Last fall, our return to the familiar comforts of our current ranch in Hondo, Texas, led Kenny and me to reevaluate our relocation plans. Perhaps, we thought, it would be better to keep our Texas ranch and spend summers at our new place in Pie Town, New Mexico. We could leave some of our horses in Texas year-round, we reasoned, and move the others back and forth.
When considering the advantages and drawbacks of this lifestyle, we spoke with many “snowbird” horse folks who moved their operations each fall and spring to take advantage of riding-worthy weather north or south (for more, see “A Change of Seasons,” EQUUS 485).
Longtime migrator Lynn Kelley, who travels between Arizona and Colorado, told us that a key consideration was whether the climate and other factors are sufficiently distinctive to warrant the time, trouble and expense of moving twice a year. To establish that benchmark, I’ve been tracking both Pie Town and Hondo weather patterns for several months. Much to our surprise, there has not been much of a difference between the two so far this winter. In fact, the weather in Pie Town has often been much more conducive to riding and chores than here in Hondo. Rain in New Mexico drains quickly in the sandy soil, and the horses can work around a bale of hay without creating a boot-sucking mire as they do on our Texas property.
Granted, this winter has been unusually warm and dry in New Mexico, and all of that could change in the blink of an eye. At the same time, we’ve had snow, sleet and subfreezing conditions in southern Texas on more than one occasion, in between long stretches of mud. Horses in Pie Town also grow thicker winter coats than their Texas counterparts, so they are well equipped for frostier conditions.
So far, Pie Town has had more sunny days than our Texas ranch. Here in Hondo we’ve had long stretches of dreary, damp and cloudy days. It’s typically colder at night in Pie Town, but the daytime highs are remarkably consistent. In addition, the low humidity makes New Mexico seem warmer, especially on sunny days, although it can be windy.
And, of course, our main motivation for relocating is escaping the long, miserably hot and humid summers here in Texas. We figured we’d have much more opportunity to ride during most of the year in New Mexico. We’d rather layer on more clothing to cope with the winters in Pie Town than sweat out the summer heat in Texas.
The matter of logistics
On the other hand, our remote location in New Mexico---80 miles to the nearest shopping, 35 miles to our veterinarian, nearly 180 miles to a major city (Albuquerque)---is a little daunting. We will have to do a little more planning and coordination and become quite a bit more self-sufficient than we had to be in our Texas home.
To counter these challenges, we’ll carpool as much as possible with our neighbor Karl Phaler (who loves open-road driving), use Amazon Prime for delivery and, most significantly, have a greenhouse and garden to ensure a steady supply of fresh vegetables, the mainstay of our plant-based diet. We have already purchased a large refrigerator designed to keep produce fresh and crisp, and we hope to have our garden up and running within the next year so we can say goodbye to weekly trips to the market.
Another consideration is the distance between our Texas and New Mexico properties: It’s every bit of a two-day drive from our Hondo ranch to Pie Town. That means that a biannual migration would require lots of preparation, and the trip itself could become physically and mentally exhausting as the years pass.
Finally, the two-ranch scenario would have significant financial ram- ifications. Though Kenny has continued to work from home full-time, he had been planning to retire when we moved to New Mexico. To maintain two ranches, however, he would have to continue working.
Retirement, for us, is being able to live the life we want. It’s about enjoying the ranch and the horses without sitting in front of a compu- ter screen all day. Maintaining two ranches, we have concluded, may work beautifully in many cases, but it’s simply not ideal for us.
We’ve decided that our best bet for quality of life for both horses and people is to sell the Texas ranch and embrace year-round living in New Mexico. Our goal remains to clean up and close out our Texas ranch and put it on the market this year, while completing the transition of animals and belongings to New Mexico.
What’s left to be done
We’ve been back in Texas since October and are itching to make a run to Pie Town with a load of materials. We are looking at purchasing a 20- to 24-foot cargo trailer to serve as a portable workshop and a means of getting tools and hardware ready to move from one ranch to the other.
Since last fall, the house, fencing, well and outbuildings have been in place, but there are several things we still need before we can move in:
• Electricity. After much discussion, we’ve decided to stick with land power rather than solar. We hope to go with underground conduit, which will require a four-foot-deep trench. Originally Kenny had planned to do the necessary digging himself, but we are now considering contracting out the job to move the process along. While there have been plenty of nights below freezing in Pie Town, the soil is not frozen thanks to the ongoing drought, so it’s possible to begin digging any time. Should bringing in a backhoe prove cost-prohibitive, we are prepared to revisit the idea of above-ground power, which involves construction of two additional power poles.
• Septic. Again, Kenny had planned to do this himself, and he still intends to. We have staked out the area where the septic field will be located and confirmed the area to be relatively rock-free, but to receive the required permits, we need to submit a detailed site plan to New Mexico state environmental officials.
• Propane. Our central heating, dryer and kitchen stove will be powered with propane, which will be relatively simple to have hooked up; there are many providers throughout the area.
• Water. We have a large metal stock tank next to a solar-powered well. We’ve also purchased a 3,000-gallon holding tank and a 500-gallon transfer tank for transporting water. This spring Kenny will install a pressure tank and run water lines from the holding tank to the house and stable area. With a generator, this will give us pressurized water in the house until the electric service is completed. (For more about wells, see “Digging Deeper,” EQUUS 478.)
We also need to put up interior fencing for paddocks on our main tract of 53 acres as well as construct new perimeter fencing on our nearby properties (a 22-acre and a 15-acre tract) so we can rotate pastures and turn horses out in small groups to save wear and tear on the delicate native grama grass. Kenny has been collecting materials and welding t- posts to prepare for this next phase.
We still have to decide what kind of horse facilities to build, as well as how we will store hay. By spending time on the land this summer, we should have a better sense of what will work best for our herd before winter sets in. The ongoing challenge of locating a reliable source of round bales is also underway. Most folks in New Mexico feed straight alfalfa, and grass hay can be hard to come by.
Clearly, we must accomplish a fair number of things before we can settle into our New Mexico property for good. Until then, we will likely continue accepting our neighbor Karl’s hospitality and “commuting” the half-mile from his place to ours every day.
So here we are . . . rounding the far turn and heading into the homestretch of our building adventure with a renewed sense of resolve. There is much work yet to be done both in Hondo and Pie Town, but our hope to is get our horses, cats and cattle dog moved and settled before another Texas summer sets in.
If we had any concerns about leaving our property for so long, Karl quelled them with this on-site update: “[My poodle] Joy and I took another tour of the main Weber estate this morning. No one has even driven up to the gate, and the elk have been merciful---all of your interior tape fencing is still up. The house interior was surprisingly temperate (good insulation at work), although the old refrigerator looks kind of forlorn sitting on the floor in front of the glorious Samsung. All the outbuildings are secure, and the well-pump installation is simply waiting for activation. Your heartstead is behaving like a child lonesome for her parents, calling, ‘Come home.’”
This article was originally published in EQUUS 487, April 2018