As a horse-crazy girl growing up in Southern California, I never would have imagined that one day I would have the great fortune of riding in The Blessing of The Horses Pilgrimage in the desert highlands of Central Mexico. Being a part of this breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime, sacred celebration left an undeniable mark in my heart–one of tremendous joy and gratitude.
As a kid, barbies and dolls were never my thing…spending my weekends at the barn training hunter jumpers and my summers at Rawhide Ranch, mucking out stalls and refining my lassoing and barrel-racing techniques was my idea of time well spent. Being around horses was a grounding anchor in an otherwise dynamic childhood.
“Pigtailed Cowgirl” was my go-to Halloween costume for years, complete with a Western hat & boots and the biggest, shiniest belt buckle my jeans and small frame could support!
Studies, travels, my career, and various other life journeys led me away from the horse world until 2014 when I moved to central Mexico with my family, and a whole new chapter began.
A Cowgirl’s Dream
Thanks to my lucky Irish-Dutch shamrocks and roots, I was gifted the opportunity of participating in this ultimate equine experience, commencing in the campo (countryside) and convening at the steps of The Parroquía of San Miguel de Allende.
While my emergency spinal surgery just one year later was a success and I was thankfully not sentenced to a wheelchair, little did I know that this Blessing of The Horses Ride would be my last time on horseback.
Heading out on Guerrero (Warrior)–a 17-hand magnificent black Friesian horse–into the desert plains of central Guanajuato,
traversing the trails and sometimes no trails at all, we joined up with many other groups of riders from the surrounding communities on our way to El Jardín, the town center of San Miguel de Allende.
Watch Out for The Tree!
I was so mesmerized by the totality of this experience and so completely immersed in and lost to the moment, that I did not notice the low-lying tree branch coming up ahead of me on the trail. With no time to duck, it ripped my hat right off my head and brought it tumbling down to the muddy ground below. Fortunately, it landed to the side of the puddle, and even better, the spiky branch spared my face. One of the cowboys that was riding next to me, without hesitation, was gracious enough to hop off his horse and retrieve it for me. Gracias, muchas gracias.
Upon rounding the corner of the train tracks, I saw hundreds of other riders that had made the trek from bordering cities and states for the procession up Canal Street that would culminate in the main plaza.
I was one of a very small handful of female riders (and pretty sure the only blonde) in a sea of cowboys. My face hurt by the day’s end from all of the ear-to-ear smiling!
I know my Grandpa Joe was smiling down from heaven, seeing his youngest granddaughter out there in Central Mexico, atop this extraordinary, high-stepping, gorgeous horse riding into a 16th-century colonial town–living my best life, in Spanish, in Mexico, where he was once the Chief of Immigration at the Tijuana/San Diego border crossing!
¡Viva Santo San Martín!
The procession didn’t begin without first a high-desert downpour, adding another element of surprise and adventure to the ride! Within moments of the first drops, all of the horses did a 180-degree turn around to position their hindquarters to the rain and thus shelter their faces as much as possible. Quite a sight amongst so many horses!
One of the more senior cowboys performed the honorary task of charging up and down the cobblestone street, shouting“Viva Jesus Cristo, Viva Santo San Martín!”. This signaled the commencement of the parade and in groups of two and three, we made our way up to the Jardín, passing by hundreds of waving, smiling spectators, to the base of The Parroquía where a full Catholic mass was given to bless the horses and their riders.
Centro was filled with flower-adorned arches and papel picado strung from one building to the next. Riding through this tunnel of color, celebration and tradition was an absolute honor for this California Cowgirl in Mexico!
Blessing of The Horses & Riders
Arriving at The Parroquía, hats were removed and heads bowed down to receive the blessings from the high priest. My family had arrived to witness this once-in-a-lifetime celebration and to say that I felt proud and honored would be an understatement.
There are experiences in one’s life that leave a long-lasting imprint—that impact you in such a profound way that you see the world around you differently, with more depth and perspective. This was one of those times for me.
Thank you, Guerrero, my Gentle Warrior, for being my grand, majestic, safe companion and guide for the day. Thank you, Mario and Rodo, for your protection and navigation along the ride; thank you mi Querido Mexico for all that you are and for sharing with me an experience that I will never ever forget!
~Katie O’Grady ☺️
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