Read an Excerpt
From the chapter titled "National Horsemanship on National Georgraphic."
All of a sudden I hear a voice from out of nowhere. "Pat, Pat, Pat," it kept getting louder. There was the National Geographic Explorer cameraman, all alone in the middle of the desert.
I asked, "Where's the helicopter?"
He said, "We were low on fuel. They dropped me off so I could film you coming, and they went back for more fuel."
What a time to run out of gas! We had the horses moving in the right direction toward the canyon, but we didn't want them to get there too quickly because we had no cameraman to film the capture. I told Mikey to head the horses off and drive them back toward us. We didn't want them turning and running the 12 miles around the mesa.
Mikey turned them and then he and Wally held that line so the mustangs couldn't get to the pens too soon. The horses took off in another direction. I saw which way they went and followed, at full tilt again. In the distance I could see dust being kicked up. The mustangs were going through a sandy wash.
I managed to get around the herd and they stopped. When they did, the stallion took one look at me and snorted a warning. I backed off a little. The herd started to walk toward me and I backed off again. Every time the herd looked at me, I'd back off. Pretty quick, the horses realized I wasn't going to chase them and they grew more confident and curious.
Finally, after several approaching and retreating several times, I was within 30 yards of the herd. I allowed my horse to graze; the mustangs also grazed. One after another, the mares laid down and rolled in the sand, with the stallion watching over them - a sure sign of confidence.
I started riding away, and they started following me. I thought to myself, "This approach-and-retreat stuff really works. It's too bad no one is here to witness this or a camera to document it. The only ones that will ever really know for sure that this really happened is this herd of horses and me."
I was all by myself and I didn't have a radio to tell anyone where I was.
Well, sure enough, here came the helicopter with the blades making their characteristic menacing sound.
Off go the mustangs and the chase is on once more. Luckily, by this time Linda, Andy and Ronnie had come in behind me, and Mikey and Wally were up ahead.
We all had only one last swoop left in us. We drove the mustangs around a corner, over some rocks and down the canyon right into the panel corrals.
We'd been galloping hard for three hours and our horses' stamina was amazing. I'd expect that kind of endurance from the wild horses, but not our saddle horses. They all had between 150 and 250 pounds or more on their backs and still were able to keep up with the mustangs. I was really impressed with our horses' staying power.
The camera crew was ready to roll and film us interacting with the horses. I told them to pick one, any one. They selected the lead mare's four-year-old filly, the wildest one in the bunch.
We drove her into the round corral and the first thing she did was crash into the Priefert panels. Fortunately, they were strong enough to hold her, but she bloodied her nose in the attempt. I thought, "Oh my God, here's my chance of a lifetime on national television, and why did this horse have to get a bloody nose!"
But the camera crew was there to film the story no matter what transpired, so we continued. I played with the filly and got some good things going with her, which they got down on film.
By this time, the film crew was exhausted, so they went back to start the editing process.
We stayed behind to gentle the horses. We had three days to make them tame enough to have a veterinarian draw blood.
To water the horses we brought in a 500-gallon Army tank. We put water buckets down next to us, about 20 feet away from the horses. They eventually overcame their fear enough to drink as we stood near them. By the next morning, they drank as we held the water buckets in our hands.
We played with all the horses and had a blast. The stallion bucked like crazy. Wally got on him, and the horse ejected him real high.
Before long, though, they all were fairly tame. They responded to the lead rope and to having their feet handled. We rode them bareback and with saddles. We taught them to accept the needle by pinching them on the jugular vein and having them tuck their chins.
Two great things happened toward the end of filming. By this time, we had a passel of newspaper reporters on hand to witness the story.
The veterinarian showed up on the evening of the third day. He said to me, "Look me in the eye and tell me I'm not going to get hurt. I'm no movie star. I'm no stunt man. I don't want to risk myself."
I told him, "I promise you, sir, you'll be fine."
The vet drew blood on all the horses and when he was through, he turned to me and said, "I can't believe this. I was at a stable this morning and these wild horses were easier to handle than any of the domestic horses at the stable."
The second wonderful thing happened when it was time to release the mustangs. We rode them out of the pens bareback and with only halters and lead ropes. We rode out of the canyon to a place where the horses could graze. We crawled off their backs and took off the halters. The horses didn't exit stage left, as you'd think wild horses would do immediately upon being set free. They stayed there with us, ate grass and showed no signs of fear or anxiety. Finally, as the sun was setting, they nonchalantly walked off into the New Mexican sunset. What an unforgettable sight that was!
This experience was one of the most fabulous I've ever had in my life with horses. I was really proud of my students and of Linda. And I was especially honored to have done something special like that with Ronnie (Willis). Then to have it captured on film forever happens only once in a lifetime.
National Geographic Explorer said it was the most requested show that they had in years.