“Blessed Be the Horses!”

A Rare Glimpse into the Heart of a Cowboy

By: Sherry E Engler


His old dingy straw cowboy hat, boasting a few dents here and there and a few long term unidentifiable stains, rested gently on a make shift “doo rag” of an old worn red bandana, faded through years of wear, tied haphazardly on the upper back of his head in a knot to keep “the sweat from stinging his eyes.” His sunglasses, somewhat bent, crookedly graced his nose as he peered out over the Rye Creek Valley, just southwest of Oxbow Trail.  He turned to me, his leather brown skin wrinkled from sun baked years in the Arizona sun, a smile flashing white as he threw his head back and shouted, “Life doesn’t get any better than this!” He sat in the saddle of his equine companion, Sissy, surveying the peacefulness of the jagged junipers and oak brush in the valley below; miles and miles of peacefulness. And I too realized the magnitude of this moment, being able to converse with one of the most talented cowboys who has ever ridden the vast lands of Rim Country.  Shifting a bit in my saddle, I began my interrogation of interest in this curious cowboy.

Being respectful of his wishes to remain anonymous because he doesn’t like to be “pestered,” I READ MORE...

Saddling Up at 9,100 ft.

Photos and Text By Anne Groebner


It’s been a few years since I climbed on the back of a horse so, when I drove out to Hannagan Meadow Lodge to meet wrangler Robert Pablo of Chuck’s Trail Ride Adventures, I wasn’t sure if I would remember what to do. I was invited to check out their horseback riding trips and, before I even had a chance to think about it, I was on the road and heading toward Alpine. About an hour and a half later, I was sitting in the stable office signing their liability release forms. I have to admit I was little nervous, you know, wondering which horse I would be riding. Would it be gentle or stubborn, 20 hands off the ground or 15, all the questions that you think about when you go into survival mode. Of course, I didn’t say these things out loud because, if I am going to check something out, I want the full ride. The whole enchilada. I don’t want the edited version.


I pulled into the Lodge and found the stables behind the main building and down a small road to the right. I couldn’t miss it. It was a large red barn with three horses saddled up in front and Robert Pablo standing out front to greet me. Pablo is tall, slim and young but I found out later that he is probably one of the most experienced wranglers that I have ever met.  He works at Hannagan Meadow at Chuck’s Trail Ride Adventures which is an extension of his father’s...READ MORE...

Sprucedale's Epic Ride

Photos and text by Anne Groebner

Over 200 years ago (1809), the first herd of sheep hoofed it across the Heber/Reno Driveway and began a traditional transition from warm winter pastures in the Valley to the cool summer pastures in the White Mountains. The bi-annual crossing ended in 2011 when indigenous (wild) sheep were in danger of transmission of diseases from their domestic relatives. This week, the Driveway was brought back into the limelight when Whitney Wiltbank, Sprucedale Ranch manager, his brother Billy, trail boss, and several other staff members from the Ranch accomplished the same drive of over 250 miles, not with sheep but with horses. Starting about a mile away from the Superstition Mountains, they skirted around Saguaro Lake (up the old way), up by Pumpkin Center, then Young, Forest Lakes, Clay Springs, Heber, around Show Low, down the side of Blue Ridge to Greens Peak, Sunrise and then Big Lake, the last leg of their journey to their final destination, Sprucedale Guest Ranch.

 Sprucedale Ranch has been in the Wiltbank family for over 40 years. The Ranch is a summer destination for families looking for a southwestern ranch experience, including horseback riding, fishing and cowboy cooking…They also host cattle and horse drives about three times a year,  Dave and Sharon Heaps, of Oro Valley, discovered the Ranch when they were searching for some type of outdoor adventure. “We sold our boat last year and found out we needed something to do,” said Dave. His wife Sharon won a raffle for horseback riding lessons so they both signed up. They ventured off to Colorado and Montana and did some cattle drives there and then looked closer to home and found Sprucedale and what Dave calls “Whitney’s Epic Ride.” Dave signed up and rode along from day one.  Sharon, however, didn’t come until Thursday night but they saddled her up on Friday morning and she helped finish the drive. This was Sharon’s first trip to the White Mountains. “When I left Tucson at 9:00 a.m., the thermometer read 97...


Sprucedale's Epic Ride photos...

The Trail

By: Brian Zongker, PGA


   Living where I live, I have the luxury of many outlets to occupy time, blow off steam, clear my head or just be somewhere I don’t have to think. My favorite place is on the trail and the White Mountains have a very extensive trail system. Second to none. There are literally miles and miles of well-marked trails…right outside my back yard. Really, just right outside the back yard of anyone who lives up here. You can hike them or bike them but my favorite way to experience the trails is on horseback.

   Yes, I own a horse. I know what you are thinking and I know what they say, “You have to be rich to own a horse.” Well, I am rich BECAUSE I own a horse. The modern term nowadays is horse poor. No, I am not a cowboy. I do wear boots, spurs and jeans on occasion and my horse is perhaps one of my best friends. Nothing wrong with an animal being a best friend. My dog is one too. The three of us are trail buddies.

   I met my horse several years ago. It wasn’t completely my idea but I went along with it. Didn’t take me too long to realize that there was a connection. I always felt that I saved him. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t abused or mistreated. He wasn’t starving or neglected.  He just needed someone…guess I did too. As I thought I was saving him, he was saving me…more than once. He wasn’t very well trained either and I was a complete “dude.” “Dude” is what someone who knows horses calls someone who doesn’t know horses. It’s an industry term. I have now climbed the ranks and am all the way up to an intermediate dude. Since we met, I have taught that horse a lot. I watched a few videos, googled some things and took advice from others. And, after lots of hard work, sweat and a bit of swearing (me not him), he has turned out to be a great horse. Through all that effort, which is certainly not done, I realized that I have learned as much from him as he has learned from me.

   So, we hit the trail with the dog in tow. Out in the fresh air, pine trees and blue sky. Never knowing what is around the corner. Are we going to freak out over a garter snake? Or flinch at a squirrel? Did that rock just move?? You never know. Each ride is an adventure. Doesn’t matter if it’s the third time that week on the same trail, it’s always different. Either way, my mind has a chance to escape to simpler thoughts. Sometimes, it’s as simple as hang on and ride it out. When we get back, there is a sense of calm accomplishment. Bit disappointed that we’re back but nonetheless content, happy and a little sore. If you know me or have read one of my previous articles, you know that it has been a while since I have been able to ride. 79 days, 13 hours and 21 minutes to be exact. I’ll be up on him again.  Doc says four more weeks. I can’t wait!

   You don’t have to own a horse to have the experience. I recommend PLACES Stables in the Pinetop Lakes Association. I’m not a commercial so you will have to Google to get the phone number. Take an hour’s ride and see what it’s like.  Bring the family. Careful…might change your life.


   possible on horseback, roping cattle on his father's ranch. He shared the below story, which left an indelible mark on his heart with a forever fondness for the horse that created in him the belief that horses truly are a part of the spirit world.My father, Alfred Haught, had a lifelong friend, Henry Brewer. I knew Henry as a young man. Henry owned the Antler Café in Young.  I thought he was just the café manager and he drove the mail stage, too but he finally wrecked the mail stage. My father had found him and helped get him to the hospital. But he went ahead and died [on March 24, 1958]. And then my father shared with me that he had punched cows with Henry and that he had been a good little cowboy. So, the day of his funeral, we all went but a few of us got there a little bit late. (Me and Alfred and Homer Haught were "rope-aholics"--and that's why we were late because we were roping cattle.)

    We were standing on the porch of the old Baptist Church in Young and, as the preacher was talking, I noticed a horse across the pasture with about eight or nine other horses; he left in a run and came all the way to the fence where we were all standing and he just stood there, just kind of slid and stopped at the fence.

   That horse just stood there, watching . Then the old preacher said, "Well, let's bow our heads in prayer." That horse bowed his head, face first on the ground, with one hoof extended out and the other behind him. When the preacher said, "Amen," the horse stood up, throwed his tail in the air and ran all the way back to the other horses. It kind of made me feel like there was a connection between Henry and some horse--maybe that horse's father or mother. But whatever it was, it was really an awesome sight to see. And this Henry Brewer, his grandson was Rick Bunger. And I did call Rick and told him that story because it's kind of a neat story connecting Henry with the cowboy world.

(Oral history interview as told to Jenny Caster. Haught is a descendent of pioneers who settled in Young,

Horse sense: In remembrance of a cowboy

By Jenny Caster


   It was 1958 when a young boy began to question whether horses had souls. As a confessed "rope-aholic," Joe Haught spent as much time as

"Not all who Wander are lost."

 — J.R.R. Tolkien

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