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A day on the trails makes for a challenging hobby; too bad finding good hobbies is so hard

Everybody needs a hobby in this stressful day and age: something distracting, something diverting, something to take her mind away from the workaday world and everyday problems like where the $1,200 to fix the central air is going to come from, and whether it's going to come before July.

Oh, the distraction can be anything: drawing, painting, music, trainspotting if you're English, caber tossing if you're not. I mean, to my way of thinking, sometimes the only thing standing between me and a lifetime spent sprawled in the sun, shaking my fist at the gods with one hand and desperately clutching a three-quarters empty bottle of peppermint schnapps with the other, is a distracting, recreational activity.

A good hobby in Tucson is horses. We've still got that whole "cowboy thing" happening, and a few decent riding trails around the edges of the Pulte divisions. I bought a quarterhorse mare awhile back for $1,200 from a nasty old cowboy who informed me that if I didn't buy her, he could probably get $750 from the slaughter; horsemeat going for 59 cents a-fuckin'-pound.

She turned out pretty good; has her quirks though. She's afraid of garbage cans, recycling bins, bicycles, motor vehicles, quail, goats, deer, pigs, cactuses, random piles of dumped mattresses, asphalt and most other trash. She has trained me, as they say in horsy circles, to keep a deep seat. She's one helluva teacher. If my seat was any deeper I'd fall through the nag onto the ground.

A few weeks back, I went on an all-day group ride sponsored by an organization raising money for the high school football team or something. About 40 riders assembled with their trailers, pickups and livestock in the parking lot of a state park.

Now, every equestrian knows the worst position in a trail ride is at the back--at least in dry country--because you eat a lot of dust. So I always concentrate on staying near the front. Problem was, there was an obnoxious guy up there, and he wouldn't stop talking. He talked about the weather; he talked about the problems with this country; he talked about how he never goes anywhere without his gun, and about all the "wet backs" coming over the border taking jobs from fine, upstanding Americans. After a while, I couldn't take it anymore and peeled back to look for another position, which I found in front of a bald-headed guy with an earring and a thick lower-class, East Coast accent. I was thrilled when he told me he was a former New York City detective. I write crime fiction and never miss an opportunity to pick a law man's brain.

Only problem was, this guy didn't have one. There he sat, atop a scrawny bay gelding, holding the saddlehorn in a death grip with one hand and the reins too high with the other. When we headed up a steep hill, the poor beast was heaving like he'd just run the Kentucky Derby, twice. I finally asked him when the last time he rode his horse was. He said, "Well, I usually ride about every two weeks, but I haven't had much of a chance lately. Football season, you know. And then there was the Super Bowl. So I think it's been about a month."

Jaysus Christ! The poor beast had all the conditioning of a veal calf. Then the man gave it a think. "He's doing pretty good though, huh?"

After two hours of meandering through cactus, we stopped for lunch. I was just settling down to eat with a couple of lesbians from Vail when a horse erupted from the brush, hauling ass across the mudflat like the devil was chasing it, which as far as it was concerned, it was. The owner, per standard procedure, had tied a ribbon on its tail to warn other riders that it sometimes kicks out. Unfortunately, she neglected to consider the fact that this particular horse, a mustang six months off the range, might not like having a ribbon tied to its tail. It took a couple cowboys about three hours to find it. We were all really glad it never found the on-ramp to the Interstate.

Sometimes, I think about getting another hobby, but then I realize that the truth is, they're a damn lotta work. Writers are lazy by nature, and I'm no exception. So when all is said and done, it might be easier to spend my spare time just shaking my fist at the gods with one hand and desperately clutching a three-quarters empty bottle of peppermint schnapps with the other.

Yee ha.

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