The drive to TR's hunting ranch in South Texas is the kind of ride that reminds you of how big Texas is and how much open land there still is. You drive for an hour on the freeway, but once you hit the highway you feel the miles stretch and the horizon extend further than you thought possible.
We had a four vehicle caravan - TR had rented a huge RV for the trip and the kids, sensing adventure, all rode in there with TR, leaving us adults to our own music for a change. We had a three horse, two horse and one horse rig. One too many given the number of drivers. We kept in touch by radio, talking in old CB code.
I listened to old podcasts on my phone, laughing at the kind of humor that makes my kids roll their eyes. It was heavenly.
By the time we pulled into the ranch there was just enough light to get in a quick ride on the ranch. It's fun to ride on TR's ranch, especially with him along as a guide. Every trip there I learn about another plant and what the deer will and won't eat and why. He takes the stewardship of this land to heart and has worked for years to manage the deer and flora on the place.
Recent rains have changed the land quite a bit from our last trip. Grasses had grown so high that he'd spent the last weekend mowing paths for us to ride. Which was a good thing since feral hogs had worked up several pits that would have been completely invisible in the high grasses on the farm roads.
We saddled up our horses, Smokey was high headed, Cody was relaxed. Sharon was on her steady eddy, Ebony. TR's daughter V was on Lola. Even with Smokey's alert and eager body language I wasn't too worried. He always starts out with an eager energy and I didn't sense any mischief or irritability in him like I did the day he had that bolt. And given the fact that we were riding with our daughters I knew we wouldn't be cantering - V isn't ready for a trot let alone a canter after her fall.
Personally I'm going to hold off on cantering until I can get in an arena this weekend and work on control at that speed. I sure wasn't going to push my luck.
TR got on his Paso Fino, Vaquero. Vaquero was one anxious horse. He even gave a tiny gaited horse rear. He sweated up immediately.
"We're going to have an interesting ride tomorrow," said TR, his irritation clear.
He and Vaquero completed a few more spins and we hit the trails.
The girls rode their horses behind us. Smokey and I quickly took the lead, with TR and Vaquero occasionally moving to the front and then the back. It surprises me that Smokey is always so willing to be in the front. He has his occasional minor spook (which consists of a sudden hop on all four legs - very rideable), and yet he still seems to feel completely confident in the front of the pack. When he rides in the middle, his big stride and energy results in him drifting forward and before I know it we are back in the front again.
We rode and rode, talking about plants and marveling at the views until the sky turned from blue to a dusty purple, the orange of the sunset just a thin line at the horizon. The horses knew we were on our way home and everyone worked on keeping the jigging to a minimum. The next day would be the big test. Vaquero seemed to settle down, V was worried about her mare. Cody jigged a bit. Smokey was a bit more forward, a bit hard to stop. I worked on it here and there, and he slowly remembered his halts.
We set them out in the paddocks that TR had cleared out, and went in to eat dinner.
That night the kids camped out in the RV and the adults took on the hunt cabin, aka the man cave. It's a renovated little house, a little rustic, a little updated, and a welcome place to relax. I've gotten used to the posters on the wall of deer jaw extraction and antler measurement guides. I've never hunted but really have no problems with it. I was a marksman in college, love the challenge of shooting, especially skeet. But that said I prefer the emotional distance that comes when my meal is wrapped in cellophane.
In my mind deer have it better than cattle. Really life is good for them until one day BLAM! All done.
We crashed out, planning a later than usual start (and thanks to me and Cody, it was really later than usual). The next day we'd be off, our third ride to Concepcion.
Next I'll fill in a few blanks on the trail ride, and by then I'll hopefully have a bunch of pictures from Sharon's camera of our long ride on the ranch...