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Masbate, Philippines


by Romina Urra


Masbate is known as the Texas of the Philippines. Think Wild West and major roughing it out in a land of copra, cattle and cowboys. It took all three modes of transportation to get to Fortuna Ranch, Tigbao, Milagros, Masbate. An hour plane ride, a 40 minute van ride from Masbate City’s airport and another 40 minute fishing boat ride told me early on that my urban ways were to be thrown out together with the nets fisherman were casting out in the open sea. Upon arrival, I let go of my girly banig hat and I immediately asked for a cowboy hat, which jumpstarted my Marlboro country weekend.

Masbate is the gun looking island, part of the Bicol region, with Capiz and Cebu in its South and Sorsogon in the North Twenty minutes upon my arrival and it seemed clear that there has been a subtle impact of its gun like shape to the stories of past guerilla attacks. I made sure that “past” was the operative word. At present it is a province clear of that image.

After a four day-three night stay I’ve acquired a knack for many grueling things. Experiences I would have never believed had I not taken this cowboy adventure.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding took a new meaning for me in Masbate. It erased my memory of Minesview Park or “Sunshine” my tiny, lethargic horse of Baguio. The majestic horses of Fortuna were my transportation the whole weekend. The horses actually picked me and my group of four friends up directly from the boat. They splashed twenty feet from the beach, knee high in water bringing us into Fortuna Ranch. It felt like going on a pilgrimage similar to Mama Mary’s trek to Bethlehem, with a horse instead of a donkey of course.

I’ve always felt awkward when riding horses in fear of being thrown out- thanks to Sunshine, so I asked for the gentlest horse. I was given “Stolen Moments”, a glorious baye (chesnut) colored thoroughbred. A cheezy named horse…but we definitely clicked as a riding team. No falls, no kicks and no grunting. I also learned that I should never stand directly in front of a horse because they don’t see anything directly in front of them. Their vision, being prey animals and not predators, are only useful when looking out to the side, giving them a broader peripheral range. Before I rode her , I made it a point each time to let her smell my hand as I rubbed her cheek for reassurance. By the end of the weekend I was riding comfortably and gracefully on her back, galloping through rolling terrain, splashing through streams and even jumping over tiny bushes. My equestrian dreams fulfilled.

Saddle Up

I must confess, I was a spoiled rider because I never put on a saddle on Stolen’s back, let alone adjust it. I left that to the rugged and ripped Co-Boys of Fortuna Ranch. However, Randy Favis, owner of Fortuna Ranch gave me a crash course on the subject. He’s come a long way from his days of using bathroom rugs as saddle mats to now acquiring a broad range of saddles and saddle mats that fit each horse like a glove.

Saddles come in a plethora of appearances and uses, the two factors to consider in buying one. “Maporma” saddles have either tooling designs-intricate etching, or stamping designs- indention patterns similarly produced to the initials engraved in a leather filofax. The more detailed the craftsmanship, the more costly the saddle. Saddles should also be custom fit. If we have dress and suit sizes then so do the horses. Wide back horses need different saddles from a narrow backed horse. More importantly, the horse event is important in determining what saddle to use. Racing saddles should be light and not as complicated while the steer wrestling saddle should have a slopping cantle (that place where your butt rests) for the rider to easily get out off in case of a fall.


The term cowboy is precisely taken from this experience. It is the process of gathering the herd of cattle grazing in the field into the corral. I joined four of my friends and two natives Co-Boys up on the hill to try to contain about thirty cows. Initially, I was so afraid to go near them, especially while riding Stolen, but seeing that the cows were much more afraid of the horses, I joined in.

You need at least two cowboys to herd cattle. Naturally the more riders involved, the better the containment of the cows. With seven of us around the herd I thought we had the cows covered, but there are always one or two frisky ones that try to get away.

One of the cows tried to sneak away when we were about ten feet away from the corral. When this happens, the key is for the team to stay intact and not have everyone all follow that rebel cow. The nearest one to challenge the beast is the assigned one to go. I was thankful I wasn’t, because two other cowboys were needed to bring it in. I stayed at my post, behind the herd, until the gates of the corral were locked tight. This team building experience gave my horseback riding a strong sense of purpose.


Did you ever notice those numbers and names etched on a cows back? Those represent each cow’s identity. In Fortuna Ranch, the cattle are no exception. After herding the cows into the corral, the native Co-Boys prepared a fire where the steel numbers and letters used for branding were being heated. Such pain I thought to be burned with those things. For us humans, definitely, but for the cows, they see it as a slight discomfort which lasts not long after being branded.

From the main corral each cow is brought into a narrow hallway (as narrow as the width of 1 cow) then into a small area that contains three gates, each to another separate corral. My friends Carlo and Butch sat on top and opened and closed the gates while Mr.Favis picked out which cows to brand. Those that ended up on the left corral were just being kept back and those that were picked for the right corral were the ones to be brought back in the hallway to be branded. It was like watching a cow’s holocaust with the exception that these animals were treated considerately and were free to graze in imported signal grass and protein rich stylo plants right after.

Reading Ears

After determining which cows were to be branded, all the cows in the right corral were brought back to the same steel hallway. Each cow then passed an area called a squeezer where their bodies were contained for minimum movement, preparing them for their tattoo. Mr.Favis would then look at the cows ears and call out a number instinctively. I assumed the numbers were written on the cow’s ears but apparently each calf born or brought into Fortuna is given a birthmark. Those punched triangular marks on the ears of each cow has a meaning. The number of punching in a typical area of the ear signifies the number to be branded. I was given the chance to brand one calf by pressing the hot steel numbers quickly and firmly on the cow’s left side one number at a time. If done correctly the number lasts forever. As calf number 390 ran off from the squeezer into the corral I immediately felt a bond with it and wondered if tattoo artists ever feel the same way?

Each ranch follows a different system. In Fortuna Ranch the top left ear indicates the thousands, the bottom left ear indicates tens, the top right ear indicates the hundreds and the bottom right ear indicates ones.

Roping and Calf Wrestling

As much as I wanted to participate in all the cowboy events , I stayed clear from this one. My friend Monchu joined Mr. Favis’ son, Tom try this challenging feat. Earlier in the day, Tom gave Monchu some tips and practice runs on a make shift calf in the house. He immediately got the hang of lasoing the rope (above the head like in the movies) and roping the horns of the calf. Sounds easy and simple, huh? Put the same situation in a corral with a charging calf. Different story. I watched from a distance, safely perched on the fence as Monchu and Tom both completed the task of taking turns roping, then wrestling the calf to the ground. It was a sight to see these urban boys take on this beast.

Afterwards, Mr. Favis invited his three Co-Boys, one, a champion roper and wrestler to give us a show. I was thrilled but not prepared for the rough action about to take place. I thought they would rope and wrestle the same sized calves as those of Tom’s and Monchu’s. To my surprise, they picked calves double the size and double the stamina. The competition was for each Co-Boy to not only rope and wrestle the cow, but tie the cow down as well. The fastest Co-Boy who completed these three tasks would then be awarded with a bottle of Fundador. So it began, the rough riders race to masculinity. The calves were unbelievably energized charging uncontrollably into anything in sight, even the fence I was peacefully perched on. My heart started pounding as the first Co-Boy tried to rope the calf with all his skill. The third attempt did it. He immediately put his hand into the calf’s mouth, pressing the tongue down as he grappled the calf, swerving from side to side. He then tied down the calf’s feet quickly and confidently – all in a matter of 1 minute and 30 seconds, enabling him to receive the bottle of Fundador brandy. If that freaked me out, untying the calf was worse because after all that, the calf was obviously fuming with anger. Once they released the ropes it stood up immediately and charged with all his might as he found the opened gate to exit. I was exhausted and all I did was watch!

Clinching five out of the six ways to be a Pinoy Co-Boy isn’t bad. It was an experience far from the beach weekends of relaxation I am used to. In addition to this venture, I enjoyed picking fresh guavas while on horseback and moving in silence while I joined the hunt for some birds, ducks and surprisingly even a “bayawak” or monitor lizard. For some reason I didn’t mind the mosquitoes, mud and itchy “talahib" because I accomplished something totally new to me. More importantly, I learned to live the Co-Boy life of being left all sticky from riding in the rain and experiencing the intense heat of the sun on the nape of my neck. Whatever it is that made me enjoy roughing it out, it’s just an overwhelming experience of being one with the earth.

For more details on this exciting adventure or call 8097442 and 8078683 for more information.

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