Best of America by Horseback 6 - Southern Colorado

June 15, 2009
Best of America by Horseback
Cactus in La Junta, Colorado

New Mexico Branding and High Adventure
by Julie Dillon, Staff Journalist, and Clinician

Best of America By Horseback began its 4-1/2 month, almost 2,000 mile trail ride from Mexico to Canada on April 21, 2009. The 45-member group of core riders will complete the trail ride on September 5, 2009 in Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada. There will also be other riders who have joined them along the way. The ride is being filmed for an upcoming weekly television series broadcast on RFD-TV. The show is hosted by Tom Seay, Executive Producer and filmed and produced by his wife Pat Seay. The couple lives in Culpepper, Virginia.

Our last week's experience culminated with the south-to-north trek across the state of New Mexico. The land rose up beneath our feet and the air cooled with the climbing altitude. Northern New Mexico delivered breath-taking views on each day of our cross-country rides.

Proud owners of the Jeffers Ranch, brothers Eddie and Lehmen Jeffers, along with their families and friends, greeted us enthusiastically and generously. These busy folks took valuable ranch work time to saddle up and guide us safely though valleys and over mesas to reveal sweeping panoramic views in all directions.

During two moonlit evenings, the Jeffers family provided our group with entertainment and places to camp and board our horses on their property. At that time, our group included 49 riders, 4 dogs, 5 mules and 39 horses. We were touched and overwhelmed at the kindness of these New Mexico residents.

The ride on Friday, June 5, would be our last full day’s riding in New Mexico. It proved to be one of the most dynamic and scenic rides since starting out from Las Cruces, New Mexico back in April.

Saturday morning’s branding festivities took us all delightfully back to the old western ways. Jeffers cowboys and cowgirls alike worked together with our Best of America cow wrangler “wanna-bes” to try their hands at real, live ranch work. Perhaps having so many starry-eyed helpers made this particular day of sorting and branding less than typical for our hosts. Cheering at the victories and chuckling at the enthusiastic efforts of their Best of America family, our resident ranch professionals encouraged the happy but awkward city slickers. Laughing greenhorns sweated and rolled on the ground in their efforts to hold the squirming bovine youngsters. Yup! We turned a two hour job into a five hour recess of dust, dirt, and just plain fun. Boy-howdy was this the best grown-up summer camp adventure ever?

Handsome Jeffers cowboys--including the Jeffers’ sons Patrick, Matt, and Zach--kept our cowgirl campers motivated to get in there, get dirty, wrangle, hold, cut, and tag each calf and return it to the herd while the abandoned mother cows bawled loudly as they waited impatiently for their return. Everyone joined in as our Best of America roping crew performed beautifully, making us all beam with pride as they rode into the herd of cows and babies to rope and deliver the little calves to the handlers to be processed as quickly as possible. They worked three at a time, with one person inoculating, another cutting, and the third handling the branding irons. Shirley Jeffers and her daughters, Amanda and Brianne, worked their way through the well- organized chaos, moving carefully through the dust from hide to hide.

For those of you who have never been to such an event, be advised that they are social occasions as well as work parties. The families organize a time for each family to get together at each ranch and help with the herds at springtime until all the new calves are branded, inoculated, castrated, and tagged.

Afterward, Miss Shirley and the Jeffers ladies served up their traditional “Softies,” which are delicious, sweet cake-like biscuits that melt in your mouth. Later that Saturday evening, Eddie and Shirley opened their home to us. We all ate cobbler and ice cream around a roaring fire under a rainbow-rimmed full moon. It doesn’t get better than that!

These are the memories we collect for our tomorrows--when we find ourselves around the Thanksgiving table with our families telling stories that go beyond Caribbean vacations and backpacking weekends that others have to report. This is the sort of adventure that trumps it all.

Many have said that none of us expected to find so much treasure in each other. Having the time to watch the clouds roll and sweep across the skyline from the foot of the mountains all day long from horseback was supposed to be the biggest payoff on this trip. But we have found that we, the Best of America tribe of nomads, are being affected by the greatest of influences: the character, diversity, and culture of this great state of New Mexico.

Our adventurous group has so far traveled over 750 miles since starting in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, on the Mexico border. Over the years, the Best of America by Horseback group has attained 100,000 cumulative trail riding miles. This milestone was just accomplished when the riders reached La Junta, Colorado, on Friday, June 12, 2009. There was a special ribbon-cutting ceremony with city officials at Tiger Field's old Historic cinder track.

Mark Laney, the Chief Executive Officer of the "Best of America by Horseback" television show, had this to say about the ride: "We are a little traveling town of people from all walks of life and varying backgrounds, from 32 states, and Australia, and ranging in age from 40 to 80, and all ages in between. We just could not have asked for a better group of people to accompany us on our adventure and share this historical journey. It is truly an experience and the adventure of a lifetime."

Check out the Best of America by Horseback's website at
Watch Best of America's television show on RFD-TV, which is available on Dish Network (Channel 231) and DirecTV (channel 345), as well as many cable channels.

A note from Wanda Phillips, Core Rider
Some of the riders and I went on an excursion to a canyon close to our campsite near LaJunta, CO. There was a trailhead there, but we didn't ride down into the canyon. We just walked part way. It's beautiful country but still dry with a lot of cactus everywhere. We have to pick the spines out of the horses daily. Still having a great time.

The photos of La Junta, Colorado, were taken by Wanda Phillips.

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