Spending time with my horses in this amazing outpost of jungle countryside is one of the most rewarding times that I am experiencing these days of my ‘golden years’. The time to ride is hardly often enough, but when the dogs and horses and I are together with time to go on a Journey, it is always an adventure! Because we are living in the jungle, it is mandatory to put issues of healthy and grooming at the top of the list, before we play. And this includes checking feet to make sure that all is well and healthy there, as this is the main mode of transportation – without healthy strong feet, and here shoes are essential – there is no ride; it is also about checking for infestation of bugs, as ticks are a problem and there are lots of different kinds of ticks; and there are also vampire bats in this country, and they can be a problem. So we do our routine check of current events on the horse bodies, and then prepare to go for a ride. Preparing to go for a ride is not simple, either, because we are so off the beaten track it is essential to prepare as much as possible for needs along the way. I think it is funny interesting because the folks that live here travel by horse all of the time, to work, for supplies, to haul miscellaneous from the jungle, to get to the medical clinic when it is open, to get to the pigs when you are pig hunting, to work the cattle and mend the fence…to get around! These folks travel in some amazingly rough terrain, of which I am blessed to experience during this time in my life, and it seems that their ‘needs’ are not near so much as mine are…LOL. Rarely do you see them packing a lot of ‘stuff’, they stick to bare essentials (machete).
The local saddles are not often up to par and what I would consider ‘safe’, I have witnessed stirrups held on by strong twine, and the saddle that I am using (from here) is actually held together with wire. Plastic bags tied on the saddles for water and extra tools, or large sacks that can carry supplies. Always there is at least one machete present, which is used for anything that a gringo may need a knife for, and then some. The horses deal with all kinds of odd combinations just to make it work, for rider and horse, in balance or not. I, on the other hand, take my backpack (old and tattered as it is), a personal radio (cell is usually not dependable), my machete – you never know what you might encounter on these seldom used back country trails, my dog training remote for the dogs (Otis is still a punk and full of himself), water of course and sometimes a snack. I have made a conscious effort to train my horses to work together, riding one and towing the other and switching along the way, so that they will move quietly and efficiently together. Of course there are personality issues, dominant horse is better to be towed, but my boys are working it out pretty well together. There are rarely issues, however depending upon the circumstances…you never know, surprises here in the jungle could show up in a multitude of ways (snakes, pizotes, wild pigs, slippery roads, etc.). However, up to this point we have never had a ‘wreck’, only moments of excitement and possible reorganization. These horses are pretty calm and they will get collected pretty quickly from an ‘oops’ moment. For example, standing in the river refreshing ourselves and enjoying the running water around the feet and legs, Ono loves the water, and he is being towed. We are standing in the water, the horses are – I am astride Kinto – Ono is having a grand time pawing the water and getting us all wet and Kinto is moving around to a ‘better’ spot and he steps into a deep spot with his right foreleg while his left side is still on a solid hold, and to accommodate his position he kneels down on his left leg to stay in balance. Then he moves to the right to get himself steady and even on all fours, and he is calm as can be while Ono is watching – kind of – as he continues to paw the water and the dogs are swimming around the horses. We are talking about an area that is roughly twenty feet in diameter, with huge slabs of rocks sloping into the water and deep gravely bottom. Phew! That was good.
For this past winter and on into the summer I have been riding my paint horse, Kinto, and he is the dominant, as I wanted to establish a good connection with him in various situations, and so we towed my Juan, aka Ono, and he is the clown subordinate. Kinto is less confident in what he does and where he is willing to step in to questionable situations, but I can see that a lot of that is just lazy and reluctant. So we spend a lot of time together getting our signals and expectations of one another in sync, while towing Ono. Ono, being the ‘subservient’ underdog likes to nip Kinto on the haunch as we are moving on down the road, and Kinto lifts his rear and lays his ears back in idle threats, but this habit can be annoying so we are working on keeping my dear Ono in the ‘correct’ position as we travel. When we are moving through rough country there is no issue as their attention is on their feet and staying upright. However, taking those times to connect with just one horse in some rough questionable areas before we try with two is the current project. Kinto, Ono and I are hooking up pretty good, moving together very rhythmically the three of us, and I decide to leave Ono on a picket line to graze while Kinto and I take a nice unencumbered (no Ono distractions) ride together to see if we can find the trail that fords the river where the suspension bridge washed out quite some time ago. It is one steep spot down into the river where the bridge was built, and washed completely out in one (or more) ridiculous storms (they happen here) – there can be lots and lots of water rushing down those water gorges. To my left was the steep bank of the private and fenced property going straight up and totally not traversable, and to my right was some very rocky pasture that was anything but kind, completely fenced in with no gates or trails, and absolutely no visible way from where I was to get into the river. And, across the river, providing that you could actually find a way to cross it, there was no visible trail that connected to what used to be the road on the other side of the bridge! This is now completely grown over with jungle, by the way, and barely discernible. YET, people on horseback were passing through this way, as it is a major thoroughfare that connects one good sized community town, to this countryside where we live. HOW DO THEY DO THIS??? I would think that with regular traffic there would be a trail quite evident, and our friends tell us ‘Oh yes, the trail is there…’ and I spent an invested amount of time looking at this one from every angle that I could see. To the left of the bridge abutment, carved into the bank (the steep one on my left that continued on into the water gorge) was a very rocky and steep trail that was very certainly maneuverable on foot with effort and determination…no way is this the trail! This could not possibly be the trail that these guys are riding their horses! I will believe that when I see it, both directions. And where on the other side does this come out? No sign of a trail or a common crossing – which, by the way, would be impassable in the rainy season. Oh but it is fun and exciting!
Unbelievable. Alrighty then, it seems as though I will have to find someone to ride with me way out here and show me how they do it, because I will NOT try that without seeing it first. And I am no novice or coward rider, either! I have been riding remote wild ranch trails for years, chasing cows and single footing it on narrow trails that drop off into shear water canyons, definitely not for the faint hearted. We would drop off the edge of cliffs and work our way through forests to the bottom, zig-zagging in quick turns dodging big trees and steep drop offs, to the dismay of other riders in our company. ‘Come on! You can do it – just do it!’ And now I am looking at this crazy wild jungle country road that says, ‘this is the trail…’ and I am thinking, ‘you have GOT to be kidding…’
Alright, so we turned around to return to the main road all the way back up the mountain and have a look at the other commonly used route, a separate road/4WD/horse trail, and look there for a way to cross the rivers to the other side of the valley, where we may be living….possibly. Moving right along, we move on down this road, which was a road at one time, but due to the fact that there is no money to work on remote country roads, this one had seen more than its fair share of water runoff and the water had done what it does by carving long deep runoff ruts down the middle, presenting challenges requiring amazing feats of athleticism of the horses (and rider, tsk) to maneuver through. The first time through we had come to this point with Kinto saying to me (in horse language), ‘Nope, not goin’ there’…however with some ‘gentle’ persuasion he acquiesced and we made it (safely) beyond, and winding on down and through the jungle we crossed the first river, no problem, continuing on we came across some ruts that I was not willing to challenge! We stopped and both of us were looking at it like ‘and just how the heck do we get through that…’
Really. I looked and thought about it for a very long time before I finally decided that at this point I was not willing to take a chance that could possibly endanger me and/or the horse, perhaps in the company and security of traveling with others, or if I had my handy dandy little camp shovel, but not today and alone. These country horses are absolutely amazing and underscored for their willingness and ability to travel through incredible places, the campesinos (country folks) come through the country back roads all the time on horseback – it is not impossible. Quad 4WD bikes and 4WD jeeps move through that trail system, especially after a good rain, but those guys are a group and THEY GOT WINCHES AND SHIT, which I don’t have. So, after much consideration we turned around and headed home to cold refreshments and a cool hose down and a grass munching session, together with his subordinate buddy Ono, who had been left behind.
After a nice cool-off it was time to head back to their pasture until another day. The horses were eager to get back, they were now refreshed, and the truck was behind us gently encouraging them to get home a ‘little’ faster. I had my radio on my belt, riding Kinto bareback in a halter and lead rope while towing the punk-subordinate-with-an-attitude now, and as long as we were going uphill it was good, but once we got on the downhill and stepped into the straightaway (well at least as close to a ‘straight-away’ as they have around here) we were really moving out…we were good until as we neared the home gate the pressure was on for a race – so there I was gathering tow rope and reins in my hand while managing the hell-bent-for-home euphoria and somewhere in all of this my radio disappeared.
Hell fire and damnation. This is the jungle, and after the boys were turned loose I was walking home with an unyielding determination to find that bugger, come hell or high water. My logical mind was bugging me, ‘where would the most likely place be? How might it have happened? What side of the road would it be? Did it bounce on the road (not likely, not a bouncy kind of thing) or did it bounce off of a horse’s butt into the jungle? Or get kicked aside perhaps? Oh man, this was going to be a hunt.
So I tuned into my feelings, hoping that I could feel my way to the right spot. I had it pretty well defined to a certain segment of road, considering that I feel for the presence of the radio on my belt often, and the nature of the ride. So when did I last know it was there and when did I discover it missing, as well as the rest of the fun sport of the ride entering into the picture….where could that darned thing be? Not to mention that these radios are expensive and a relative luxury in the security/communications department (we have always carried radios while working the country on horseback; needless to say, I had to find it. Back and forth a few times with the truck and on foot, I let it go until the next day when Mate and I both went on the prowl for the radio, covering each other’s side of the road back and forth. I kept hearing in my sub-conscious ears, ‘It’s not hidden, it is out in the open…right out in front’ – yet we found no radio.
This was not a good thing, as our batteries are going south and this particular radio was the best of the lot and it was gone, and there is no money for new batteries…so I went out to find the radio again a few days later, walking home from a ‘fruitless’ attempt to gather my horses for another ride. They were way out on the north forty, and no way was I going to walk way out there to get them (no other way). So I chose to walk home with the dogs and search for the radio. This became a very thorough and exhausting as well as really sweaty search job, to no avail. I was already at the gate to the property, covering the last bit of ground where the road forks to go up to our house or to go the horse trail/4×4 road to the river, the 4wd trail that we could not pursue…and lo and behold there was the radio in the middle of the road, nestled in the leaves, just as the road veers towards the river.
To say that this empowered me to climb the hill back home is an understatement. I listened to the messages coming to me, yet I had to continue to be vigilant in my determination to search as much as possible – finding nothing – and then at the end of the search there it was, out in clear view in the middle of the road.
Isn’t this something that is so clearly indicative of the times we live in? It was a powerful message for me, to be sure. I was listening, although I had enough doubt to be thorough (in my search), and in the end there was the radio in the middle of the road in full view.
As I consider these things, these ‘messages’ if you will that gently encourage us to have more faith and resolve in listening to that inner voice, I realize that the timing of this lesson is so very relevant to the mysteries that are unraveling on this planet, at this very moment. Everyone will have a front row seat to witness the unfolding of some pretty bizarre times we are entering into, and yet everyone has the power to listen to that inner voice for guidance and clarity in the craziness that is all around. My radio experience is nothing compared to raging winter storms unraveling the southern states, and sinkholes and tornados in February, to say the least. What is important is to get grounded enough – and my horses and jungle time do that for me, so that we do LISTEN – so that we can hear the answers that are there, somewhere. The search for the radio is the same as the search for our new ‘home’, patience and attention are paramount at this time.
Attention: to find the way across the river with no crossing; to find the missing radio or whatever; to listen for the messages; to find our new home. And for humans now? To find their way – through the maze of rivers with no visible crossings – the way is there…perseverance is a must.