Horse Tour Begins! (in a week)
I’m currently stationed in Creede, Colorado, a small old silver mining town that has a yearly salsa festival, hot air balloon festival, chocolate festival, music festival, two repertory theaters, and a current population of 290. The mayor works at the hot dog stand! I'll be departing from this spectacular place in a week’s time to begin my Horse Tour. It’s a bit later in the season than I'd hoped, but still within reason and my horses keep asking me "When already? When already?". My Gus and Troubadour are in a pasture with new friend neighbors Raven and Ginger while I assemble the last bits and pieces. I appreciate the patience of all my supporters in this process. Sorting out the pinpoint particulars of the route kept taking second seat to working with the horses. I needed to feel confident enough riding and packing before I could dive into the other details. They are coming together now.
With the generous support of 301 backers I made my Kickstarter goal for The Horse Tour. Incredibly grateful for every donation, word of encouragement and post. Means the world to me. I also released my new album Glitterbones Bargain during that campaign and am very pleased to announce that the album has skipped platinum and gone Rainbow Boomtooty which is a distinction neither Beyonce nor The Beatles have yet to achieve. You can find it on all the music platforms including iTunes.
I'm still looking for good contacts, home show hosts and any other interested parties. If you'd like to understand the route better for this first section of the trip take a look at this interactive map of the Continental Divide Trail and you'll have a general idea of the direction. Below is the tentative-flexible-fluid schedule - this is only a rough outline and is subject to change as I am still searching for new connections along the route or even folks in those states who might know potential hosts closer to the route.
Sept 10th: Depart from Creede, CO towards Continental Divide Trail
Late September: Pagosa Springs, CO
Mid October: Santa Fe, NM - planning to do several shows in the area
Late October / Early November: Grants, New Mexico
Mid-November: Pie Town, New Mexico
Late November: Somewhere within the Tonto National Forest
Mid-December: Outside Kingman, Arizona
Mid-January: Joshua Tree, CA
Early February: Malibu, CA (and the surrounding areas)
Late March: Ojai, CA
May - June: Small towns along the Pacific Crest Trail
Early July: Ukiah CA
Mid-July: Arcata CA
August through September: TBD across Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming (perhaps Montana)
People keep asking me "Are you having an awesome time? Are you loving every piece of it?" While this is a good question the answer is simply no. I'm not loving every piece of it. I'm incredibly grateful to be doing all of it, but many pieces of it are not fun right now and that is a welcome reality. I'm going through with this because I think it will be meaningful not because it will be entirely fun. I've spent so much time trying to have the best experience, make the right choice, find the most joy. I'm submerging in this large experience trusting that if I can keep breathing through the process I'll discover...things...or at least some thing and that will be enough. Perhaps fun and euphoric fits of ecstasy will be a part of that discovery, but they are not the driving forces. It's not lost on me, the absurdity of being drawn to struggle in this tour.
My life has mostly been charmed in all degrees and directions. I have sought out these challenges because they are interesting to me and they frighten me in new ways. I am exhausted by my old fears that I carry around, maybe these new fears can replace them and start some different conversation within myself and my work? I need to bang my head against a different wall and see what comes out, a wall of horse muscle and pinion pine, saddle leather and grass breath and thunder clouds and blisters. I believe I'll find a worthwhile way to share the experience with all of you and I'm excited to do so.
People keep asking if I'm excited and if I'm ready. Again, no. Neither. I'm tense, I'm anxious, I'm preemptively embarrassed for having failed, I'm feeling rushed, I feel the weight of friends and families anxieties, I'm worried about turning into a Dorito attached to a kite string, I'm worried about getting hit by lightning, eaten by bears, charged by moose, falling off cliffs, getting pink eye, imploding from loneliness, breaking my instruments, making my beloved mother worry and much much more. When I hit the trail in a week I'll be excited. When I'm deep in the doing I know I can find that joy, but the preparations are endless swirls of woe and doubt. I'm working on it.
The doing, the traveling miles on horseback has been the most calming element in preparing. When I get on Augustus or Troubadour, shift in the saddle, gather my lead rope and begin to move forward I'm reminded of how far I've come. I feel calm. I feel I'm with my buds and that I'm not alone. The saddle squeaks when it needs some oil, the horseshoes find their free jazz on the rocks, the swivel on the packing halter swings with delicate twinkling like a broken music box and I feel a focus that is new. A few months ago the horses getting a little spooked, stumbling on the path, or getting tangled in a bit of old hidden farm wire was an instant crisis. Anything sudden that happened I would tense my body, grab the reins, pucker my sphincter, squeeze my knees, clench my teeth, release some guttural cry of terror and dart my eyes in all directions. Every muscle in my body and thought in my mind made the situation infinitely worse. Now, through having traveled some collective 400 miles traipsing about the desert and mountain I've learned a lot about what is a real problem for a horse and what is just a brief moment to notice and move through. When a dead tree falls nearby, or the horses thinks some painted water tank might be an alien beast that wants to eat their face, or an ATV suddenly comes roaring down the trail, I now know to move with them, stay loose and calm, talk to them like frightened children, let them know it’s ok and in a flash we are back to walking with our odd little sounds, our slow dance of swaying and shifting that feels more natural day by day.
I don't want to keep my people from things that go wrong. Things go wrong all the time, that’s part of it. At the beginning I thought this meant I was an idiot who didn't know anything about horses and I was endangering them and myself. With a bit more experience I've learned that everyone who has worked with horses on the regular goes through these trials and tribulations. Friends have had horses get kicked in the head, torn to pieces by barbed wire, eat something poisonous, fall off cliffs and more. It comes with the territory if you stay in the game long enough. You get better, smarter, more sensitive, but you are never entirely protected from the reality of being in the country with 1200-pound pals who are at once astoundingly durable and preciously fragile. The dangerous moments can occur descending steep rocks or while standing in the middle of an open field. It all demands that you pay attention. I have found myself getting worse at paying attention over the last few years. Easily distracted in a myriad of ways: the phone, the streaming, fears, getting older, too many intentions in the basket of doing, trying to stay close to too many great people, trying to be everywhere that I'm not. My attention has felt increasingly divided, my focus rapidly fading. Gus and Troubadour are helping me change that.
HERE ARE A FEW BIG INCIDENTS THAT HAVE GONE WRONG WITH THE HORSES AND WHAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM THEM:
1. First time tossed off.
The first horse I bought was named Supercalifragilisticexpialihorsey. He seemed great at first. After trying him out bareback successfully once I tried him bareback again. While mounting him with my less than flexible body (it's my 12th year of almost doing Yoga) I found myself in a rather awkward position. As I struggled to get my balance Supe didn’t quite buck, but did a rather casual jig of sorts which chicken-winged my leg against his back and sent me sailing through the air onto the ground. I heard everything in my knee crack and snap and the pain was extraordinary for a few seconds. I knew in that moment that my leg was broken and my tour was either delayed for a year or canceled. Then I got up and walked around a bit and realized I'm just a very delicate flower. I spent ten days mostly laying in bed with my knee in a brace. I learned that I needed to learn how to begin the conversation of bareback with a new horse. That even something seemingly so simple needs time and patience and planning.
2. Surprise leaping.
My friend Shieva was visiting me and was excited to ride horses. She grew up with them and had a very fearless sincere comfort. During the week we discovered Supe had a bad habit of leaping over logs and streams as if he were jumping over molten lava pits. While surprisingly jumping over a log, instead of stepping over it slowly, he threw Shieva onto his neck and got to bucking where he broke the saddle cinch and launched Shieva into the air. She amazingly landed flat on her two feet like an olympian while holding his reins and bridle. I learned to double check the strength of equipment and that if you're going to get thrown from a horse best to land like Shieva. We fixed the saddle and carried on knowing that Supe would likely jump logs. Knowing this we could prepare our bodies for the event while encouraging him to walk.
3. Stuck in quicksand and escaping poorly.
That same week Shieva and I got caught in some quicksand with both Supe and Troubadour. I had just been discussing what to do in that situation with a cowboy friend and the wisdom was "First, don't get caught in quicksand. However, if you do just paddle your horse hard and quick giving him every encouragement you can to get out and get out immediately before you get too deep." We were approaching a water cache and it looked so harmless. As I was walking Troubadour into the watering hole I noticed the sand looked a bit ominous. I said, as I continued to walk the horses toward the water, "I hope this isn't quicksand." As I finished that thought we noticed our horses were sinking fast up to their shoulders. We started hollering to each other and rode them hard and quick out of the sand. We got that part right but in our escape Supe took an ill advised turn towards some very steep slick rock and ran directly towards the vertical. When he realized it was too steep to go anywhere he suddenly turned, slipped and fell over backwards on top of Shieva. Luckily, they landed on sand and not rock. They were both a bit shaken for a moment but moved on quickly. I learned to pause and assess new curious wet sands before entering in to them. I also learned that sometimes in a moment of chaos you can escape one danger and enter immediately into another, so stay sharp and with it till you are completely safe. Supe would later blow up twice with the pack saddle and me and my mentors decided that he didn't quite have the mind for this journey. In the hands of a lifelong horseman he might be fine, but I needed a less neurotic and clumsy partner to increase my chances of success. I tried to sell Supe to the Mormon Bishop in town. He bucked my poor 67 year-old friend off twice! Finally sold him to my veterinarian. When the vet got on him Supe started bucking a lot and I never thought he'd still want him. The vet just kept riding the bucking horse as he called out "Gideon, the price is going down!". To my amazement he still bought Supe. He was my first horse and my first big horse mistake. He taught me much.
4. Tangled in the lead rope and bucked off.
The first time I tried to mount my second horse Troubadour, a six year-old buckskin, while holding onto the lead rope of my pack horse (Supe at the time), I immediately got my leg tangled in the lead rope. Supe freaked out, I tensed up while scrambling to untangle, the horses knocked about into each other and Troubadour began to panic. He bucked me off and I don't know if I just fell to the ground, dropped, kerplunked or plotzed, but the sensation was one of sailing through the air. I landed on my bum and was grateful that I'd recently not been able to avoid eating the local muffins from the cafe. Felt everything crack and shake. I was shook. My friends saw the whole event from their bedroom window. They came running out. I felt dumb and sore, but not broken and so relieved. My friend handed me the reins and told me to get back on Troubadour and ride him for several hours. He said I needed to show Troubadour that he could still trust me and that we needn't be traumatized over the event. I wanted to take a bath with Epsom salts, eat a brownie and call it a day but ride we did. Never had a problem with Troubadour since.
5. Peeled heel and cut an artery from a startle near a culvert.
My third horse I purchased is named Augustus. He's a 12 year old Grey gelding with on odd tail that has erectile dysfunction and by erectile dysfunction I mean his tail is always erect. Very strange. While saddling Gus to go ride in the local 4th of July parade (oy!) he stepped on a manhole cover we hadn't noticed, flipped the lid four feet into the air and his leg plunged down into the hole. This scenario is apparently a thing that happens and horses often break their leg when it does and thusly die. Amazingly, Gus quickly pulled his leg right out of the hole and jumped to the side. Good boy! Sadly his startle gave Troubadour on the other side of the fence a bit of a minor jump. Just so happened that Troub was getting a sip of water by the culvert and when he startled he got his heel bulb nearly peeled off his foot. It was bad. There was a busted artery and not much holding the whole piece together. I was sad and upset about it all. With some friends we cleaned out the wound, placed a diaper around the hoof (good absorption!) and wrapped it all up in a bandage. Troubador stood patiently for us while we tended his wound. Doc was able to see us the next morning when he stitched and cast Troubador's foot. I spent the next month changing his bandages while trying to keep him from going nuts penned up in a small corral so he could heal with limited movement. I would take Gus out for exercise and they would protest. He chewed some of the wooden fence posts in boredom. He had this look in his eyes that said "What the fuck man! Is this what life is now? Not much of anything?" I would try to tell him it’s just temporary but I'm still learning to speak horse so I'm not sure he got it. Two months later he's doing great. He's packed 200 pounds up the mountain, he's gone for long days, chased cows, played with other horses, rolled around in the dirt and he moves as though nothing is wrong. He might have some problems with his hoof growth which could be a big deal, but with continued corrective shoeing (which is an incredible science) he hopefully will be alright. Wisdom is he's ready to begin the trip. I learned a bunch about horse first aid, I learned how resilient they can be and how sensitive and that hoof health is everything. I desperately want them not to sustain anymore big injuries, but if they do I feel equipped to calmly address the situation. Calmly address it and then have an internal meltdown later in the evening.
Below you'll find some pictures of Troubadour’s heel injury. The bottom right photo is where things stood just over a week ago. Working with my mentor, friend, and ferrier Breck we gave this hoof a lot of attention. Corrective shoeing is a complicated science and while Breck doesn't have every fancy tool under the sun he has so much knowledge it’s incredible to watch him work and reason. Those two cracks in the hoof wall are not great. Breck cauterized the edges of those cracks to help keep them from continuing, then we put hot epoxy on top to act as a seal. He trimmed down his heel as far as he could then put an egg bar shoe (that goes all the way around the hoof in a circle) with sculpting puddy between the hoof and the shoe all to relieve pressure on that part of the hoof. We are hoping this helps move things in the right direction.
6. Gus ran away!
It was a most unfortunate affair. There were 12 horses in the pasture next to Gus and Troub. They would commune with them daily. When Troubador got hurt we brought him back from the vet and put him in a small corral to limit his movement. When I went back to get Gus, he was gone. While we were over the mountain at the vet with Troub, the other 12 horses in the adjacent pasture had been moved. Gus went from having his brother and twelve friends to being all alone. He went looking for his buds. He made a most audacious escape apparently executing some type of army crawling maneuver through very thick brush then running up and over the fence line that was bolted into the slick rock mountain. I was able to track him for a ways. I was very impressed with myself and kept saying "Jews don't track!" but there I was. The horse shoes leave this white glinting streak on the hard rock which makes it a bit easier. With the help of a friend with a drone camera and my main cowboy mentor tracking we found Gus some 36 hours later 22 miles away on a series of slick rock cliffs, dehydrated, hungry, and scared. He was traveling towards the scent of another friends horses in that area, but took a wrong route and ended up in a bad spot. My friend found several streaks from his shoes where he was sliding towards the edge of a drop and then walked himself back up. This was somewhat irregular behavior for a horse in that there was horse scent much closer to home. I learned that Gus is very brave and will go into some extraordinary terrain. This means I cant just let him make all the route decisions on his own and have to carefully watch what he’s gravitating towards. Since then we've had an incident or two where the horses got scared of something and ran away from me, but just a couple hundred yards. A horses flight path is about 400 yards and I think after we've spent a lot more time together they regard me as an honorary member of their herd...or at least the guy with the treats. When they ran off that once I realized I had everything I needed to survive and get help around my belt. This was a great reminder to keep my absolute necessities on my person in the unlikely event both horses decide to take off.