The auction started at 11 a.m. with a few speeches. And I was too distracted to take notes but I remember the ranch manager spoke and then his wife, who read a poem about appreciating your life and making the best of things. I think one of the owners spoke too and thanked everyone for coming to the event that they looked forward to all year.
The auctioneer was brought in from out-of-town. He explained he wasn’t one of those fast talking auctioneer. He was a bit more like Santa Claus sharing the wealth of this horse Christmas. He told a story about his old dog, who had died, and some wisdom he had acquired from his vet about good dogs and good horses making your life better, which brought me to tears because I thought of my dog who died the summer before.
I think the saying was, “He was a good dog, and you gave him a good life, but he made your life even better.”
And you could say the same about a good horse.
So with those unexpected heart-warming introductions, the auction began.
Bidding opened at $750 per horse. That was the minimum bid. The first filly was from a stallion named Proudgun. It was bay. I think it went for $750. This would have been a good family horse.
The horses kept coming — 31 in total: Sorrel filly #1, bay filly #2 and so on. Each colt wore a little number on its side and that’s how they were auctioned off. They were ordered by the sire –so for example, 1-5 were from Proudgun and 6-12 were from High Dollar Snazzy, etc.
The colts were corralled in a pen with its other half-sisters and brothers. One at a time, the cowboys would single out the colt with the next number and its mama, separate them from the herd, and push the pair through the holding pen into the makeshift corral offset by mere ropes, where we sat in the bleachers in front of them.
1-2-3-4-5 and so on. The nervous mare and her baby would enter and pace from one edge of the little semi-circle to the other. The owners and managers stood behind the horses and the auctioneer in front. When the bids were high enough, the managers would open the gate and let the mama and baby re-enter the waiting herd on the other side of the fence.
As the auction continued, the horses got more and more expensive, I’m assuming from the fame of the stallion. Up and up until around $5,000. They talked about a $6,000 sale last year that had gone to an owner in Mexico.
As the colors seemed to influence the price, the buckskins and palominos went for more than the pretty bays.
It is a gamble to buy a colt. How will it turn out, how do you know what color, what temperament, what traits will carry over from the stud?
That day I learned that the most desirable physical traits in a Quarter Horse are a big butt, “clean, upfront neck” and a horse that “sits up high on its legs.” It’s hard to describe what “sits high on its legs” means, but instantly recognizable when you look at a colt and compare it to another. Sitting up high is how a colt holds itself together, or maybe the length and strength of its legs. You would not look at a colt that sits up high and think “spindly.” You would think “athletic.”
Since I had a hard time imaging the colts grown up, I looked at the mares and picked my imaginary horse. A black mare, then another, caught my eye; then a shimmering buckskin like I’d never seen—as gold as it was silver, as silver as it was gold. It’s colt from Ikes Bar Drifter was a tawny gold grey – hard to predict from the three buckskin colts which one would end up like this beautiful mare, shimmering as it moved gracefully around the pen with its little horse at its side.
It was a long hour-and-half for the kids and the heat increased as the sun moved overhead—we drank all our water and everyone was hungry. But the bidding increased and the prices went high and the excitement that started the sale did not dissipate as everyone wondered who would go to $6,000. It was hard to tell who was buying what, but someone from Kentucky (or named Kentucky) bought a few; my fashionable friend with the earrings-to-die-for bought herself a few; a girl with a peach bandana was a lucky owner of a beautiful bay and many more went to cowboys and cattlemen.
“We like to let our horses to learn to be horses,” the ranch owner explained, “so you don’t have to pick up your colt until next March. We over-winter them for you.” Only the deposit of $250 on sales up to $2,000 or $500 on sales over $2,000 was due that day, making it incredibly…tempting.
What if I got myself a black filly? $500 and I could pick it up next March. That would give me enough time to figure out a lot of things.
A lot of things. Maybe I could have a horse Christmas– Horse Christmas in July. Next July.
Maybe that’s what I’ll do.
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.
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?
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!
(My sister lives in Flagstaff, Arizona and has a beautiful and bounteous vegetable garden every summer. Here she shares tips on how to successfully garden in a dry, cold, high-altitude desert. Thanks for the advice, Cathy!)
Many people have tried to garden in the high desert of Flagstaff, Arizona and failed. Although there are Ponderosa pine and wild grasses in abundance, and the climate is cool, the area is arid, the wind blows, and the soil is rocky. There are also numerous rodent species that eat all of the greenery in an unprotected garden. All of these factors must be taken into consideration to have a successful garden experience.
To start a vegetable and flower garden in Flagstaff, one must make raised, wooden flower beds about 6 feet by 3 feet x 2.5 feet. The beds must have tight wire mesh fencing on the bottom to keep burrowing animals from coming in and eating the plants, roots and leaves.
The flower beds must be filled with enriched soil, that can be made prior to the garden season. Large bags of garden soil can be bought at any nursery, along with bags of potting soil. Mix together in a 2:1 ratio. Next add a bag of steer manure , or even better, about 40 pounds of good, seasoned horse manure. All of this should be well mixed and put in the planters, leaving about 3 inches from the top. Add some Miracle Grow Fertilizer on top of the soil in the raised beds, and the beds are ready to plant.
A sprinkler system must be installed in each of the beds before planting. Spring planting in Flagstaff must be after the last frost. I try to plant by May 15, using plastic “Walls of Water” to trick the tomato plants into growing faster. These can be purchased at any nursery. The plastic sides are filled with water, and the tomato plants are planted in the soil inside of the walls of water. The plants don’t freeze using this technique.
We also put PVC pipes in the garden beds, at each corner and in the middle of each side. The height is about 3 feet from the top of the garden bed. We cover the garden bed and PVC pipes with black bird netting to keep the rodents from jumping in the garden and eating it. The netting hooks on to the side of the wooden planter all around to allow access to the beds.
Occasionally, we find a squirrel stuck in the netting by his legs. Not a pleasant sight !
During the season, fertilize twice with miracle grow or fish oil. I have had some luck using Mole Mix sprinkled on the ground , to keep the rodents away. The crops will start to be ready by July 10, with 3x weekly soakings. Crops last until September 15, when there is a typical hard freeze. Potatoes and carrots can be left in the ground until the end of November, and then harvested.