Kenny and I enjoyed four lovely months on our new property in New Mexico over the summer. We had as many as four horses with us along with our cattle dog Maddie. Most of our time was spent planning, building and constructing infrastructure on our new ranch---outbuildings, manufactured home, solar well, fencing ---and that didn’t leave much time for actual riding.
We would have stayed through the end of October, but the horses back in Texas needed hoof trimming, one had a mysterious lameness that necessitated intensive treatment and two nights in a veterinary clinic, and our Siamese cats were about to give up on us. (Fortunately, we have a ranch caretaker who looks after all of our critters when we’re away.)
When we returned to Texas at the end of September, autumn had not yet arrived and we found ourselves back in the heat and humidity we’d left behind and nearly forgotten. Annakate, our Morgan who had been thriving in her new environment at 7,400 feet, soon developed scratches, hives and an itchy tail once again. Our mountain ponies already had grown thick winter coats, but the additional fur wasn’t needed here, so trace clipping ensued.
However, despite all of that, it was good to be “home.” It felt comfortable and familiar. Once again, veterinary and medical services were close by, and organic fresh produce was with- in an hour’s drive. Being back in Texas was like slipping into a com- fortable pair of shoes. We had to ad- mit that we still loved our ranch here. And we began contemplating the idea of keeping it, at least for a few more years, and “migrating” to New Mexico for the summers.
Was a summer-winter situation feasible? We have about 12 horses, two donkeys, five cats and a cattle dog. It’s every bit of a two-day drive each way. Would maintaining two ranches in two different states be worth it? For insight, I turned to two colleagues who migrate each winter and have done so for many years and, as a bonus, I was also able to talk to a “snowbird” who is in her second year of traveling back and forth from Alaska to New Mexico in her recreational vehicle.
From Arizona to Colorado
“We think the birds and the animals have it right---to migrate,” says Lynn Kelley, who with husband John spend seven months---October to May---in Scottsdale, Arizona, and five months ---May to October---in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. In the Kelleys’ case, it’s about 500 miles from one place to another, which is about eight hours by car and 10 hours with a horse trailer. “There is no one perfect place to live, but when you move back and forth, it can be nearly perfect all of the time,” says Lynn.
Pagosa Springs, says Kelley, has “the right hometown atmosphere and we know people here. The scenery was just what we wanted, with big mountain views, meadows and, of course, the tall pine trees. The San Juan River runs through the town; it’s one of the world’s best fly fishing rivers.”
The Kelleys generally keep between six and eight Mangalarga Marchadors, a gaited breed from Brazil. They raise two or three foals each year in a program called Future Foal, in which clients reserve the breeding and resulting foal. They keep their horses at a professional breeding and training facility near Scottsdale in the winter, where the breeding and foaling operation is supported by the staff there. The babies get to spend most of the summer running in the pastures in Pagosa Springs and grazing on good pastures, growing up strong and healthy.
“We always hate leaving Colorado ---fall is so beautiful there,” says Lynn. “But we both love warmer weather and not having to wear a jacket at all. Knowing that winter is coming, we are happy to leave before the temperatures hit freezing.”
And the Kelleys get to ride year-round. “For me, it is having the chance to be back to a more natural way of living that comes in Colorado. I enjoy the birds, the wildlife, the stars and the sky and the quiet. It’s very peaceful. There is nothing better to me than just hearing the owls screech at night or the elk moving by. And the horses love it here.”
From Idaho to Arizona
Steve and Cindy Bradley both enjoyed long careers in law enforcement in an old gold-mining village in rural Idaho. After Cindy retired, it hit her that she couldn’t ride for several months of the year because the snow was piled three feet high. So she loaded her senior mare into a two-horse trailer and traveled by herself to Arizona to compete in a 25-mile limited distance ride sanctioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference.
“That’s how we got hooked,” Steve recalled with a chuckle. Cindy and her mare stayed at a horse motel west of Phoenix, and Steve flew down to visit for a couple of weeks. It became an annual ritual: Steve would spend a week getting Cindy set up, then go back to Idaho. Then it hit him, too: “There I was, sitting in my office in my suit and tie looking out my window at the snow blowing sideways,” he recalled.
So after Steve retired, both Bradleys began spending winters in Arizona and summers in Idaho. Then, about 10 years ago, they got word about an upcoming Housing and Urban Development auction for a manufactured home on an acre and a quarter not far from the horse motel that had been their winter haven. They bought the property for $30,000. Thus began a new chapter in their migration.
Every year, from October through April, the Bradleys enjoy their winter hiatus, working on projects and improvements at the Arizona property. They bring two rigs, one loaded with prime Idaho hay, the other with their two Morgan horses, two Pomeranians and a rescued cat who loves to travel.
Through the years, Steve developed his ride photography skills and became a fixture at multi-day endurance rides throughout the West and Southwest. Meanwhile, Cindy and her Morgan gelding Bogar Tucker (Bo) racked up thousands of endurance miles, enjoying magnificent scenery from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim to the pink cliffs of Bryce Canyon. This pair recently completed a 100-mile ride in southern Idaho, pushing Bo’s career total over 6,200 endurance miles.
They’ve made lots of friends in Arizona through the years, and their neighbors back in Idaho watch their ranch while they’re away. The local post office forwards their mail a couple of times each month, and they pay their bills online. They keep costs down by living in manufactured homes at each location. “We’ve been collecting second-hand furniture to make a comfy home in Arizona and now it is turnkey,” says Steve. “I can flip a switch and turn a valve and walk away.”
It’s a little more work to winterize their home in Idaho. The thermostat is set at 40 degrees, water pipes drained and the snow load on the roof checked by the Bradleys’ son Michael, who stops by regularly. “We have a list of people to call if there’s a problem and someone lets them in. One thing you want to do is foster a relationship with your plumber, electrician and carpenter ---that has really helped us a lot.”
And the horses sense when moving day is near. “When there’s three feet of snow in Idaho, they wait by the fence as if to say, ‘When are we heading south?’”
Kenny and I had already planned to return to Texas for the winter to “triage” the ranch: haul away scrap metal and old vehicles and generally clean up the place in preparation for listing it for sale in the spring. Kenny has collected a lot of “stuff” over the 20 years he’s been here. A 100- by 30-foot structure, which has been partially repurposed as a feed room, tack room and run-in/tacking up shed, is still crammed full of tools and parts. One item we are definitely moving to New Mexico is a lovely Waterford wood stove that will become our main heating source in our Pie Town home.
The symbolic beginning of the cleanup occurred in November, when our ancient backhoe, “Digger,” was hauled away to become salvage parts. The next step was to head for town with loads of scrap metal and tin. Whether we list the ranch in the spring or hold on to it for another year, the cleanup effort is long overdue. If some of the horses stay for the summer, it’s essential that we set up additional run-in sheds with fans to protect them from heat and insects.
We’ve already discovered the need to have specific tools and items in both locations. Both the Bradleys and Kelleys emphasized keeping good lists.
“The first years were hard to figure out---what to pack, what needed to be done, forgetting this or that but not figuring it out until we got to the other place,” recalls Lynn Kelley. “However, we have now been doing this for 11 years. In some ways, it has helped us simplify our lives. Twice a year, you get to go through clothes, your pantry, paperwork files and decide what to take. For the most part, if we aren’t using it, we throw it out or give it away.
“We did, however, replicate many items so that we did not have to remember them, and we codified the move with detailed lists so we don’t need to remember much and we know it got packed. Besides furniture, for most any appliance or kitchen gadget we use often, we bought another.”
The Kelleys spend a month getting ready to go, but the real packing does not take long. “We have a list of things that need to get done with the horses, like Coggins, health certificates, shots, dental work. We have a list of things that need to be done with us, like doctor’s appointments, dental, letting people know when we are going, turning off services like trash pickup, for example.” They hire professional haulers to move the horses as they only have a two-horse trailer.
Of course, moving back and forth and owning two places is more expensive than just owning one place. “However, if one place is less expensive to live in, then perhaps that would help save money during the months you are there,” says Kelley. “Pagosa Springs’ cost of services is decidedly less than Scottsdale.”
They hire caretakers at both places to check on the property once a week when they are not there.
“For me,” notes Lynn, “the two places should be different enough to offer a reason for migrating. It’s not the same as just owning two properties. It is a true migration. For the weather, there is a 20-degree difference between Arizona and Colorado in the summer. For lifestyle, when we are in Colorado, we sometimes do not hear a car during the day.”
The arrangement isn’t perfect but it’s worth the effort, says Lynn: “The Milky Way and the stars at night are like I remember as a child. Arizona is more and more like California with traffic, smog and noise. We bought two places to enjoy a change in lifestyle at each. In Colorado, it’s that healthy outdoor lifestyle and living with the horses. In Arizona, it is to enjoy the horses, but also other hobbies and to travel. All in all, it’s a great lifestyle. We think the animals have it right---migrate for the best of both worlds.”
So where does that leave Kenny and me, our herd of 12 horses, five cats and a cattle dog? While it looks like we will be spending at least one---perhaps two---more winters in Texas, our goal remains relocation to our evolving “homestead” in New Mexico. We have horses who will do better in a cooler climate, and it’s simply impracti- cal for us to spend so much time in transit and manage two properties.
It may work out that once I get back to Pie Town with my horses, dog and cats (pending construction of a cat-safe indoor-outdoor zone), I stay for the duration, even if Kenny “commutes” back to Texas a bit longer to continue preparing the ranch for sale. It will be a process, that much we know. Next: A review of what’s still needed
This article was originally published in EQUUS 485, February 2018