Bound for Horsing


I'm writing to you from Boulder, Utah, a small town of 200 ranchers, cowboys, Mormons, atheists, artists, primitive skills experts, weirdos and wanderers. There is actually a guy named Wandering Will who I believe lives in the mountains and occasionally wanders into town? Haven't met him yet, nice nickname though. I moved out here to train with horses and learn to live outdoors leading up to my horse tour in 2019 that I've been rambling on about for years. Before all that, you should know I'm bringing my theater show, My Name Is Gideon - I'm Probably Going To Die, Eventually, back to NYC for another theatrical run. I'm very excited. We built an awesome new touring set with all kinds of surprises and there is a bunch of new material in the show from my latest home show I've been touring Twinkle Clumps. 

Working with horses has been a most humbling experience. Every time I'm out with them I'm paying close attention as best I can. It's a lot. They are a lot. Very big animals! My main teachers here, Breck and Becky, have been incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. They're married with two kids and run a dude ride business, but Breck also cowboys for a variety of local ranchers and Becky gives riding lessons. My first day on a horse with Breck we were up the mountain clearing fallen trees from the trail to a main irrigation system. The second day I was running through the woods with him and 5 other cowboys pushing 70 head of cow up the mountain to graze.

It was exciting, terrifying, smelly, noisy and fun. The next day I was so sore I could neither walk nor lift my arms. Breck kinda got me on a horse, made sure I knew how to stay on, and told me to keep up and do my best not to get in the way. He's always been available to respond thoughtfully to any questions I might have, but definitely belongs to the school of learning by doing. Grateful to have been trusted enough by him to ride with the big boys so early on. I didn't kill any cows that day or myself, I didn't fall off any cliffs or my saddle, I didn't run into any fences, or get bucked off, I didn't get clobbered by any branches and I didn't get rammed by any angry bulls. It was a really good first day pretending to be a cowboy. The fellas were kind to me and neither mocked nor scorned me for my poorly suited attire. They all had blue jean wranglers, cowboy boots and hats, tucked in button down shirts and spurs around their heels. I had a pink t-shirt, grey khaki pants riding up my legs exposing my new balance sneakers on top of baby blue socks with pictures of dancing ladies in grass skirts. To say I stuck out like a sore thumb would be an understatement, more like a sore hand or arm with dancing sequined tassels hanging and swaying in the wind.

Becky's lessons have been more clinical but hugely helpful and illuminating. She turned me from a bouncing hunched flopsy mess into a man who at least knows how to sit on a horse. Becky tells me to roll my hips and use my pelvic muscles to align my spine with my shoulders and to sink my weight down or let the bounce push me up off my saddle so my navel reaches outwards. She tells me to sink my heels and put my elbows down and turn first with my mind rather than leaning. This language of body awareness and alignment is far from how my operating system is naturally inclined. Sometimes Becky tells me to rotate my vertebrae over my sternum and lift it through with my femur bones and it sounds like Greek. But then she'll say something like "Act like you're sticking your feet and toes into thick mud" and boom, it connects and I get what she's been trying to tell me to do. What a feeling! What a teacher! What a ..... mediocre student with a positive upbeat attitude I have been! 

Breck and Becky left for 10 days. I stayed in their yurt home and looked after their 16 horses, 15 chickens, 10 ducks, 2 cats and 3 dogs. I was touched that they trusted me so, but terrified some or all the horses would die in my care. I'd never been looking after one horse let alone a whole bundle. I tended to Smokey’s leg wound every day replacing the bandage. I caught and brushed Grace and Blue more than the others as they were getting picked on around feeding time. I spent a great deal of time just staring at them in the corral overwhelmed by the immense responsibility. These lives, immensely strong and powerful yet fragile when something goes wrong. The more I learn the more I find I know so little. How refreshing! My teachers have spent decades learning about horses, how they move, how they fear, how they hurt and heal, how to speak their language. How to ask the horse for something rather than make it do something. It's an endless mountain of knowledge and passion. Daily I inch my way closer to collecting a little soup bowl full of knowing that will guide me on my trip. For those of my people who have expressed great concern at the foolish perhaps dangerous nature of this endeavor I hope you'll find some comfort in hearing that the experienced horse folks I'm meeting and working with out here have been encouraging and excited by what I'm intending to do. They've appreciated that I've taken this time to assemble the plan and the gear and most importantly the knowing to move forward with it.

I’ve been spending my days with Breck on the mountain pushing cows or searching for them, or with Becky in the arena, or helping friends and neighbors with chores moving irrigation pipe, picking up kids from school or processing food for the winter. When I'm not doing those things I'm feverishly plotting planning mapping and budgeting. It has remained massive, what is yet to be done and figured, but I move through it one task, one hour, one article, one conversation at a time. Sometimes that's true. Other times I just have a little internal melt down, eat some granola and then begin again. 

If you are looking for a stupendous horse experience in Utah, weather you are a beginner or an experienced rider, check out Breck and Becky's website. From easy going trail rides to full days to overnight cattle drives they are the nicest most capable and knowledgeable people you could find. Tell them Gideon sent you and they might like you more! Or put you through an extensive background check. Depends how things continue to go. I Kid! 

Just for fun here is a list of random horse things I've learned off the top of my head: Don't make the cinch too tight if you get a wrinkle lift the leg up and stretch it out, rings in the hoof or a dished shape can represent a history of foundering from eating too much hot feed in the spring, let them take the bit up and drop it themselves when its coming out so it doesn't bang their teeth, always use breakaway ties if tethering your pack horse to another, heppa the skin disease is incurable, horses will sometimes kick each other in the face or humans and this is bad, when moving behind a horse stay close so if they do kick it has no power, don't pat or slap them - horses nuzzle and cuddle for affection in the wild they don't know slapping and patting they are not dogs, don't get caught between two 1100 pound cows fighting - they won't notice you and can take out your horses leg pretty easily, you can watch horses ears for a lot of emotional signals, horses are herd animals and are not fond of being away from their friends, popular man horses can have harems of woman horses, they are not called man and woman horses, horses can develop a bad habit of kinda yawning and gulping air which releases some chemical in the lymph system and gets them a bit high, sweating on their bum is a good sign of exhaustion and need of rest. I'm grateful to be learning from folks who have a deep respect for horses and practice natural horsemanship, gentling a horse instead of breaking it. I am daily fascinated and humbled by the whole process.

It's been hard moving to a new place away from the people I know and love. It's been hard doing things I know so little about, to feel so new and fresh in each moment. Its been hard to be so wound up in developing a piece that demands an unprecedented amount of attention and care and patience. There is a certain maturity required in this process that I don't have, but I'm pretending until I get there. It's hard to be navigating so many new relationships all at once and with so many folks giving so generously to me I desperately want to be reciprocating. Sometimes the ways to do that are evident and sometimes evasive. It's a lot of newness all the time. Patterns, habits, home is comforting, but breaking away and out of many kinds of comfort is a part of this project. There is a strong desire in me to leave civilization in order to learn something deeper and more......fragrant that could help me return to the world. That there is another world right here, just by way of dramatically living differently in it is very interesting to me. This is the beginning. The fifth beginning perhaps. Sometimes I'm inclined to speak only about the adventure, the revelation and the fun of my life. That's in part due to never wanting to offend any previous host with any negativity and never wanting to hear myself complain about anything ever cause my life is beyond charmed. But, struggle, in all its infinite shapes and rhythms is part of being a person. I am grateful that these struggles I'm having feel new and interesting. I'm grateful to not take myself too seriously, to have self-humor. Many of the mistakes I'm making are new, the conversations new, the observations new and new questions. Happy for the new and any woe that comes with it. 

I'll be sending out a letter a bit more frequently to share where I'm at in this process and to share exciting announcements along the way like the release of the kid’s album Hubcap and I made for our new kids show and the release of my new solo album I recorded with my long time friend musician and producer wizard Dave Harrington. Much more to come. As always I welcome any responses, jokes, recipes, encouragements, poems, fables and puzzles.

Thank you all for getting me to this point. My email list has 2,800 people on it right now. Thats 2,800 people that have continued to encourage and support me through all the shows and tours and fadoozled ideas like this horse tour. Thank you. Next big project will be touring by boat, but I'll let you know about that in a couple years. One thing at a time. 


ps. For anyone who would like to read more about equestrian travel I encourage you to check out The Long Riders Guild website. Lots of great stuff in there and a most generously sharing international community of horse nuts.

Joshua Kilcoyne