We sit on wooden bleachers in the humid air of Winnie, TX at a Horse Corral, our van parked among the sprawling oak trees of the large park. Another free place to park our van for the night. Other Canadians from Quebec are also parking their massive A class RVs here on their yearly migration to warmer weather during Canada's cold, icy winter.
We are watching local Cowboys, on the backs of their horses, trot around a corral. They are practicing their impeccable control of these impressive animals. One woman is spinning around in circles, like a top, going one way and then the other. A young boy, in his early teens, is practicing lassoing steel barrels as he races past on the back of his horse. A young man, with a strong jaw befitting a Greek statue, races his tan coloured steed around the outer edges of the corral. A young woman practices navigating her horse through the three blue barrels in the weaving pattern we witnessed this past summer at the Calgary Stampede; at high speeds, this is known as barrel racing. Each rider displays absolute control over the powerful animal between their legs. A middle aged man on the back of a steely black horse with eyes as dark as pitch strolls up along the fence directly in front of us.
"Howdy! Where you from?" He say's in a cheery, yet relaxed southern drawl. His two sons, the lasso wielding teenager and the strong jawed young man pull up next to their father and introduce themselves with a "Hi y'all!" We must really stand out like a sore thumb here, I think. We engage in small talk, we tell them about our trip. His affirmations - in answer to our many questions about Texas and cowboy life - are invariably "Yes, ma'ams" and "Yessirs", even though he is almost old enough to be our father. I explain how, to us - city folk, as it were - seeing him and his sons expertly ride their horses is incredibly fascinating and impressive. He asks Lyndsay if she's ever ridden a horse before and if she want's to give it a try.
I am simply blown away by how many openly friendly and generous Americans we have met on our trip during the five months we have spent south of the Canadian border. But in Texas it seems like the friendliness and generosity is on another level. In San Angelo, all the staff at the YMCA were unbelievable, feeding us a lunch of hotdogs and birthday cake (with left-overs to go) as well as giving us tips on what to see and do in Texas. One man even called around to some friends to see if they could take us out on some trail rides.
So here we are, standing in our sandals on the dirt ground of the Winnie riding corral getting a crash course on horseback riding by this friendly family. We are taught to squeeze our calves into the horse while leaning forward and he will move straight ahead. Gently move the reins to each side to steer and pull straight back to stop. Looks and sounds easy enough, right? In practice, Lyndsay was an expert in taking the horse in a lazy, clock wise circle over and over no matter what she did. When I took the reigns and squeezed my legs the horse took off like a bolt of lightning, me bouncing around on its back, my head bobbing around like a rag doll's before I remembered to pull back on the reigns to stop. As it turns out, clutching the horse with my legs for dear life only ends up propelling it faster. Afterwards, Lyndsay explained how the horse was only meandering along at a slow gallop, me bobbing around on top.
Lyndsay and I took turns on their one "easy" horse and in no time I was pretty comfortable riding it around the ring, although I felt awkward as a mule. We chatted with the friendly Winnie locals until the corral closed and they put their horses back in the trailer behind their big pickup trucks. The two young boys are real cowboys we learned, working at a local ranch during the summer months off from school. No wonder they were so comfortable, as their days are filled with herding cattle and calf roping. I notice the spurs on the younger boy's boots as he regaled us with stories of chasing down errant cattle, galloping at full speed and lassoing them before they get away.
The night is getting dark and they begin telling us of the harrowing tales of tragedy during Hurricane Harvey. Cattle drowning, roads flooded, 8 feet of rain falling in about three days. They were forced to drop hay bales from helicopters to feed the cattle that didn't drown from the high water levels. Fortunately most of Winnie was spared the worst of the storm. And with a few friendly BBQ joint recommendations and three "Bye ya'lls" they were off. In the trails of dust left behind their Texas Edition 4x4 trucks and horse trailers, Lyndsay and I were left contemplating the horse riding whirlwind and generosity we were luck enough to be apart of.