Journey back into time. Take a rough dirt road into the hills of Baja California in search of a unique expression of the heart, passion and love of the horse. The horse has been a symbol of power and freedom since before recorded history and still today we are enthralled with this magnificent creature. This is a story of one woman’s love that changed the course of her life. It was an evolution, like all stories that lead into the unknown, of how a little girl, Krystal Jean Cates, from Texas followed her heart, creating what is known today as All the Pretty Horses Rescue & Ride.
The first thing that is noticed is how the country changes as I drive away from the coastal activities just south of Puerto Nuevo. It requires a map and paying attention, which is all part of a good Baja journey. The dirt road is hacked out of hardpan and rock and begins to make its way into a canyon where hundred-year-old California oaks still cling to life along a dry stream bed. It is surprising how many small ranchos are hidden so far from awareness. Little wooden signs are tacked up haphazardly, but careful navigation brings me to the Guzman Ranch. In just another 2 miles, there is a metal gate and once through it, the dirt is transformed with hand-laid stone up a steep hill. Suddenly, clearing the dense trees, at the top there appears a panoramic view of an open sky and sunlight bathing the landscape.
Krystal greets with a hearty welcome and we walk past a long row of large stalls sheltering some of the rescues from the heat of the day. We take a seat under a shade tree. There are animals everywhere, mostly rescues. A huge pig, named Truffles, comes over and lays in the dirt at my feet, a pile of dogs in all sizes hover around for attention, a tiny kitten crawls over Krystal purring affection and loud screeches come from the four sheltered Scarlet Macaws. “OK,” I ask, “how did all of this start?” She laughs and waves her hand around, “There was nothing here when I found this land. No water, no electricity and no buildings.” Obviously, there was a much greater story hiding here. A story of courage and adventure that started long ago in Texas. “My father trained horses. We had what he called a ‘kid proof’ old horse. This horse let us do all kinds of things without being disturbed.” They didn’t live on a ranch, exactly, but enough room for horses and kids to play. “I got my first horse, Bear, and oh I was so happy.” There is a sense of freedom that the spirit of horse gives and as she grew this spirit grew within her. “I realized I wanted to be free. I loved adventure and there was no way I was going to live in a trailer and pop out kids!” Turning eighteen, she trailered Bear and drove away from her childhood. “When I took Bear and headed to California, everyone who knew me said, ‘Whoa, she’s taking Bear, she isn’t coming back!’”
Krystal made her way out to California with destiny riding beside her. Staying with her grandparents in Coast Mesa she wanted to learn how to surf and she found work. Life has a way of moving us along, if we are listening for what calls to our heart. And so, a devastating California wildfire led her to the next step. She was part of a volunteer group who went out to find frightened dogs separated from their families because of the fire. “We had these huge bags of dog food left over from all the donations. I had heard about a place in Baja California that sheltered dogs and I took the bags of food south.” Little did she know her act of kindness was about to change the course of her life. “When I first came into Baja, I was stunned. It was wild and open and reminded me of home. I found the Baja Animal Sanctuary and the founder, Sunny Benedict, out in the hills east of Rosarito Beach. I was enthralled by what Sunny had done and asked her lots of questions. Suddenly I had this idea. It was really crazy. Sunny told me how she started, by picking up her first rescues and then asking for help. Sunny told me, ‘You just do it!’ Krystal pauses, “I don’t believe Sunny will ever know how she impacted my life that day.”
Krystal took the leap into the unknown, found a wonderful Mexican family in Baja who were living the old ways of the vaqueros. Sheltered here, she brought in her first horse rescue, Mrs. Bones, named for her pathetic condition. Krystal loved Mrs. Bones back to health and Krystal herself benefited. “Mrs. Bones really grounded me at that time as I was all over the place.” Mrs. Bones must have been feeling much better as she got pregnant and delivered a healthy foal. Later there was an ‘oops’ baby, Krystal laughs, “It must have happened through the fence.” She now had a growing herd of horses which included Bear. “All told I had 12 horses. Rescuing horses is a little different than rescuing dogs,” she grins and shakes her head. “I was receiving requests for rides and taking people out because it was fun. When they asked how much I charged, I’d tell them nothing. They would ask me, ‘Well, don’t you have to pay for hay?’ I mumbled yes, accepted their money and a future idea was born.” After six years a change at the ranch where she lived forced her into finding a new location. “The family and the ranch were like my security blanket, so this was a big step.” The search began. “When I came up to this hilltop and looked out over all the open places to ride, I knew this was it. I bought a little trailer for $500 and lived like that for some time. It’s funny, I left Texas because I didn’t want to live in a trailer and pop out kids, and now I was living in a trailer.” And as it turns out all her kids have four legs. It was rough and rustic living for a while, but she thrived on it. “People would worry about me, invite me over for a hot shower, but I actually loved washing my hair in the horses’ watering trough.”
“This is a horse rescue first and horse riding second. We train our horses with love and kindness and they are happy and healthy. We use hackamores, no spurs or bits are allowed. We expect the rider to treat the horses well. All the money gained goes into the rescues. The horses come first and even if there are rides booked, we will cancel if it is too hot to care for them.” And through Krystal’s open- and warm-hearted nature, people now come for equine therapy. One woman brings her autistic daughter here, as horse energy is calming. “Watching the child and horse together, it is obvious they are communicating in a silent language most of us don’t comprehend. Also riding is a similar back and forth rocking motion present in autism.” Krystal, also invites children from local orphanages for a play day. “They run all over the place and they get to be happy kids.” In following her heart, Krystal never lost sight of her childlike enthusiasm for life and her life is now a natural outpouring of all that has been created. She thrives in service to both two and four legged creatures. There are many ways to enjoy the riding experience, yet a unique opportunity is an overnight ride to an old hacienda, “El Capricho”, a two-and-a-half-hour ride into the mountains. This kind of opportunity is hard to find these days. The nights are free of ambient light, stars blaze overhead and meteor shower events light up the sky. It is a profound quiet, being off the grid, with only the soft blowing sounds of contented horses loved backed to health.
For additional information or to make a donation, visit the All the Pretty Horses Rescue and Ride Facebook page.
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com
Editor's Note: Many non-profit organizations that work in Baja have been deeply impacted by Covid-19. In an effort to drum up support, Baja Bound will be featuring a different non-profit every few weeks. In the meantime, please visit some of our friends in the links below and make a donation if you have the means to do so!