The doors to the large passenger van burst open, and a troop of thirteen university students emerged from within. Their smiling faces greeted Raul and I with warmth and enthusiasm.
These students were from the University of Redlands in Southern California. They were staying with us for a five-day horsemanship clinic and orientation program.
Some of the students had never visited Mexico before. Their initial shyness and nervous laughter led me to believe they clearly didn’t know what to expect. This quickly changed when our pack of over zealous Queensland Heelers, also known as the Welcoming Committee, overtook the group with barks, licks, and tail wagging, as they welcomed the students to the ranch.
Raul and I took them on a tour, and made sure they were settled in their cabins before dinner. It didn’t take long to break the ice after I invited them into the kitchen for hot coffee and Mexican sweet bread.
Usually, the students have many questions; and all were curious to know how Raul and I met, how long we had lived the ranch and what life was really like on a real, working ranch in Baja. I poured myself a cup of coffee, sat down with them at the table and answered all their questions with detailed explanations. They also wanted to know the itinerary for the following day, and I told them we had an exciting trail ride planned. Little did I know at the time, just how exciting it would be.
Early the next morning, after a filling breakfast, their day began with riding instruction, grooming techniques and basic equine handling. After a while, Raul decided it was time to practice what they learned out on the trail.
We rode for about two hours when Raul decided it was time to head back to the ranch. With inexperienced riders, we usually keep saddle time down to a 2 hour minimum with two rides during the day, and lunch in between. Sometimes we had lunch out on the trail, but today our cook was busy in the kitchen, preparing a hearty meal for us when we returned.
With Raul in the lead, the group cleared the last crest before descending down into our valley, when, with his sharp hearing, he heard a rattlesnake’s vigorous warning coming from within the nearby bushes.
Raul quickly reined in his horse and held up his right hand, like a general, signaling his cavalry men to a halt. He turned his horse towards the angry, snake, which was clearly visible now, and curled in a defensive position. Serious determination swept across Raul’s face as he held the reins with one hand to steady his horse, while reaching into his chaps with the other. He quickly withdrew his .22 calibre pistol, took careful aim, and fired.
By the expressions on their faces, the students must have thought they were on the set of a Clint Eastwood movie. Dave, a vivacious 19-year-old, sprung off his horse and ran towards Raul who was already on his knees inspecting the snake, it’s nerves still functioning as it twisted and flipped in the dirt.
“oh, man!”, Dave cried excitedly as he peered over Raul’s shoulder, “Raul shot it right between the eyes!”
Raul noticed the students startled expressions and quickly explained they killed rattlesnakes to avoid over population in the area. He said it wasn’t worth taking a risk when people, horses and the dogs were frequently passing by. He assured the students rattlesnakes were abundant in Baja, and not too worry.
That night at dinner, and for the duration of their stay, they asked Raul to tell the snake story again and again. Most importantly, they wanted to know how he managed to shoot the snake between the eyes while on his horse. Raul assured them it was pure luck, but the students insisted, it wasn’t.
Months later, another group from the same university arrived for another horsemanship clinic and orientation program. Although this group had never been to the ranch before, they seemed to know us quite well, especially Raul. According to the students, we soon discovered Raul had become rather famous on campus at the University of Redlands.
Apparently Dave and some of the others, told their friends about the harrowing encounter with the snake and Raul’s expert marksmanship. Their friends told other friends, and word quickly spread.
The poor, old snake became larger and larger each time the story was told, and Raul had not been sitting on his horse when he shot the snake. According to a slightly, exaggerated version of what really happened, the snake was 8 ft. long and Raul had charged the snake at a dead run, and then, shot it between the eyes. He was known on campus as, the Mexican Cowboy, Snake Hunter.” Now that’s quite a title to live up to, wouldn’t you say?