Kidnapped by a Mexican Horse

We walked through the border patrol office, and began our spontaneous crossing from Texas to Mexico. I carried our 4 year old Emilia on my back, and we put our 1 ½ year old Pepper in the baby backpack with Adam, my husband. “It’s really muddy out there,” the officials warned us. But they didn’t really prepare us for the mire that engulfed us up to our knees. That would have required another bag of descriptive verbiage altogether like: “quagmire slime trap,” or “ deep gooey sludge bog.” We began our trek through the slough, each step a feat of balance and strength as I struggled to pull my foot from the mud without losing a boot or dropping a toddler. Emilia sensed the probability of her muddy future and clung to my neck like a tree frog.

At the river bank of the Rio Grande was a little jon boat. The river was only a couple hundred feet across but the current rushed with silent strength. There were two men with the boat who gave us life jackets before we hopped on board.

Allow me to give you a brief interlude of our RV trip up to this point. Our family was taking an epic land break from our usual life on the water. We figured a coast to coast RV trip would be a nice intermission from the constant stresses of sailing with children. My husband and I work remotely, digitally managing our gutter cleaning company in Asheville, NC. We rent our house on Air b and b to cover our travel expenses. Living in an RV or sailboat cuts down on lodging fees, allowing us to live cheaply and experience the world around us in epic proportions. We made it to the coast of California in our 20 foot Koala Superlite travel trailer (no slide out folks, and yes it was way too small for all 4 of us), and now we were on our journey back to the east coast. I read that Big Bend was a must see, so I put it loosely on our itinerary. By the time we got to Texas, the campsite of my choice in Big Bend was booked, so I reserved the only remaining RV site in the entire park at the Rio Grande Village Campground. As we drove from the entrance of the park towards the campground, hours ticked by. Big Bend is enormous. Most of the park is without cell service, but when we finally saw a sign for the campground I was able to pull up the map on our phone.

“Holy s***,” I exclaimed, ”I think the campground is in Mexico.” 

Well, not quite, but it couldn’t be much closer. A short bike ride to the Boquillas Canyon Overlook takes you past the customs border patrol office where you can walk through some mud, paddle across the Rio Grande, and eat tacos in Mexico.

Our family isn’t really the type to pass up an adventure like this, especially when tacos in Mexico are involved. After we loaded into the motorless skiff, our captains commenced to row across the wild current, clearly having done this before.

Three minutes later, we climbed out of the boat and up the muddy embankment into Mexico. A janky covered structure sheltered about 20 burros (donkeys). Standing amongst their herd, an assembly of Mexican wranglers greeted us with blank stares. They loaded us up on 2 burros, Emilia riding in the front with me, and Pepper riding with Adam.

A guide led us into the heart of Boquillas, clucking and smacking the donkeys’ bums to keep them moving. The scenery here is iconically desert. The Ocotillo cactuses dominate the arid landscape with their silly appendages. In the summertime, the heat can reach 120 degrees in the shade, although, good luck finding any shade. It’s real here folks. Boquillas is an isolated village with 300 inhabitants and the closest town is 3 hours away by car. There are two restaurants, and no stores to speak of. Boquillas was founded as a mining town in the late 19th century. At its mining peak, the town inhabited less than 4,000 people. You can still see the old jail that is carved into the rock of a mountain side at the end of town. After the mine closed the population dwindled. The few remaining inhabitants rely almost exclusively on the sprinkling of tourists that cross from Big Bend. After the attacks on 9/11, the border between Big Bend and Boquillas was closed, devastating the community. The population dwindled to a mere 19 families, until the border reopened in 2013. And now, tacos await the hungry mouths of Texan tourists. There’s nothing like a donkey ride in the Chiuahuan desert to get you in the mood.

We park our asses at the top of the dirt road, and walk through the town to browse the souvenirs.

The street is lined with dusty cement structures, each one with a table out front where locals await the arrival of tourists to shop their handmade goods.

We bought a few things from the wife of our guide and walked back to the restaurant. We ate the best freaking tacos I’ve ever had.

The owner of the restaurant chatted with me about the livestock back at his farm a few miles away from town. Boquillas is a hopping metropolis compared to his acreage. He has to bring his donkeys to town to foal, or they are eaten by cougars. My curiosity is unfurling in this wild sequestered terrain. Bellies full and batteries recharged, a hair-brained idea wriggles up from my subconscious into a conscious urge. I ask my guide in Spanish if they have any horses, not just donkeys. “Claro que si.” he replies. “Can I ride one?”

He leaves to retrieve “the grey” and returns a few minutes later, horse in tow. 

I guess I should preface this obviously feckless idea with the fact that I have been riding horses my entire life. I trained horses in my more spritely years, and I never really put down the sport.

So I ride the Grey through the town, and back, and then I hand the reins to my husband Adam. He has accompanied me on many equine adventures. Adam is that person we all love to hate: he flourishes in every athletic endeavor he undertakes, and usually on the first attempt. So it’s easy to overlook the fact that he doesn’t really have an equestrian background, at all. I forget this in the excitement of our Mexican adventure. But I did preface the situation to him before he mounted the Grey: this is Mexico, and the Mexicans here are oldschool, and train their horses accordingly. Cruel bits and strong arms leave these horses with very hard mouths. So pull back hard on the reins to get her to stop.

Adam gets his foot in the stirrup and clambers into the saddle.

Not a moment passes and ‘the grey’ takes off at a gallop. I stand there in disbelief yelling “Pull back! Pull back!” Either he doesn’t hear me, or he’s too busy trying to keep his ass in the saddle, because the horse is only gaining momentum. 

The Grey takes my husband on a one-horse-race through the middle of town, kicking up dust on the locals and their wares. I stand in shock watching the dust settle as Adam disappears into the horizon of this literal one horse town. My Toddler Emilia looks up at me, not knowing whether or not to be scared. I realized then and there, the ridiculousness of the situation we were in. There I was, alone, in the middle of an isolated village in Mexico with my two young kids, unable to run after my husband who was just kidnapped by a horse. I stood there muttering repetitive profanities under my breath while our guide shook his head from side to side for a minute before sauntering after the runaway Grey. 

The minutes passed and I feared the worst. 

My kids were still on the verge of panicking, not really knowing whether or not this was some cosmic joke, when my husband reappeared on the back of the Grey, with our guide leading him back through the town. 

“Oh my God you’re alive.”

He got down off the horse, blood dripping down his leg, and calmly recounted his Mexican joyride after we lost sight of him: The horse got about halfway through town when all the dogs in Boquillas simultaneously congregated and ran like mad snapping and barking at the heels of the runaway. (Funny side note: most of these dogs were Chihuahuas, in the Chihuahuan Desert.) Now she was really running, and continued to do so at top speed, up to the barbed wire fence of her owners house, where she attempted to jump. Both horse and rider fell in a mess of dust and dogs and barbed wire fencing. 

Adam got back up and calmly fixed the toppled fence. He walked over to the startled horse and grabbed the reins. As he walked back through the town he met with our guide. Luckily I made sure Adam got his tetanus shot before this trip, and his nasty wounds healed without infection. 

We got back on our burros, and made our way back to the river where the motorless skiff carried us back to the mud pit. We left the locals of Boquillas with an entertaining play by play of some very silly gringos.

Later that afternoon, in the comfort of our RV at the Big Bend Village RV Park, we debriefed our adventure, and Emilia chimed in with her excitable narration of the event. Adam tended to his barbed wire wounds and recounted the exhilaration and trepidation he felt going top speed on a horse with absolutely no control.

The next morning we awoke to a windy dawn and spotted a chestnut horse running wild through the campground. I recognized the brand on its hindquarters, and knew immediately where that horse had come from. A border outlaw! It trotted off, tail high and head bobbing up and down waggishly, energized no doubt from a cold swim across the swift currents of the Rio Grande. 

To this day, Emilia still tells everyone she meets about the horse that took off with Daddy. “And then, the horse tried to jump over a babbed wire fence!” she says at the end of her tale. The pronunciation of ‘barbed’ really gives the story its finishing touch.

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