John Egenes - Exploring America on Horseback
When John Egenes is not creating music or tinkering with saddles, he enjoys writing and reflecting on life. Over forty years ago, Egenes rode his horse Gizmo, across the United States - covering 11 states and 4,400 miles. As our Author of the Day, he tells us more about this trip and the book he wrote about it.
For the readers who haven't heard about it yet, please give us a quick summary of what Man & Horse is about
In 1974 I rode my horse, Gizmo, across the United States, starting in California and finishing seven months later in Virginia. We crossed 11 states and covered 4,400 miles during the journey. The book is a recollection, a memoir, and a look back at an America that doesn't exist anymore. It's about a young man coming to terms with himself, and how a little Quarter Horse gelding showed him how to do that.
Tell us more about Gizmo - why was he the perfect horse to do this journey with?
Well, I raised Gizmo from when he was six months old, and we were together all his life, until his death at age 22. He and I pretty much saw eye to eye, and shared the same sort of enthusiasm and curiosity toward life. He was a tough little guy, and always had a positive outlook on life. He showed me how to accomplish what I set out to do. I started the journey thinking I was his caretaker. Turns out that it was he who was taking care of me.
Why is it so different to experience a country on horseback, as opposed to riding a car or even a motorcycle?
You can park a car, or a bicycle, or a motorcycle and forget it. You don't have to feed it when you're not using it. A horse is a different beast altogether. You experience the miles one by one, footstep by footstep. You are engaged with the land, a part of it. In a car, you are like water traveling through a clear pipe. You see the land, but you don't feel it. You pass through it, but you don't experience it. You don't touch it, and it doesn't touch you.
How challenging was it to keep Gizmo well-fed on the trip?
It was always a challenge. I couldn't carry feed because it was too heavy. Even a small sack of grain would only last him a few hours, and would cause galls and sores if I hung it from the saddle. So, we lived off the land. It was incredibly difficult in the west, especially since it was a dry year and there wasn't a lot of feed out in the southwestern deserts. But as I said, Gizmo was a tough horse, and we managed okay. Once we got into east Texas and Oklahoma, there was a lot of grass and he was able to keep his weight up.
How did Gizmo react to some of the wild horses you encountered on the way?
Horses are gregarious. They're herd animals. So naturally, Gizmo would have gone off with them if they could coax him. I have to say, though, that he didn't pay them all that much attention most of the time, but I didn't take chances with him.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I've been a musician all my life. I play on artists' records and work as a sideman for live shows. I'm a multi-instrumentalist, so I play quite a few different things. I write songs, too. I also am a saddlemaker, and I did that for many years in New Mexico. I dabble a bit with it now and then, but don't really have a shop anymore.
What have reader reactions to the book been like so far?
To tell you the truth, I've been stunned at the reactions from people all over the world. Many have written reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, and other places, and quite a few have written to me on our Facebook page and via email. Some are horse people, but most are just folks whose lives seem to have been touched by this tale. I have to say, it's the most rewarding thing about this whole book writing gig.
Did Gizmo lose any shoes on your journey, and how did you deal with that?
He came pretty close, but didn't actually lose any. We went through seven sets of shoes during the trip. The first two sets had borium welded to the bottoms, so they lasted quite a while. The biggest problem, once we got into the eastern states, was having to ride along two lane roads, on the pavement. His shoes wore out pretty fast, and when I reshod him I had to use the same nail holes that were in his hooves, in order for his hooves not to break down. It was a challenge keeping him shod, for sure.
How challenging was it for you to finish this book forty years later? Was it hard to recall some aspects of the trip?
I'm glad I waited to write it. It allowed me to fully digest what Gizmo and I did, and to appreciate the times we were living in back in 1974. Writing wasn't what I'd call "easy", but the book came to me steadily, over several months, and I found myself remembering things I had completely forgotten. I had my logbook to read and jog my memory. Writing it was a good experience, a cathartic one, and I'm glad I did.
What are you working on right now?
I'm writing a novel (fiction) that takes place in Texas, down along the Mexican border, in 1967. There are hippies and outlaws, hitchhikers and bounty hunters, and lots of oddball characters. It even has aliens from space. It'll take some time to finish, but I'm plugging away at it. And of course, I'm still writing music and songs. I compose for mandolin orchestra once in a while. I do a little TV soundtrack work. Whatever strikes my fancy.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The best places are on Facebook or on the website. I love to hear from folks. Also, if you've read the book I always appreciate a review on Amazon. It doesn't have to be positive… just honest. Here are the links to the site for Gizmo and me: