Life as a Horse Ranch Hand and Dog Rustler

The Mares checking out Heather on her first day at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians - Horse Ranch Hand

Have you ever wondered what it was like to work as a ranch hand on a horse farm? I recently had a fantastic opportunity to experience life as a horse ranch hand for a month in southern Arizona. Here is everything you wanted to know about the daily tasks, how to take care of the horses, wrangle farm dogs, and of course, to have some fun!

Life as a Ranch Hand on Auld Macdonald Farm ArabiansHorses waiting for breakfast

My friends, Janet and Ian, invited me to come to visit them in Arizona. I took an Amtrak train from St. Louis to Arizona to get there. At the time, it was the cheapest option for traveling that distance. The train journey was over two days through some exciting areas of the south, including Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

When I arrived, I did not expect how peaceful it was down here. Their horse farm is close to the border of Mexico. You can even see the wall from the road. Surprisingly though, it is not what the media portrays it to be like, at least this area isn’t. I found it to be quiet, with plenty of animals roaming the land. No drama. At the beginning of my trip, we explored a couple of towns, Bisbee and Naco, but didn’t spend enough time in them. I’m already planning on going back for future visits.Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians - Horse Ranch Hand

Daily Tasks

AM FeedingThe boys eating their breakfast

Your day starts early, and I mean early. My alarm went off at 6:30 am every day, but sometimes I woke up earlier than that. And if you know me well, you would usually know I’m not a morning person. But this is something you have to do every day. You can’t sleep in because horses need to be fed. Trust me when I say that horses can and definitely will let you know they are hungry or upset with you for being late in feeding them.

The first thing we did was start in the barn. I would take out three bricks of alfalfa and place them in different spots around the big pen for the boys. I then followed it up by placing three separate stacks of Bermuda Hay for them. The food piles had to be separated because Finn would go and cause trouble every morning as I called it musical chairs with the food. If Finn thought another pile was more massive, he would move to that one and displace whoever was there.

Many a morning was spent watching Finn move around the food and make Rocky and Harry find other places to eat. We tried to shake things up a bit by bringing Finn out to eat first. But, when we brought the other two boys out, the musical chairs would start immediately. As Janet kept saying, I was trying to change herd mentality behavior, and it was pointless. Nevertheless, I kept trying.

Once the horses in the barn were fed, we would head over to the outside pen where the mares were. Here I would run into the same situation as the dominant horses would want everyone else’s food. So again, I resorted to moving the piles of food for the younger horses away from Split Shot and Neesa. Most days, it worked, but not always. Neesa and Split Shot eating breakfast

Moving Horses AroundHeather walking Krystal back to the stalls

Once the horses were all fed their breakfast, we would go in for ours. About mid-morning, we would head out again. This time to move the horses still in the barn to the outside pens. Most days, this job was uneventful. I would put on their halters and then walk with them to where they had to be while the whole time chatting with them. I’m not sure if they understood me, but I enjoyed my one-on-one talks with the horses.Krystal and Heather standing in the weeds

On rare occasions, something would spook the horse, and then you had to get the horse under control quickly. I learned how to quickly calm them down and get them back on track to move them where you wanted them to go. It can be a bit intimidating as these horses were so much bigger than me. What I learned, though, is if you show them you have control, they will follow your lead.

I only had one instance early on where I still hadn’t earned one of the horse’s trust. I was putting on the halter on one of the babies and got too close, and she lifted her nose fast right into mine. Ouch! The good thing, though, was no bloody nose, but it hurt like hell for a few days! I got lucky, though. Poor Janet had the unfortunate hoof to the thigh twice while I was there. You have to be on your toes around the baby horses. Heather taking Fancy outdoors

Mucking Out StallsHeather Mucking out the Stalls

Around 3:30 pm, we would go out for the afternoon chores. And yes, I did muck out the stalls. My perfectionism was on full display as I made every effort to make sure I cleaned their entire stall and make sure there was no hay in their water buckets. We would fill up their water buckets and then their bags with hay. Most of the horses got a brick of alfalfa for dinner as well. I found out that this was like candy for the horses. If they smelled the feed on my gloves, they tried to nibble my fingers. And if I had the gloves in my pocket, they would follow me around the pen trying to get into my pocket. It looked like I was the pied piper with all the horses trailing behind me. Cleaning the stalls in the barn

Checking the FencesFred, What are you doing?

One of the things that I did daily was to check the fences by the stalls. The horses tended to kick and break the vinyl fence. I would find broken pieces and pick them up. I didn’t want the horses to walk on any of the pieces and hurt themselves. At first, I didn’t know how they were breaking the fence until I saw what they did. The horses would lay down and roll around in the dirt too close to the fence. When they got up, they would tend to hit the fence pretty hard.

You continually had to keep an eye on the fences as you didn’t want to see a horse wandering around the yard as we did one morning. One of the horses broke through the fence to munch on the flowers. She didn’t wander very far as most of Janet and Ian’s horses stick to the farm if they get out of their pens. All we had to do is lead her back into the pen after we fixed up the fence.Hannah hanging out over the fence

PM FeedingSundae and Star eating breakfast

After we finished the chores for the day, we did another round of filling up their food bags with hay, topping off water, and leaving them a treat of alfalfa. It was funny as the longer it took us to finish the chores, the louder they would be demanding their dinner. Each of these horses had unique personalities, and it was fun interacting with each of them, especially around dinnertime.Sundae eating Bermuda hay

Spa DaySpa Day for Tina

Spa day for most of us is a treat. For horses, I don’t think that they get the same calming effect that we get when someone pampers us. We spent one day giving the horses a spa day treatment. Body, Mane, and Tail were brushed, and their hooves were cleaned. Most of the horses stood patiently still, but that was not the case for all of them. My role was to stand in front of the horse to make sure that they had someone to focus on while Janet gave them a top-notch spa treatment. One of the horses got a little rambunctious, and I had to move out of the way quickly as he fought the lead ropes until he calmed down. But, even with that, these horses looked so pretty after being at the spa. Too bad that the minute they got outside, they laid down in the dirt and rolled around in it.

Picking up Horse FoodPicking up bales of hay for the horses

The last bit of tasks for a horse farm is to make sure that you have enough food for your horses. I got to go to the feed store and watch huge trucks drop off the hay, see the bales of hay stacked in barns, and watch them pile them all into the back of a pickup truck. If you don’t have a truck, you can get the stacks delivered, although you have to wait until they are in your area. I didn’t realize how much work there was in keeping and caring for horses until I spent a month being a horse ranch hand.Stacks of Hay and Alfalfa for the horses

Meet My New Friends (Arabians and Appaloosas)

The Stallions

RenoirRenoir of Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

I didn’t get to spend very much time with the stallions, but the time I did, they impressed the heck out of me. Renoir (Legacys Renoir+) is a U.S. National Champion Arabian Stallion. Just looking at Renoir, you know he is a champion. And when you see him run, just Wow! Just standing next to him, the power emanating from him is amazing. He has sired Neesa, Rocky, and Star, which you can see below.

CaravagioJanet and Carvagio

Caravagio is a Purebred Arabian Breeding Stallion. He sired Fancy with Neesa. We took him out to give him some exercise, and he was so funny. He did the opposite of Renoir. Renoir ran around continuously, but Caravagio ran a bit then wanted to see what Janet had in her pocket. These horses love their apples. It was such a cute scene to watch the interaction between Janet and Caravagio. He kept getting closer and closer to her until she shared the apple with him.

Three MusketeersThe Boys at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

These boys were so wonderful to be around. I had fun watching the dynamic between these guys. They would nip each other in the butt, or give a hind kick if you got too close, and try to steal each other’s food. Basically, boys being boys. The boys wanting to know what I brought for them

HarryHarry at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Harry was my Fabio with the curly flowy hair. He is very stoic, but when he gets riled up, he is magnificent, especially when he rears up on his back legs. He’ll ignore the younger two for the most part. But watch out if you rile him up. I saw him kick out his hind leg at Finn when he tried to take away his treats. Harry at Auld Macdonald Farm ArabiansHarry standing still

FinnFinn at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Finn, as the trouble maker, would always show up at the gate to be led out first and would hip check anyone who got close to him. He is also the one who decides which pile of food you can eat, whether it is breakfast or the treats I give the boys. Even with all of that, Finn is a super sweet boy.Finn causing trouble with RockyFinn Horse Selfie

RockyRocky at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Rocky is one of Renoir’s progeny. Can you see the resemblance? Rocky is one of the sweetest horses, a little spirited, but that is mainly due to Finn’s influence, I think. I tried to give Rocky extra attention because Finn tried to hog everybody else’s. I am a passionate advocate for the underdog. Rocky and Finn showing affection

Girls Will Be GirlsHeather with the Girls at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

I loved spending time with these girls. Once the horses got used to me, I would go into the pen with my camera and squat down to get great photos of the girls. That is when they didn’t crowd around me or follow me wherever I walked within the pen. All of them were super sweet and friendly. On my first day, the whole group came up to me to check out the new person, and sniffing me. We were instant BFF’s after that. Neesa and Taza Arabian Horses

TazaTaza at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Taza is the oldest of the horses on the farm. She was one of the first horses that I was able to handle walking back and forth from the barn and pen. She is so calm that you can let her out to enjoy a snack, and she will hang out there until you are ready to take her to her stall. She is Star’s dam (mother). The interesting thing is that when we put her in the pen with the other mares, I never saw her by her daughter. Taza eating the flowers/weeds

Split ShotSplit Shot at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Split Shot is the most dominant mare in the group. She rules who goes where, who eats what food, and will move anyone out of her way if needed. Even as the most dominant personality, she is so friendly. She is the first horse to come over to me and let me pet her. Whenever I cam out in the afternoons, Splitty would be the first one to come over to see what I brought.Split Shot Horse Selfie

HannahWind blowing through Hannah's Mane

Hannah, sweet Hannah. I think she seems to be the most lonely of the mares. She has her pen and will chat with Krystal or Taza by the water cooler. But, I don’t hear her talking to the other horses like Krystal, Fred and the boys do. Hannah is Sundae’s dam. Hannah looking at the Arizona sunset

NeesaNeesa at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Neesa is sired from Renoir and is Fancy’s dam. Such a beauty she is. Her and Splitty are usually always together. Where one goes, the other follows. Split Shot following Neesa around the pen

KrystalKrystal at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Krystal is the most vocal of the mares. She will let you know when you are late giving her food and when she wants attention. But, when we move her into the barn, you can always find her having a pow-wow with Hanah over the water cooler. Krystal is Fred’s dam. Hannah and Krystal hanging at the fence

TinaTina at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Tina is a beautiful Arabian horse with her black flowing mane. She is probably the most skittish of the mares. You have to approach her slowly. But, when you are in the pen, without looking, Tina will be right behind you instantly. She followed me around everywhere. She wouldn’t let me pet her too much, but she loved it when I gave her a treat.

StarStar at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Star is the absolute sweetest horse in the mare pen. Unfortunately, with her being so cute, she is at the bottom of the pecking order. She is the last one to get food, and that is at the discretion of the other mares. I resorted to moving her food far away from the others to make sure she had her fill before the rest of them bugged her. She was delightful and so different as she favored the hay over the alfalfa and was perfectly content to skip the treat to munch hay.Star hamming it up for the camera Star at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

SundaeSundae at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Sundae was a hoot to be around. She would always try to nibble on my jacket. I don’t know why she did that; maybe she thought it tasted good. She was another one of the mares that, if you weren’t looking, would find her way right behind your back. Man, these horses move quietly when they want to. Sundae relaxing outdoors

The Babies

FredFred at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Fred is an Appaloosa with Krystal as his dam. As a baby, Fred is spirited. He was a bit too much for me to handle as a newbie ranch hand. So, Janet and Ian usually walked with him back and forth and worked with him in the pen. But, when he moves, he is impressive and massive, even as a baby. He is going to be one big horse when he grows up. Fred running in the round pen

FancyFancy at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Fancy is my favorite horse out of the bunch. Even with our rough start, she and I came to an understanding. I was her handler for the duration, walking her to and from the barn, spending time with her while she was outside, and slipping her treats, which she adored. As a baby, she has a lot to learn, and training is a big part of owning horses. When the horse is in the halter, she has to listen and obey the commands. Well, she is a stubborn thing and gave us a few challenges from not wanting to walk over puddles to getting spooked and kicking out at Janet. But, overall, she is a sweetheart, and I will miss spending time with her.Heather taking off Fancy's halter

Giving Them TreatsThe boys eating treats from Heather

I made an impression on these horses so much so that Janet and Ian were telling me that they were going to keep me here indefinitely. On most afternoons, I would head out with my camera and GoPro to catch these horses in action. While I was standing out by the fences, I would give the horses a treat. I pulled up the weeds/flowers by the fences, and the horses loved the greens! Although I had to make sure that I had enough and gave some to every horse. They would try to steal from the other horses or try to get them themselves.Rocky trying to take Harry's snack

Tina reaching over the fence for a snack

Horse SelfiesPretty Girl, Fancy

It was during the time I was giving them greens that I got the best horse selfies. They were so curious that they stuck their nose right into my camera lens. But, I loved spending time with horses like this. They were so loving and entertaining. I could have spent hours each day taking their pictures and playing with them.

Sundae and Split Shot Horse Selfies

Rolling in the DirtFancy getting up from rolling in the hay

Watching the horses roll in the dirt fascinated me. It was amazing to watch these huge animals lay down after pawing the ground, roll around, manage to get up, and then shake their entire bodies from head to toe. The horses roll around on the ground to get a layer of dirt on them to counter-act sweat or to stretch their backs out.Finn Rolling around in the dirtFinn having a great time rolling in the dirtFinn upside down rolling in the dirt

Running AroundFancy galloping in the round pen

What a sight to see a horse in full-motion! I was so lucky to catch this action on camera and video. What was amazing to me was their sense of proximity to the fence. They could stop on a dime or at least look like they could. One moment they are at full speed and the next skidding to a full-stop. I loved watching the babies in their glory. I can’t imagine how spectacular they are going to be when they are fully grown.

Tina trotting at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

Farm DogsBuddy and Gidget roaming on the horse farm

My second job was as a dog rustler. Buddy and Gidget would come outside with us while we fed the horses or did chores. For the most part, the dogs stayed out of the way. Gidget would take her Cleopatra pose on the path and wouldn’t even move when the horses went by. The other times you could find the doggies hunting through the stalls and pens for food. And the food I’m talking about is poop. Yep, as cute and affectionate as these little buggers are, they are poop eaters. There is no accounting for taste.

Heather with Gidget, Buddy, and Abigail

Arizona SunsetsArizona Sunset at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians

One thing I have to give to Arizona is that they have some epic sunsets. Being in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges led to beautiful views at night. My favorite sunsets were the ones that had the pink cotton candy clouds. But, the striking orange and red sunsets were just as fantastic.

Pink Cotton Candy Clouds in the Arizona Sunset

SummaryHannah in the Golden Hour

Spending the month being a horse ranch hand was a fantastic experience that was new for me. It was a lot of work, but rewarding in so many ways. I was so glad that Janet and Ian spent so much time teaching me the ropes of horse care. And I look forward to going back and spending time with all my new friends soon. If you are interested in learning more about these horses, you can check them out at Auld Macdonald Farm Arabians.

“A horse doesn’t care how much you know until he knows how much you care. Put your hand on your horse and your heart in your hand.”- Pat Parelli

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Further Reading

If you are coming to Arizona for a visit, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:

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