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My sister and I planned for the last year. We would go to the Hashknife Ranch Colt Sale in Northern Arizona in mid-July.  And last weekend we did it! Since my daughter and I started horseback riding together a year-and-a-half ago,  I think about horses about 20 percent of the time. You can call this a mid-life obsession, I guess, crisis seems too harsh a word. The Hashknife Ranch Colt sale has given me more to think about.

The sale is a yearly event that the ranch owners treat like a holiday. The mood was one of excitement from the guests and the sellers who were going to make some cash that day. Little children helped the Christmas-like atmosphere. Who can’t resist pens full of adorable colts and fillies milling around on spindly little (and some not so little) legs?

We got there early because I couldn’t believe it started at 11 a.m. Nothing on a ranch starts that late in the morning.  We parked in a lot full of trucks and waiting trailers as if the owners planned to haul away a string of horses.

But backing up, the Babbitt ranches encompass some of the prettiest country I know. Last year when we took the train to the Grand Canyon, I fell in love with the sweeping yellow grassed mesas and rolling hills of the Northern Arizona ranchlands. Driving from Flag around the North side of the San Francisco Peaks, you drop in elevation from fir trees to a high prairie of dried grass. The painted desert sits off in the distance. The sky was blue and huge and white puffy clouds floated across it as picturesque as it was cliché and it was like stepping right into a postcard of a ranch.

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Anyway, my enthusiasm for this ranchland has continued and we can’t help thinking our father and grandfather and great-grandfather picked the wrong place to have a ranch in the Sonoran desert. But don’t get angry at me–I love that place too, I just haven’t been there for a while. And I seem to like things colder as I get older. And Kale. (I like kale, which seems almost unnatural or maybe too natural, but I digress.)

We walked up to the barns and tack rooms passing the tarp-covered picnic areas and entered a pen where some risers had been set up in a semi-circle around a corner of the corral. This is where the horses would be auctioned off.

A small herd of mares and babies stood in the next pen and we couldn’t stop from rushing in there to see them, even though we weren’t really shoppers, we were lookers, but hopeful one day, we could be shopping here too.

My girls smiled huge smiles as they watched the fuzzy babies stamping around, moving as a group, shuffling as the lookers like us, as well as the seasoned professionals, scoped them out.

“They move in  a herd!” My ten-year old exclaimed. Okay, that is sad. She has only seen horses in an arena or in a stall. She has never seen a horse on the range. “Why are they doing that?” she asked, “Why?”

Lesson one: horses are herd animals.

Wow. I had no idea she did not know this.

So we try to explain, suggest she read a book on horsemanship or the psychology of the equine species.

My sister recounts horses she’s owned: Holy Smokes, Socks, Shu-ga (Sugar).   Every horse I “owned” was really my sister’s–Sassy, Kathleen and another one whose name was changed to Chapalene. I never really owned them, they were just assigned to me. Every since I was a little girl I wanted to wake up and find a horse in my yard. Not some ratty bike. I tell my husband this every Christmas. That is why he was very afraid when I went to the Hashknife Colt Sale.

Anyway, we went to learn something and the frist thing we learned (or my daughter learned) was horses run in herds. Then she learned you don’t wear a dippy Disney Channel fedora from Target to a cowboy horse auction.

She got harassed by the old cowboy sitting behind us for that. Well, what do you expect?

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The wrong hat.

Speaking of fashion: my sister and I realized we need very long hair that we can braid.  One long silver or blonde braid down your back will do. Then you need to wear lots of turquoise jewelry — huge rectangular blocks of turquoise dangling from your ears. Big sunglasses. If you are in really fancy Western dress, you can wear a tiered broomstick skirt in shades of blue to match your turquoise top and accessories. Or you wear your Wranglers and your braid and your round toed boots and a straw hat. We notice that kind of stuff and talk about it. We can’t help it. Next time we go, we will be fancy. This time, I was basic and in tennis shoes because my boots are too pointy.

This time, we were taking it all in.

And all this was before they even sold one colt!

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My sister and the girls.