A memoir about a maverick cowboy and a herd of wild horses by H. Alan Day and Lynn Wiese Sneyd

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Spring in Salt River Wild Horse Country

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Spring in Salt River Wild Horse Country

Today’s photoessay comes from Becky Standridge, a professional photographer whose work focuses on the wild horses living in the Salt River Canyon outside of Phoenix. I met Becky at a book signing and she was kind enough to send a copy of her beautiful 12-month Salt River Wild Horses calendar. You can see more of Becky’s work on Facebook.  Spring is a favorite season, not only for what it symbolizes but also for what it actually brings. Symbolically, it heralds the renewal of life. It breaks the grip of winter, frees the spirit and fills the senses with hope for the coming season. It’s an incentive for fresh starts and new beginnings. Anticipation abounds. As Mark Twain wrote, “It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” The arrival of spring brings with it ever-longer periods of sunshine and warmth which awaken the earth to new signs of life. Mother Nature’s pallet replaces winter’s shades of grey with a bouquet of fragrant color. New life bursts forth greeting the world with the sight and sounds of jubilation. As Dr. Seuss would say, “Oh, the things that spring brings.” Springtime in the Sonoran Desert along the Salt and Verde Rivers in Arizona plays out as it does elsewhere but with the added attraction of wild horses, known as the Salt River Wild Horses. Living in what is recognized as the lushest desert on earth, food is plentiful so the horses choose their favorite food for the season. The hummingbirds raise their tiny chicks, bees swarm to start new hives, and mares begin to foal. Yearlings begin their journey to independence, bachelor stallions contemplate a family of their own and band stallions proudly defend the family they hold so dear. It’s a season of promise and a special time of year that not only warms the earth but warms the heart as well. Becky Standridge has spent several years photographing, documenting and observing the Salt River Wild Horses. For Becky, it is all about the horses. She signs her photographs using the name SAM. She appreciates its gender neutrality and its representation as an acronym for “Sunshine and Me” – Sunshine is the love of her life. Through her photography, Becky hopes to inspire hearts and minds by capturing the spirit of the Salt River Wild Horses in images that portray their magnificence and value to...

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It’s time for the Virtual Book Tour!

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It’s time for the Virtual Book Tour!

I’m thrilled to be embarking on a twenty-day virtual book tour and look forward to meeting new and interesting people along the way while sharing my memoir The Horse Lover. Thank you very much to my hosts who have agreed to be part of this journey.   The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustang is my story about starting the first government-sponsored wild horse sanctuary in the United States. As a long time cattle rancher, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be working with 1500 wild horses. As it turned out, the horses and I shared a four-year journey filled with adventures –  some happy, some not so happy – that turned out to be the highlight of my career as a rancher and cowboy. Woven into the wild horse story are recollections of cowboying adventures astride some of my best horses – Little Joe, Aunt Jemima, Tequila, Blackberry and more. Each one taught me indispensable lessons about loyalty, perseverance, and hope. During the tour, I’ll share my thoughts about horses, the West, the ranching and cowboy life and what I’ve learned from my experiences. You may laugh, you may cry, you may want to buy a pair of boots, a hat and a saddle, and go find a horse to call your own. Regardless, I hope whatever you find in these writings and interviews will in some way enrich your life. Here’s how the tour works. Every day from now through May 2, I’ll visit a different blog or radio show. Below is the complete tour schedule. Visit the Virtual Book Tour page each day when a new link will go live. You also can follow via Twitter and my Facebook page. Leave comments, share your personal horse stories, and invite fellow horse lovers to travel with us. Thanks for joining the tour. I look forward to hearing from you. Happy trails, H. Alan Day Virtual Book Tour Schedule Day Appearances Day 1 Alan’s Blog Day 2 TheMustang.de Day 3 Book Marketing Professionals Blog Day 4 LWS Literary Services Blog & Giveaway Sign-Up Day 5 Virtual Writers Inc Blog Day 6 A Love 4 Horses Day 7 Dallas Live Radio Show Day 8 Conversations Live Radio Show Day 9 Horse Talk NZ Blog Day 10 Real Talk with Lee Day 11 HorseConscious Day 12 Book Marketing in Five Day 13 Giftus John Day 14 Write for Travel Day 15 Horse Books Pony Stories Day 16 Cowboy Magic Blog Day 17 Publish With Connie Day 18 WHOA Podcasat Day 19 Savvy Virtuals Best Selling Authors Day 20 Conscious Discussions Are you interested in interviewing Alan? Send him an...

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Sunsets: The Glory of the Day

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Flip open a travel guide to Tucson, Arizona, my current hometown, and you’ll find a healthy list of interesting events and places. We have Rodeo Days at the end of February, a four-day stretch of barrel racing, team penning, and bronco riding. Earlier in the month, we host the largest gem and mineral show in the world. Our  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum houses insects, reptiles, mammals and plant life that intrigue young and old alike. Trails for hikers and bikers crisscross through washes and over hills. Golf courses are found every-which-way you turn. Then there are the mountains. And margaritas. And mountains of margaritas. But probably my all-time favorite event is something that happens everyday of every year. Not mentioned in many travel guides, it comes free of cost. It started long before I was born and hopefully will continue long beyond my demise. The sunset. That’s what I’m talking about. In Tucson, the sun shines an average of 350 days per year, which means we have ample opportunity to watch that fiery globe tuck itself into the horizon. This time of year, when the circulating air is quick to usher out smog and haze, the sun’s departure is particularly eloquent. I’ve been blessed to witness sunsets in Key West, Florida and Del Mar, California. I’ve seen the sun float above the edge of the South Dakota prairie, buoyed by summer humidity. I cried leaning against the railings of a cruise ship as it entered a volcano crater in the Greek islands, the sun’s last rays bouncing off perfectly calm water and “Chariots of Fire” echoing off the jutting mountains. I’ve seen the glory of a Santa Fe, New Mexico sunset with purple and pinks that inspired painters like Georgia O’Keefe. Still, one of my favorite places to watch a sunset is in Tucson, especially on the golf course about four miles from my home. If I’m out at the range in late afternoon and hitting the ball well, I’ll take a cart out and play nine holes. On almost every hole, I have a clear view of the western and eastern skies. Rarely do I run into people. Somewhere around the eighth hole, the shadows begin to lengthen. I tee off, facing west and have to judge by the feel of the club head hitting the ball whether or not I’m in the fairway because glaring sunshine blinds my eyes. About the time the ball drops into the tin cup, the show begins. A roadrunner dashes into the middle of the fairway and stops. Quail chortle. Somewhere in the distance a motor revs. I turn eastward. The mighty Santa Catalina Mountains have shed their earthy browns for a golden pink. The sun throws its rays against layers of granite and gneiss, turning the pink to a magnificent deep rose. Then as the minutes pass, the mouthwatering hue turns iridescent. For a few still moments, the world feels enormous. Nothing seems as important as being present in this moment. It’s...

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Chico and the Dog

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The time had come to retire Chico. He was my first horse, a little wild mustang captured by a local cowboy in the flanks of Steeple Rock Mountain, just north of Lazy B. Somehow my dad ended up with him before I was born, so my sisters Sandra and Ann also claim him as their first horse. Chico became my best friend almost as soon as I could walk. A pretty bay color with a star on his forehead, he was a small horse, too small for a cowboy, but just right for a child. Chico and I lived many adventures together while he stood patiently in the corral and let me clamber over him like a jungle gym. One day I would be the cowboy chasing and catching wild cattle to the amazement of the other cowboys. The next day I was an Indian stalking game and evading the cavalry. The fact Chico came from a wild horse herd enamored me. When I was old enough to ride, Chico would go at a speed I was capable of handling and no faster. When I fell off and cried and grew angry with him, he would stand still and patiently wait for me to collect myself and get back on. He took care of me more hours than my mother did and at least as well. But now Chico was in his late twenties. It was time for him to roam freely in the pasture and enjoy the taste of fresh grass. Chico had made friends with a boxer we had on the ranch named Chap. I swear that dog loved Chico as much as I did. Chico would amble through the corral, Chap trotting right next to him. The two would saunter out to pasture together. This best buddy relationship had to be tough on Chap because dogs need water every few hours and Lazy B’s desert pasture had no freestanding water. When the duo returned to headquarters, Chap would plunge into the water trough, roll around like an otter in a pond and drink enough water until you thought it would spout from his ears. Since he wasn’t a hunter, he’d fill up on food at the back of the ranch house. Chico patiently waited for a few hours while the refueling took place. Then back out to the pasture the two would go, coming and going as freely as they wanted. One day I saw Chap trotting past the corrals toward the barn, alone. Right then, I knew Chico had passed. I quickly saddled up and rode out to the pasture and found him. The coyotes hadn’t gotten to him yet. I knelt down and stroked his weathered hide, saw the peaceful look on his face. I knew he was old and it was his time, but still. You think you’re prepared but when someone you love dies, the loss comes as a shock. My horse and I walked back to headquarters, tears wetting my face....

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Where Wild Horses and Prisoners Meet

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Where Wild Horses and Prisoners Meet

The horse corrals and puddles from the recent rain could have been on any southwestern ranch. But the handful of men pitching hay weren’t wearing cowboy hats or boots or chaps. They wore bright orange jumpsuits, the uniform required of prisoners at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, Arizona, where I just arrived having driven an hour from Tucson. The horses in the corrals weren’t just any ranch horses. They were government-owned wild mustangs, and I had come to pay them a visit. I talk a last sip of cold coffee and hopped out of the pickup. A vehicle hurrying up the road turned into the parking lot and pulled in next to me.  “Nice to see you again, Al,” said Randy Helm, settling a Stetson on his head and extending a hand. Randy supervises the Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP) started last year. When the program was in the talking stages, he had called on me for input on the design of the corrals. Born and raised on an Arizona ranch, Randy is a cowboy deluxe, a horse whisperer with extensive experience in law enforcement, including that of chaplin. We crunched across the gravel toward the corrals. A forklift was parked by a pile of long metal tubing that eventually would be used to build more corrals. “Right now we have 400 horses, but eventually we hope to get that number closer to 2000,” said Randy. “We also have a couple hundred burros.” I knew from my experience managing a wild horse sanctuary that the Bureau of Land Management removes the horses from federal lands when the animals start overpopulating. The wild horses remain in BLM holding pens around the country either for life or until they are put up for adoption and sold. Randy indicated that many of these horses were shipped from Nevada. We headed toward a motorized cart. “Hey Justin,” said Randy to a bald-headed inmate who looked to be in his thirties. “How’s that new group doing? Is that mare still being friendly to you?” “They’re doing real good, Mr. Helm. She came up right close to me this morning.” “Nice job. Maybe she’ll be one we can saddle up soon.” Justin grinned. Another prison approached. “Mr. Helm, sir, if you need any extra help over Thanksgiving, I’d be glad to come out here.” Randy said he appreciated the offer and would keep him in mind. We climbed in the cart and headed along the outside of the corrals. “If you treat them with respect, they respect you,” said Randy, perhaps referring to both man and beast. In order for an inmate to work with the horses, he must be held in minimum security, which means he has less than five years to serve on a sentence, and pass a lengthy interview with Randy. Twenty inmates currently work with the horses and the waiting list for WHIP jobs is quite long. The program seeks to build the men’s self-confidence, patience, respect for living things...

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Beef Jerky: A Holiday Staple in the Cowboy Life

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Beef Jerky: A Holiday Staple in the Cowboy Life

“Hey, Uncle Al, you’re making some of your holiday beef jerky, aren’t you?” My nephew Jay looked at me from across the table. I swallowed my mouthful of Thanksgiving Day turkey, but before I could respond, his brothers chimed in with their perennial requests for the cowboy delicacy. “Guess I better get on that,” I said. Of course I wouldn’t have said anything else. I’ve been making jerky for way too long to admit. I learned the trade in middle school from one of the Lazy B cowboys. He had a rudimentary process: slice the beef with a sharp knife, season it with salt and pepper and loop the long, thin slices over the clothesline to dry in the Arizona sun for three or four days. The flies would find it, of course, so when the strips came off the line, you were never sure if you were eating pepper or flyspecks but no one much cared. The finished product ended up in a pillowcase propped up on a chair in the bunkhouse and no one could pass by without sticking a hand into that grab bag. The salty leathery beef tasted especially good on horseback while out on the range driving cattle. If you’re supposed to chew your food thirty times, you had to chew that jerky at least three times longer. After that cowboy left, I took over the reigns of jerky making. The main house had an oil stove, so rather than hanging the meat on a clothesline, I put it on tray underneath the stove to dry. I started experimenting with different seasonings – teriyaki, then habanera chilies and hot sauce. I’d throw the seasonings in a pot and let them simmer into a mouthwatering concoction. Every year the concoction got a little tastier. I’d put the jerky in baggies for the crew and during the month of December, we’d all keep a stash in our chaps. When I moved to Tucson, I convinced the meat lab at the University of Arizona, my alma mater, to slice and dry the meat for me. I’d bring the sweet-n-salty hot sauce down and the interns would dip the meat in it and put the slices in the dehydrator. I started selling the jerky commercially, but after a few years, the endeavor required more time than I wanted to devote to it, so I purchased a commercial slice and a dehydrator that holds a dozen or so trays. Now I’m a one-stop, beef-jerky-making shop but only during the Christmas season. It’s a gift that I make with my own hands and no one can duplicate it because I’ve never given away the secret ingredients in the sauce.   For those who want to venture into jerky making, here’s what you do.   Buy big chunks of top inside round beef. I get mine at Costco. I freeze the meat first, then slice it when it’s semi-frozen to about 1/8 inch thick. Dip the slices in the sauce. Sorry,...

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