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Back Country Horsemen

A few days after getting Coquetta, my neighbor to the southeast, Arlene Walsh, asked me to join the Back Country Horsemen of America . This is a national organization devoted to keeping public lands open to horseback riders. We figure horses should be a natural part of the wilderness. After all, they originated here in the Southwest. It was only 10,000 years ago that people hunted horses to extinction. When the Spaniards arrived, their horses took to the wild and thus, as far as I am concerned, righted a great environmental wrong.

Our opponents are self-described environmentalists who want to wipe out wild horses again. They don't want them in the wilderness, not even as visitors, chaperoned by humans. They cloak their hunger to extirpate horses with fancy environmentalist talk.

To fight these people, we need allies. We make them the hard way by doing volunteer work on public lands. Our project for the morning of May 31, 1992, was to make it easier for antelope to get to a water hole on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Arlene wanted to make sure I hauled Coquetta to the day's work site without breaking the law. The authorities fight rustlers by requiring hauling permits. Every now and then they stop a vehicle that is hauling livestock and check to make certin everything is in order.

Since I'd never seen news stories about rustlers, I figured they were just being extra careful. Soon my opinion would change.

Early in the morning of May 30th, we met an officer of the New Mexico Livestock Board at her place. I showed my sale agreement, and got permit number 916.

Early the next morning, we all met at the junction of Interstate 40 and State Highway 6 to caravan deep into the backcountry. We headed south, then west on a red dirt track. We angled deep into a land of red and yellow sandstone mesas toped with black volcanic rocks south of the Acoma Pueblo.

It was a dry spring. Our vehicles rattled over a washboard road covered with red dust. We raised such a cloud of dust that most of the convoy became blinded and took a wrong turn. Those of us in the lead waited at a group of corrals and a water tank until our leader retrieved the others. I let Coquetta out to stretch her legs. She rolled in the dust and shook it off.

Our first task was to figure out how to get to the work site. The concept was to get on our horses and head west. The reality was a deep arroyo across our path. People rode north and south trying to find a way to get through it. Everywhere, dense mesquite and steep banks blocked the way.

After about ¾ hour all the folks that had gotten lost in the dust arrived and saddled up, yet we still hadn't figured out where to cross the arroyo.

What the heck. I gave Coquetta her head. She took off, dit-dit-dit-dit, with her swift singlefoot gait, headed south about 100 yards, pushed through some tamarisk bushes, and there was a well-worn trail through the arroyo.

On the other side, Coquetta begged to get up and go like she'd never begged before. A teenage boy on a mule cantered up to us. "Let's run," he called.

I let Coquetta show me how fast she had to go to break into a canter, then a gallop. After a run of a mile or so we came to a Chevy ¾ ton pickup with a BLM logo, parked on the other side of a barbed wire fence.

Why the heck, if a pickup could get to the work site, did the rest of us have to come in on horseback across that arroyo? The big deal was that the holder of the grazing rights, the Acoma Pueblo, didn't care to have lots of random people driving around their ranch. A strange truck would normally mean a cattle rustler or poacher.

I walked Coquetta a bit to cool down, then unsaddled her and wiped the sweat off. We tied her and the mule side by side. As we walked over to meet the BLM men, I looked back. Coquetta and the mule were making sweet sounds and nuzzling each other.

We soon found out another reason to ride to this site instead of drive. The two BLM men had us get into their pickup and drove us to the far end of the work area. The dirt track was so bad, it felt like the truck had no shocks at all.

Our job, they explained, was to remove several hundred yards worth of the bottom strand of barbed wire from the fence and replace it with smooth wire. "Antelope don't jump fences," said one of the BLM men. "They crawl underneath. Along here is where they crawl under to get to the water hole. We keep on finding their babies here, dead from thirst. We figure they are afraid to crawl under the barbed wire."

At the end of our day's work, once again Coquetta and the mule begged to run. Because we would be trailering them right away, we didn't let them go fast enough to work up a sweat. Even so, again we left the rest of the work crew way behind.

I was beginning to suspect that my homely old mare was pretty darn good.

Next chapter: Sandia's Foals --->>

Back to the Table of Contents for Killer Buyer: True Adventures of a New Mexico Horse Dealer

Coquetta's hauling papers. The birthdate of 1972 was only a guess. We later learned she was more like thirty at this time.


    

© 2004 Carolyn M. Bertin. All rights reserved.