On a brisk morning in October, the guttural calls of camels pierced the air as campers unzipped their tents and stepped out of their RVs to overlook thirteen hundred acres of sprawling Hill Country ranchland. Sunlight filtered through the mesquite and oak trees on Muleshoe Farm and Ranch in Comfort, about 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio, as attendees made their way to the campfire for coffee and their first lesson. For four days and three nights, the thirteenth annual Southwest Camel Conference would transform the ranch into a vast outdoor classroom for cameleers and their humpbacked charges.
Diane Pennock Small and her fourteen-year-old mentee Landry Simon drove nearly a thousand miles from their home in Berthoud, Colorado, for the event. They had one major goal in mind: to learn to saddle up and finally ride their five-year-old camel, Humphrey. “We’ve had a rough start with him,” said Pennock Small. The agitated camel had at times been unruly—at one point breaking his halter and forcing his owners to chase him for miles. Four hours after his escape, Pennock Small and Simon returned home with Humphrey, but “it took months to get back in the pen with him,” Pennock Small said.