I have always liked car racing — the wheel-to-wheel and bumper-to-bumper battles on snaking sports car tracks and roundy-roundy races on demolition dirt or high-speed asphalt ovals. Why? I don’t know. Something, who knows what, caused it, and it’s been in me ever since those many Memorial Days in May in the 1940s, when I’d tie a string to a toy Indy car and whirl it around in circles, listening on the radio to the excited voices of Bill Slater high up in the finish-line Pagoda, Sid Collins in Turn One and Jim Shelton in Turn Four, urgently bringing me periodic updates from the Greatest Spectacle in Racing — the Indianapolis 500.
I understand…yes I do. Most of my friends don’t get it, and I can’t explain it to them. Sometimes I’ve wondered if maybe I am, as they suspect, crazy. But, it says on the Internet that auto racing is about the fifth most popular spectator sport in the world, so I’ve got lots of company. (Cricket is apparently more popular than car racing. Car races, at least, come to an end. Cricket games, I’m told, are interminable. That’s really crazy.)
Today I read an explanation of the widespread attraction to car racing. It’s the best I’ve heard. It comes from one of the last of the Good Ol’ boys of bash-and-bang-and-beer-and-babes Saturday night stockers, a fella named Larry Phillips, who explained to Joe Posnanski why so many people gave so much of their lives to the sport of stock car racing:
“They were in it for the roar and the danger and the checkered flag. It was something you either got or didn’t get. If you got it, well, come on then. And if you didn’t, well, to hell with ya.”
I’ll go with that. It’s kind of like a lot of things. You either get ‘em, or you don’t. And if you don’t, well, to hell with ya. And I’ll see ya when we get down there.
The Albuquerque Zoo asked a question of its Facebook friends: What should we name our newborn giraffe?
“Gisele,” which seems a reasonable name, was the second choice of more than 1,000 Facebookies who entered suggestions. I don’t know what came in third. “Gerry,” maybe? “Gandolph”? “Big Tall”? All also reasonable.
First place? “Abiquiu.” Or, for the syllably-challenged, “Abi.”
The AP further enlightens us: “Zookeeper Bricker Thietten says Abiquiu was a favorite among zoo workers because if the female giraffe ever moves to a different zoo, she’ll always have a New Mexico name.”
Wow, think of that! We’ll have a new ambassador to the world, sort of like Smokey the Bear. Abiquiu the Giraffe!
I live not far from Abiquiu, in Baja Abiquiu. Close enough to have a sense of its aura, it’s personality, the mood it evokes and the history it holds.
When I think of all the things I’ve heard, or read, or thought about Abiquiu, even when I’ve thought long and hard, I can’t summon the image of a giraffe. Just can’t. A cow, maybe, even a dead cow? Georgia O’Keeffe — our sole personage of importance — drew a cow skull, after all. A horse? A gopher? An eagle? A tarantula? Yep. Any of those. But a giraffe? Not a giraffe.
Anyway, after 10,000 years of humans living around here, we’ve got a new logo, and a new ambassador to the world. Maybe, if Abi ever moves to Ethiopia, Addis Abbabians will think of Abiquiu as a place with a long neck and spots. Get used to it.
Did Georgia ever scratch out a picture of a giraffe skull?
& Matter of fact, “Georgia Giraffe” sounds like a perfect name. I’m outta here.
& Lots of people in New Mexico are angry about horses these days.
We’ve got too many horses — tens of thousands of them — skinny, unwanted, wandering around in New Mexico and other parts of the southwest, scrabbling for bits of weed and blades of grass and drops of water. You can’t blame the horse for vacuuming the fragments of food from the arid land — he doesn’t want to die any more than you do.
There’re lots of things you can blame — among them high unemployment, interminable drought, rising feed costs, the government’s ban on slaughtering, sometimes-illogical but always-determined defenders of animal rights, and insensitive owners who unceremoniously dump their horses beside the roadways to nibble at whatever nourishment they can find among the broken glass, dirty diapers and empty Bud Light cans. When anything is proposed to do something about it, emotions get in the way. On one side, a jerk who’s angry at “animal rights people” shoots his horse dead between the eyes and posts the video on YouTube. On the other side, thousands of people oppose government round-up programs — offering no solution of their own and no evidence that they actually know the facts.
Emotions aside, the facts arethe facts. And here is an NBC report, demonstrating how far apart people are on the issue of what the BLM should do about wild horses and burros. It’s a good report, showing both sides — let ‘em all go to slaughterhouses, says one; don’t you dare! says another, but it doesn’t even get into the question of what to do with all those unwanted horses that aren’t wild.
Jeff Tafoya, a BLM rangeland specialist in Farmington, can give you all sorts of statistics — 70,000 homeless horses on the Navajo reservation alone — a herd that without intervention will double in four years, their rabbit-like population explosion slowed so far only by a pilot program to thin the herd; a western wild mustang population that exceeds an acceptable environmental balance by 10,000; 50,000 once-wild horses rounded up and held like Guantanamo prisoners, in government-funded corrals until they can be placed on an easier life in pastures, rented by Uncle Sam. The cost? Tafoya says it’s about $1.35. Per day. Per horse. You add up the totals, my old calculator doesn’t go into the millions.
Despite the efforts of government and volunteer organizations, the problem persists, and grows. Down in Placitas, for instance, horses are wandering on the highways, causing traffic hazards. One horse has been killed; people are afraid that the next time it could be a human. West of Cuba, for another example, roadsides and dusty vistas are peppered with hundreds homeless horses — some of them even wearing halters — heads all bent in the eternal search for sustenance. On the drought-dried lands south of Famington, ranchers — those who have sold off some of their cattle in order to have enough pasture for the rest — are plagued by the wild, or once-domesticated “excess” horses who compete with the remaining cattle for food and water.
Fate smiles on some of them at least, like the big black gelding whose owner rode him up to a 7-11 in Gallup and went inside to pick up a six-pack of beer. When he got to the counter, he found that he didn’t have the money to pay for the beer. He left his horse as collateral, saying he’d be right back to pay for the beer. He never returned. Fate smiled on the horse, whose name had to be Midnight, of course. Midnight ended up in The Horse Shelter south of Santa Fe, where he was well cared for, probably for the first time in his life. I hear somebody in Española has adopted him. We can assume his new owner has enough to pay for a sixpack.
But the fates aren’t kind to many of those unwanted horses. It’s pretty well summed up by Tafoya, a thoughtful, caring, veteran government employee, horse owner and expert on the lands that he’s hired to help manage: “Nobody wants to see horses die,” he says. But on the other side, he points out, horses are dying — skinny, dehydrated, hungry, freezing on the land or struck on highways or trucked off to slaughter in northern Mexico, where humane rendering plants are not especially high on the list of priorities. “I think,” Tafoya says, “that more people need to see the magnitude of this problem. It can’t end well if nothing is done.” Until something is done to stabilize the situation, he says, “it’s a sad, sad time to be a horse.”
It’s a mess. Driven by drought, compounded by economy, hampered by restraints on government, totally confused by emotions.
So what is to be done?
The first thing that needs to be done, it seems apparent, is to get everybody to calm down. Everybody take a deep breath. Let’s have a civil discussion. Listen to people on all sides — particularly those who are able to refrain from defending the horses’ “rights” in knee-jerk letter-writing campaigns, and those who can make their point favoring horse slaughter in some way other than a public display of shooting a horse between the eyes and allowing the camera to linger on the animal as it twitches in the throes of death. Thankfully, there are some adults out there with interesting, helpful, and perhaps productive solutions. Let’s let them be heard. Let’s ignore the others.
Next time you hear an argument — one side or the other — take a little time to check out the facts. There are plenty of pros and cons out there on the web. If we really like horses — and I do really like horses — let’s check our emotional baggage at the door and approach this with the sincere purpose of bringing an end to this sad, sad time. And instead of debating the deep philosophy of the rights of animals, let’s come down to earth and start with the simple concept of welfare, both for the horses and for us.
& One solution to the overpopulation of horses, just about everybody agrees, is to get some of them — even if it’s only a relative few — broke, gentled, rideable, and adopted. There are lots of people trying to help in this effort. I’m told that In New Mexico, for example, there are nine licensed horse shelters, all of them privately funded, dependent on volunteer help, and loaded to the withers with horses that are ready for adoption. Maybe you can make a donation. Or consider adopting a horse. Or sponsor a horse. Or lend a little volunteer time. There’s probably a horse shelter near you. Look one up on the internet.
Or, if you’re around Santa Fe this weekend, it’s a good time to take a drive down toward Cerrillos on Highway 14, turn left on county road 55A and follow it a few miles along Galisteo Creek until you come to The Horse Shelter, where they’re having a big fundraising shindig this coming Sunday, May 19.
For 75 bucks — 67 of them tax deductible — you’ll get to participate in a classy auction. (How about a one-week stay at what’s billed “an AMAZING 3-bedroom 4-bath house in Cabo San Lucas” featuring, among other things, “a private infiniti pool”? Lots of other stuff on the auction block, not quite as pricey as condos in Cabo.) You’ll also get a tasty lunch prepared by Chef Martin of Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe, and even get some informative demonstrations of what those people are doing to save and train those once-unwanted horses. Maybe you’ve even got something to donate to the auction’s larder.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll even get a chance to take a peek at their newest arrival — otherwise known as Sasha’s Colt, who just sort of wham-bam-thankee-ma’am, no-frills-no-fuss, plopped out of her mama a couple of days ago and curled up in the dirt of a shelter corral. Have you ever felt the softness of a newborn colt? You ought not get through life without doing that at least once.
Check out the shelter’s auction webpage for details or ticket purchase, or go to The Horse Shelter page on Facebook.
& Riding a fat, happy horse and thinking about Rodney King, who once asked “can we all get along?”, I’m outta here.
Update 5/15: I earlier told you Tafoya was based in Gallup. Wrong-o. Jeff also gave me some better numbers on the cost of housing horses.
& Take a moment today to mark a milestone in the history of women’s rights and equality.
It was 40 years ago this very day that bandy-legged Bobby Riggs, an old-time champion/hustler/gambler who knew every lob-, spin-, dink- and drop-shot ever devised on a tennis court, parlayed every trick he knew to devastate the reigning superstar of women’s tennis in a much-ballyhooed best-of-three exhibition billed as the “battle of the sexes”. Riggs, then 55, beat Margaret Court – a 29-year-old who only three years earlier had won the Grand Slam of tennis titles and to this day is regarded by many as the greatest woman tennis player of all time — by an embarrassing 6-1, 6-2 rout.
But that wasn’t the milestone. Although it gave one last gasp of hope to those who stubbornly held to the old-timey chauvinistic concept of the dominant male in the face of a rising surge of feminism, it really was the beginning of the end. It served primarily to set up Riggs for his biggest fall: Four months later, in the second round of the “Battle of the Sexes” — Riggs vs. Billie Jean King – he looked to be exactly what he was: an old man with a well-worn bag of tricks. Before the largest tennis audience of all time, Riggs lost not only the $100,000 winner-take-all purse, he was destroyed by the 29-year-old King in a best-of-five match, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Chauvinism was on the ropes. Feminism was on a roll. And it still is.
And let’s not forget: Billie Jean King knew how to act like the queen she became. Wikipedia tells us this about Billie and Bobby, who died in 1995: They had maintained friendly contact over the years, and “she called him shortly before his death, offering to visit him, but he did not want her to see him in his condition. She phoned him one last time, the night before his death and, according to Billie Jean…the last thing she told Riggs was “I love you.”
Three nice words that put an end, at least, to that battle of the sexes.
& Waiting patiently for Danica to cross the finish line first, with all those good ol’ boys behind her, I’m outta here.
I had just dodged a micro-tornado that had come snaking like a dusty cobra over the cacti and chamisa and sagebrush spotting the high desert Caja del Rio Plateau west of Santa Fe. Then, from somewhere way back in my brain, came those staccato sounds of the William Tell Overture. And then, over the music and out of the my memories came the urgent voice of Fred Foy, crackling out of a radio speaker sixty-five years ago…
“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! …
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear.
From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver.
The Lone Ranger rides again!”
I looked up. Off in the distance came came a band of five sunlit riders, floating toward us on a ground-hugging fog of desert dust churned by the hooves of their horses.
Well, let’s be clear: The horses weren’t what you’d call fiery. Not one was silver, their hooves weren’t exactly thundering, and the speed was something less than that of light — closer to about 10 miles an hour. But at that moment there was, somewhere back in my mind, a return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, back to a time when people actually used the word “yesteryear.” A time when a kid sat listening to WXYZ radio in Detroit (the birthplace of the legend of the Lone Ranger, in case you didn’t know) and was transported three times a week to the Old West, a place he’d never been and never thought he’d go.
And yet, here he was…
In case you’re getting ahead of this story and surmising that I was standing out there in the Caja with my Google tablet watching a preview of Disney’s latest remake of The Lone Ranger, you’d be wrong.
I was out there beside the corrals and watering tanks of the Eleven-Hundred Well in the Santa Fe National Forest, only a few miles distant from the middle of nowhere, watching the goings-on at a day-long event called an endurance ride.
I’ve done some trail riding. Nothing better than swinging back and forth in a soft, creaking saddle on a sturdy mount in a deep arroyo or slowly grinding upwards along steep mountain trails or cantering across high country meadows. It’s a test of endurance for horse and rider, no doubt. But it’s always been done at a sort of leisurely, informal pace. No rules.
When I drove out there to the Eleven-Hundred Well last Saturday morning, my little Yaris bumping along the ruts and through the quicksand-like dust of Forest Road 24, I didn’t know much at all about endurance riding. I had harbored an idea of what was going on: Something akin to the Pony Express, I thought, a throwback to a time when lithe little riders on steely steeds galloped across miles and miles and miles of rocky, ill-maintained trails through thick brush, deep water, and roving bands of ill-tempered native Americans (they had another name for them back then) with feathers in their hair, finely-honed tomahawks in their belts and unerring arrows in their quivers. Well, not quite that Hollywoodie, but something like that.
But no. These riders — there were maybe 40 or 50 who were riding that day — weren’t quite up to the standards of those jockey-sized Pony Express riders of the 1800s, whose workday routine was galloping with their mailsacks across 100 miles of tricky terrain, trading their spent horses every 10 miles for a fresh mount, caring first and foremost for the delivery of the mail. Endurance riders, these days, can be just about anybody — young to old, slim to not-so slim, woman (mostly, it seemed), man, girl, boy. The ride, although a timed event in which somebody gets first place, is more for the purpose of finishing on a healthy horse — only one horse, whose fitness, strength and, above all, wellness, is of primary importance.
There are, I’ve since learned, endurance rides all over the place, from the Northeast Challenge up there in Buckfield, Maine down to the Descanso Ride in the hills east of San Diego. At the American Endurance Ride Conference’s website, along with lots of other stuff, you’ll find events scheduled across North America. Most of the United States. Canada. Texis, too. Some rides go 30 miles, some 50, some 60 and some, like the Pony Express, cover 100 miles in 10 hours or more.
The events are run under a relatively simple, but strict set of rules — none so important as those relating to the fitness of the horse. Before, during and after the race, the riders are required to bring their sweating horses though a checkpoint — the Eleven-Hundred Well was that place last Saturday — where volunteers with stethoscopes and horse doctors with critical eyes, talented fingers and unquestioned authority inspect each animal for pulse, respiration, hydration, muscle stiffness, lameness and a bunch of other things I don’t know anything about. If the vet or, in some cases, a committee of vets decides the horse isn’t fit to go on, the rider is told to stop. And that’s that.
But if the horse is fit, the rider gets the go-ahead and takes off on another 10- or 15- or 20-mile loop in the preset endurance course, out into the wilderness over hill, over dale, the dusty trail goes up, and down and over the rocks and through the water and through the trees and past up the canyons and along the ridges. (It does sound like a Pony Express ride, doesn’t it?) With the riders out on the course, the organizers and sponsors (it was Listening Horse of Santa Fe, aided by members of the Northern New Mexico Horsemen’s Association last Saturday) are back at camp and the vet-check locations, keeping records and worrying about timing, water for horses, weather (if it comes) and whether anybody’s out there getting lost. Last weekend, five riders took a wrong turn. But, they found there way back to the trail. Nobody got hurt. A few horses were pulled and some even rode back to base camp in a trailer. Their riders probably wanted to pout, but didn’t.
Those who are veterans of the endurance game like to say that endurance riding is the ultimate in horsey stuff — no rules about how the rider sits, or what she wears, or the sheen of the saddle or the price of the bridle. (One western competition, I have learned, requires not only that the rider wears Wrangler Jeans, but a specific style of Wrangler jeans. Sounds like a golf tournament.) In endurance riding, ”Nobody cares about the riders,” said one observer. “It’s all about the horses.”
Oh, there is some concern for the rider. Example: ”Go get your horse hydrated,” Santa Fe vet Larry Nolen told a rider at the 20-mile vet-check Saturday. “And,” he added, looking closely with concern at the tired face of the rider, “you might also consider hydrating yourself.”
It’s also true that if you and your horse make it through the mid-course fitness checks and are the first to cross the finish line, you may not have won. There is one final hurdle, one final veterinarian waiting to examine your horse, who must be in good enough shape to continue, if he needed to. If he doesn’t pass the final fitness test, he’s deemed unfit to go on, and he doesn’t get first place. That, among other things, cuts down on the temptation to push too hard after the final midcourse vet-check. No Pony Express finishes here.
But it’s not so much the winning as the finishing. Although some riders compete for points, most do it for the fun, the exhilaration, the scenery, and the long hours of training, conditioning, riding and bonding with their horses. Not to mention the end-of-the-ride exhilaration of a cold beer from a base camp cooler. Then there’s that happy Rule No. 6 from the exhaustive, well-written AERC’s Rider Handbook: “All riders who successfully complete the ride must receive an award.” To finish is to win. My kind of competition.
Beyond that, there isn’t much in the way of award. “Just braggin’ rights and a t-shirt,” in the words of one observer.
The AERC website provides links to several endurance ride videos, including this one, which incorporates most of the elements of an endurance ride event. I watched it. And I’m thinking about going into training with my horse and, maybe next year, giving it a try myself.
But don’t tell my horse. He thinks a tough day is a 10-mile saunter up and down a sandy arroyo. He doesn’t know it, but that kind of effort was yesteryear.
Looking for Tonto, I’m outta here. Hi-yo Silver, awaaaaaay!