This is part of an article that appeared in the Arizona Daily Star on April 1, 2007
Horsin' around town
You can still get that rural feeling on any of these mini ranches in the Old Pueblo
By Sarah Mauet
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 04.01.2007
Raising kids in a rodeo atmosphere
Head east on Speedway and eventually, as the city falls away leaving sweeping views of the Rincon and Catalina mountains, you'll reach a sign: "Equestrian Crossing — Cross with Care" and another announcing the end of the road in two miles. There on the left, across the street from Saguaro National Park, are eight acres of land that Bobbi Houston and her family share with 22 horses.
Her parents bought the land and built the adobe brick house by hand in 1970. They soon added a corral and bay quarter horse for then-8-year-old Bobbi, who had been riding since she was 4. It was a little girl's dream come true.
" I got to go out to my backyard and ride my horse bareback in the Tanque Verde Wash and Saguaro East," she said, remembering that there used to be water year-round in the wash. "I thought everybody rode out their backyards and into a wash or a national park."
Throughout her childhood she spent most of her spare time with her horses. At age 19 she married Matt Houston, the rodeo cowboy next door, and they moved into their own home six miles away.
" Our horses were still here so we were coming here almost every day," she said.
Five years later she and her husband bought the house from her parents and built them a guesthouse on the property. They added more corrals, arenas and horses as their own three children grew and began riding. The family fell into a routine: up at 6 a.m. to feed the horses, lessons after school until 6 p.m. and rodeo practice three to five nights a week until 9 p.m. Most weekends were spent traveling the state competing in junior and high school rodeos.
" It's a great way to raise your family," Houston said. "You're together all weekend with your kids."
The green lawn behind the home is smaller now than when Houston grew up, but there's still a pen for chickens and a playground area with an inviting tire swing. The exterior of the house is decorated with antique ranching tools, and the path to the back of the property is strewn with rusted machines in the chaotic yet organized fashion that's so often found at old ranches.
The only major change since 1970 is that Tucson has gotten closer. The commute to the grocery store used to be more than 30 minutes, but is now closer to five, Houston said.
" I think we're pretty lucky and secluded," she said. "We're so close to town but we feel like we're 40 miles from town."
Houston, now 44, started her business, Houston's Horseback Riding, by accident in 1989.
" When our oldest daughter started elementary school, a friend's parents called and asked where my kids took lessons," she said. "My whole business started with that question — can you teach my kids to ride?"
Houston now teaches 35-40 lessons a week to children as well as people with physical or mental disabilities. She also offers trail rides and summer and winter horse camps.
" It's based on my own best childhood memories," she said. "I never thought of it as a business. It's fun for me."
Her oldest now has a 2-year-old daughter, Alli, who loves horses. She often joins her grandmother for lessons with older students — the vast majority are young girls who remind Houston of herself when she first moved into the house.
" Probably 70 percent of my lessons are 8-year-old girls," she said, laughing.
The students catch their horses in the corrals and groom them before they head into the sandy wash to practice horsemanship among dried brush and the occasional shockingly green cottonwood.
" I feel like anyone can ride a horse," Houston said. "I love that people learn self-confidence. Riding a horse helps you get in charge of your life. I think that the horse is so big so if you can feel like you're in charge of the horse, it helps you feel like you're in charge of your life. You just go home feeling really good about yourself."
See a slide show with
more photos of the horse properties at www.azstarnet.com/accent?
Contact reporter Sarah Mauet at 573-4124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.