded him up and headed off to Santa Fe. I never saw or heard of that horse again but I have forever since compared every horse to him only finding a few of hundreds to slightly compare.

Preston Bates is the owner/operator of Bar X Ranch in New Mexico... We promise if you visit there, you'll experience a true New Mexican Adventure!


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