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  • Writer's picturemarti mcginnis

To Celebrate the Saint of Martin Ya'll Cain't be Faint of Heartin'

Why Is My Art So Horsey?

If Charlie Brown were a brown horse
I rode a horse named Charlie Brown on a forty mile cabalgata odyssey recently.

I use a lot of equine imagery in my art. There's a reason for this. Horses are a huge aspect of my personal spiritual journey. Why? Well when I was a tiny kid in the unenlightened 1960's, my parents were not at all happy with each other. In all honesty my father was not good at being a partner nor a father. He had his reasons. But he took his unhappiness out on us, my mom, my sisters and me. It was bad stuff.

Long story short, my mom, my sisters and I were all traumatized by much of our lives at home. My mom found solace, courage and happiness with horses. She would regularly go to a saddlebred barn and ride those fancy swishers to her heart's content side stepping the worries at home. She'd often take one or two of us with her. I was a little kiddle so I was left to noddle around with a guy named Roany Pony. I learned very deeply and very early on just how restorative being with equines can be. How spiritual. How healing. By the way my family aren't the only people who have discovered the mighty power of horses to help us negotiate a path through tough emotions. Check out this recent article from The Washington Post.

Horses Help Us Overcome Trauma

Recent research has shown that trauma victims regain a sense of personal empowerment when they partner with these big beautiful creatures. Read about how they help war veterans and other trauma survivors here. Horses can teach us how to be leaders rather than victims. On to the Now...

A depiction of the gentle San Martin. He's using that sword to cut his own cloak in half to share it with that Jesus looking one-legged dude.

What's A Cabalgata?

There's this thing in Mexico's central highlands. Horseguys (95% chicos, maybe 4.99% chicas with a possible .01% gringas) group up, mount up and head up to some place holy. It's usually a church, but it can be a statue or icon too.

They call these type of group rides a "Cabalgata". It's Spanish for cavalcade or mounted procession. They are a sort of holy pilgrimage. Some riders carry banners the whole way, or icons from their home churches in glass boxes they wear as backpacks over hill and dale.

The one we just went on was to a town, San Martin de los Torreros, in the middle of what might be called 'nowhere' to convene en masse in honor of the town's chosen patron saint, San Martin. who was honored for his relentless generosity among other wonderful traits. And he's often depicted on a horse. Bonus!

In a clear break from all the Spanish influence around these parts, Saint Martin is way more celebrated in France after all, but they built a church in his honor anyway smack dab in the middle of Guanajuato state's back country. And now, once a year, caballeros flock here in the thousands to participate in this annual celebration. They do it because they are Catholic horse-guys who like to party and pray. Ain't nothing wrong with that!

So yeah, it's not all holy sacrifice and piousness there's plenty of whooping it up too. But to be clear, this ain't a ride for sissies. And from the horses' perspective its darn hard work, amigo. So you start to see where I'm going with this? From those early, early days my soul has sought celebratory respite, challenge and odyssey like this fully wrapped in the energy of the horse's natural meditative and 'in the now' approach to life. I ride and I ride and I ride and I can literally feel myself being the mistress of my destiny in concert with my mount. This is what I call active meditation.

San Martin cabalgata
Groups like ours rode in from all points on the compass.

Katja Smith of The Ranch San Miguel organized a group of us to ride out together over the almost twenty rugged miles (forty over the two days). Katja is someone who knows how to live. She approaches life with zest and gusto and creates opportunities for those in her orbit to seize the day through spending time with horses and others who love them. And that's who our group of about a dozen were.

So why do we do it? For the holy cleanse? To be cool? For the photo ops? To party? To pray? To test our mettle? Simple answer? Yes. All of these things.

Gringa at San Martin on brown horse
Charlie Brown and I made it to the Iglesia in good spirits and fine form.

Me? I do it as a personal pilgrimage for the reasons suggested above. And this Marti can relate to Monsieur Martin because our names are similar for one thing. This also gives me a chance to test my horsemanship, stamina and faith in accomplishing personal goals. This is not an easy ride. At all. It's dusty because it happens in the beginning of the dry season here. The trails are challenging (rocks, hills, rivers, roads with high speed traffic) and it takes 6 hours in the saddle to and 6 hours in the saddle fro. Is it uphill both ways? Yes. Downhill too. Majorly.

The Wonder Of Horses' Willingness To Help Us Heal

And I know how to get my mind right for an adventure like this. This kind of trip is a BIG ASK of our equine companions. Not only is it fairly grueling, it is a huge mental challenge for them. Why? Maybe half the trip is along a main highway that links San Miguel to Guanajuato City. It has huge tour buses, tankers, taxis, motorcycles and all other manner of fast traffic (60-70 mph at times) about 8-10 feet a lot of the way from the path we're on. Your horse has to be convinced these loud monstrosities whizzing, belching and zooming past do not pose a threat. Which is kind of a lie. The only way you can accomplish this is to settle into your saddle through your heart and communicate to them that everything is ok, because, well, it is mostly.

Every time I prepare for one of these events I am truly nervous because of the asks and the challenges ahead. What's the worst that could happen? Oh, kid, so much could go wrong. But it usually doesn't. So I go with that. After about 3 hours in my insides begin to match my outsides. I get calm because my horse and I have begun to 'get' one another.

This last trip I was paid what I consider to be the best compliment of my horsemanship journey. A fellow traveler told me I was "Buddha-like' and exuding very steady calm energy throughout our travels. As the oldest member of this particular assemblage and on the youngest horse (Charlie Brown is just 4 years old) I was a bit of a basket-case when we launched. Young horses can be unpredictable and pretty reactive on journeys like this. Oh and I was riding in my dressage saddle - no horn to hold on to, lol.

How I Physically Prepare

I'm no spring chickkie. But I am a fairly experienced trail rider. So I know how to prepare for the many, many bumps in the road. It's its own process how I get ready for one of these long rides. The key is well planned layers. Pay attention to the order in which I suit up. It matters and it's all based on personal research.

Here, lookie:

how to dress for a very long trail ride
Base layers for the very long time in the saddle part 1

Layer 1

  • nylon panties with moisture wicking center

  • good fitting supportive sports bra

  • shortie sports socks with good moisture wicking

Layer 2

  • Form fitting cotton t-shirt

  • footless tights

Layer 3

  • Chest sports band - check this one out

  • padded cyclist panties - like these

  • knee supports - I have something like these

  • Boot socks

The outer layers

Layer 4

  • Hi SPF riding shirt with side vents

  • form fitting denim full seat breeches

  • belt

  • scarf or kerchief to pull up over nose


  • Hat with brim (you can wear your helmet with a sun brim)

  • tall boots or half chaps with shorter boots

  • optional leather gloves

  • optional leather chinks or chaps

How I Mentally Prepare
I Have To Concentrate To Get To The Calm Center

I work hard to get to a calm place and a big part of that is just believing I will find it. Sooner or later I always do. Usually I get there within two hours on a trip like this. So that's the most meaningful aspect of these pilgrimages for me. I learn and relearn how to trust myself and my equine partners. A pilgrimage is a great way to to do that, for sure. It helps heal the damage done all those years ago. I saw my mom being able to cope with the awful crap in her life back then with horses and that's the message I took with me.

My sisters did too, by the way. Anni used to work as a salesclerk in downtown Chicago and before she headed over to Lord & Taylor in the morning she and some other intrepid nut jobs would exercise the polo ponies stabled in a repurposed armory next door. "How?" you ask. They'd pop up top these hotties and ride through the downtown upscale Magnificent Mile traffic over to the lakefront where they'd gallop them along the freaking beach. Our other sister, Debbie, got her hands on all sorts of horses, too, through the years. She wound up doing dressage and rehabbed an older gentleman Irish sport horse who had suffered at the hands of others. Each of them healing the other on their journey together.

Horses Are Healing

Horses are healing in so many ways....

Horses are healing. Sometimes they need us to help them heal too. When we can, we need to make sure we are listening to and interpreting their signals as much as we are able. This is easier in a meditative state. When we let the busy monkey-brain go and let our heart and intuition guide us it is easier to absorb their subtle communications and heart energies. A great way to get to this meditative state is to be with a horse for hours tuning in to their needs and signals. A pilgrimage like this one just taken is the perfect opportunity to practice this art.

So I'm full of gratitude for the generosity of horses. Their abundant abilities to acquiesce to maybe sort of ridiculous tasks with ever-present grace. I'm grateful to the generosity of spirit from others who make these trips. There's always so much support offered, from the deeply spiritual to the gaiety of the fiesta at hand at the campsite.

Now I'm not suggesting we all have trauma we need to heal on these odysseys but I do think it's interesting the type of person who is drawn to being with horses in this way. I find them to usually be tuned in to aspects of their lives in ways not everyone is. No, not everyone is, but the people I get to ride with seem always to be. Of course it may be just that we are drawn to one another organically. In any case I am so grateful to all the horse people in my life.

The Recent Journey In Pictures

Special thanks to my fellow travelers for their conviviality, support and good cheer along the way as well as most of the images in this post! I'm looking at you:

Poppy, Monica, Daniel and Erendira.


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Glory Rich
Glory Rich

So beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes and made me rethink and realize even more what a special journey it was. Thank you. Glory.

marti mcginnis
marti mcginnis

It was an honor to share this experience with you Glory!

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