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[RC] [Guest] Arizona Horse Drive - Ridecamp Guest

Lin Sutherland   lsutherland@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Lin Sutherland c 2003          Tel: 512-292-1607

Lights! That incredible sunrise illuminating the Apache mountains.

Action! Pushing a herd of 40 ranch horses galloping to beat the hail storm
bearing down.

Drama! The wild mustang that invaded the herd and bolted over the ranch
Did John Ford script this, I thought? It was like I was in a John Wayne
movie. We were pushing the ranch horses of Beaver Creek Ranch in Alpine,
Arizona through 80 miles of grasslands and mountains on their annual trek
when all this happened. I?m just a regular rider and horse owner from
Austin, Texas, so this 5-day horse drive was an amazing event.

You may find cattle drives, but there aren?t many horse drives you can go
on ? the reason being, cattle drives go at a glacial pace, so almost any
rider can do it, but horses move out at a breathtaking trot and canter when
they travel ? so you better know how to stick that saddle and have your
riding muscles in place.
Every year Billy Wiltbank allows 14 riders to go on their three horse drives
in May and October. Wiltbank?s knows what he?s doing: he grew up on his
family guest ranch, in business 80 years in the Apache Wilderness, and is a
well-known horseman in eastern Arizona. After marrying Caren and starting
his own outfit Beaver Creek Ranch 12 years ago, his horse drives, along with
the regular summer guest ranch activities, have become increasingly popular.

We started by camping at Lake Lymon, about 6,000' feet, outside of
Springerville, where the herd winters. The colorful remuda in the corral
circled and turned toward the wranglers with lariats and was roped. One by
one, our horses were selected for us. Some of us had brought our own
saddles, and those were put on and checked. This was our shake down ride the
day before the drive began. I got a fine little black and white Spotted
Saddle horse named Desert Rose who was smooth gaited and game for anything.

Just as we thought everything was set and we could take off working the
kinks out of our tack and horses, Billy Wiltbank spied a wild-eyed mustang
that had been given to his father. It had infiltrated his herd and was
racing around causing havoc with the mares and colts. I could see the BLM
tattoo on its neck and you could tell it was completely unbroke? in fact,
pretty crazy at being in a corral. When Billy got a rope over its head, it
bolted straight forward over him, sending him flying face forward onto the
dirt. I saw a hoof go over his back and then the horse kept going straight
through the fence and never stopped. Mustangs populate this area and some of
Beaver Creek?s herd are half mustangs from mares being taken off, which is
why Billy also offers Horse Hunts to get these wayward horses back to the

The actual drive started the next morning as that sun rose over the
incredible Apache Mountains, full of history. This area not only has ancient
Indian rock art sites, but it is also called the Coronado Trail, for when
Coronado came looking for gold. We pushed the horses out onto the rolling
BLM grasslands and began a long first day crossing them. It takes some doing
to keep them together and moving. Nate Jones, a ranch regular, rode lead,
while other guests took point and drag. As the sun went higher, the horses
slowed a little and got into the groove of the drive. They know the way:
they?re itching to get up to the ranch?s green alpine meadows at 8,000'. One
horse, a two year old, kept veering off and kicking at others. He had to be
wrangled back in to place and the older mares let him know who was boss by
snaking their heads at him. My mare proved to be a great horse, keeping
after the stragglers, reining in the strays.

That night we camped at an old Sawmill camp, surrounded by Ponderosa pines,
spring water and clear starry skies. We washed up in a pure spring, were fed
a hearty dinner and slept in big white canvas tents on the pine needles. Our
second day out was up the mountains ? the most grueling but the most
spectacularly beautiful. Grasslands gave way to inclines, creeks and arroyos
choked with juniper, pine and spruce. The air was filled with the fragrance
of these evergreens. The horses climbed each incline and drank at each
watering hole, sometimes stopping to grab a bite of green grass. A life
force happens with a herd ? they start moving as one, in unison, and out of
that grew a rhythm to the drive.

On our third day out the skies blackened ahead of us and we saw lightning
bolts ripping out of the dark curtain. "Well, you know the saying: the best
way out is usually to go on through! Push em faster!" Billy Wiltbank
shouted, and he whistled and shouted. The horses needed little
encouragement ? they could smell the ozone of the rain coming and the air
went electric. The herd broke into a good gallop and we headed for a canyon
with an overhang of rocks. I had to trust my little mare and she did the
job, galloping sure-footedly over rocks and hard terrain. I gave her free
rein and she picked the best trail. Two elk and a herd of antelope ran off
to the side of us, glancing over. We were both just animals running to beat
the storm.
Just in time we reached the arroyo? the rain hit with a surprise package of
hail too. Lightning struck the top of the canyon as we nestled down
underneath, keeping the herd together. Our slickers and hats began to run
rivulets of water and the horses turned their backs to the quick mountain
storm. We clung under the rocks, munching on trail mix and watching Nature
show us her hand. Billy kept a tight rein on his buckskin just in case the
herd bolted.

Finally, the storm moved on, and we mounted up and drove the horses on into
the ranch-- with a feeling of great satisfaction. You could tell the horses
were feeling "we?re home," sinking their muzzles into the green grass
hungrily, the little colts frisking and running circles around them. The
home headquarter horses nickered plaintively to their friends when they saw
them coming in. Noses met, squeals, old friends reunited.
Exhausted, we went to our cabins to find hot water baths ready for us and
homemade quilts on the beds. I could still hear the thunder of the hooves
and the vision of color when the horses bunched together. Desert Rose and
those horses took me to a new level of confidence in riding, and a new
appreciation of the beauty and spirit of horses.
Beaver Creek Ranch is 10 miles from the New Mexico border, at 8,000'. It
offers horse drives in May and Sept, with riding in the Apache Wilderness
all summer. Rates are $690 for the drive, $385 per person for a regular
riding week. All information is at www.beavercreekguestranch.com
Tel: 928-339-1913. Email : beavercreekranch@xxxxxxxxxxxx
Lin Sutherland is a writer and rider and horsemanship teacher at Onion Creek
Ranch in Austin, Tx. She is published in Field and Stream, Horse Gazette,
Gaited Horse Magazine, Woman?s Day, Persimmon Hill quarterly of the National
Cowboy Hall of Fame and other national magazines.

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