A visit with a small band of rescued mustangs at Sky Mountain Ranch...
Flickr user: blacktiger303
Finally, finally, finally I finally got a horse for my birthday. Several, as it were.
After a long early decade spent hoping (“Maybe my parents will get me one for Christmas…”), another several of futile planning (“Time’s coming soon, real soon, when I’m buying myself a horse, and that’s that!”), and the latest 10 years scheming (“Now let’s see, how can I get around my neighborhood covenant about no livestock?”), well, at last I got one whole, exceedingly satisfying day’s worth of them.
That Sunday morning began with the DVD of that most excellent 2011 documentary “Wild Horse Wild Ride,” about the annual Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge in Fort Worth. Every year, 100 trainers from all over the U.S. haul their trailers to Oklahoma to take back home a wild mustang and saddle-train it. One catch is that horse-picking is by lottery, not choice. Another, that they have only 100 days to do so. Worse still, the adoption is temporary, unless the contestant decides to bid on the fostered horse following the competition.
The film focuses on several 2009 hopefuls, including a big good ole Texas guy, two earnest brothers from New Hampshire, a wishful Navajo from the rez, a seasoned rodeo queen, and others—all dedicated, hard-working, patient beyond belief, all well deserving the prize.
As the movie unspools, the calendar pages are falling, and while the subtle yet thrilling nuances of the arena performances are mesmerizing, the true center of the film comes in the final third, with the concluding auction sending some hearts soaring and others breaking. It’s quite a finale. Learn more—much more-—at www.mustangheritagefoundation.org.
At noon, I was lucky enough to be off to see the real thing. Lisa had arranged for us to visit Karen Herman and her small band of rescued mustangs at Sky Mountain Ranch, a few miles north of Santa Fe.
It was supposed to be a surprise, but I’d figured it out. First, Lisa freaked aloud when she thought she’d lost one of Karen’s business cards; next, I caught sight of an e-mail from “Karen”; then I saw that My Day of Days was imminent. It all clicked. Immediately, I went to her site to read as much as I could about the herd and the mission they stand for. You’ll find them at www.skymountainwild.org.
Karen adopted the five—Luna, Blazing Sun Bay, El Rito Fire, and El Rito Moon—from the Bureau of Land Management’s herd in Carson National Forest in May, 2007. Later that month, Luna foaled Starlight. Since then, they winter near Pojoaque and summer up in Rio Arriba County. They never have been saddled, never will be ridden.
As the sanctuary is no-kill, they will live out their lives thus (alpha mare Sunny is a regal 32); as a no-breed facility, they will not reproduce; and as a 501(c)3 foundation, they are dependent upon donations. Lisa gave Karen a $100 check up front, so that nobody had to wonder.
Karen’s collaborator Dan Elkins is the leader in long-distance electronic herd surveillance, no-chase corralling, and subsequent sterilization. To me as a wild horse enthusiast, birth control is the obvious answer to mustang management. The current BLM standard operating procedure of helicopter round-ups always results in horse injury, shock and death. Not so, using Elkins’ method of gentle, friendly persuasion. In a single year, he saved 200 animals from Jicarilla alone, and completely without incident. Seems to me that I have seen the future of the West’s 50,000 mustangs, and his name is Dan Elkins.
Up close and personal, the Sky Mountain equine family is a delight to behold. Because they’ve been sheltered in a hands-off environment, I couldn’t, shouldn’t, and wouldn’t stroke them. Closest I could get was feeding them a handful of alfalfa. That seemed enough, though, as the western winter light set on their loved and protected, totally unblemished hides.
It was getting late. That night I’d intended to watch “The Black Stallion,” from the book by Walter Farley, on cable, but it had been a long day and turning in seemed the wise thing to do.
But I did not intend to sleep before I finished reading “The Phantom Stallion: Golden Ghost” by Terri Farley (strangely, no relation to Walter), eighth in a 24-book series for, let’s face it, kids. (See more at www.phantomstallion.com.)
So, okay, it’s for kids, but I always find out new things about horses from these books—to wit, I was introduced to the Moorish Palomino, with its black skin, butterscotch hair and long flaxen mane and tail. Oh man, I’ll take two, please!
Of course I read to the last page, and beyond, including the tantalizing excert from #9, “Gift Horse.”
My day with horses, at last, was over. As I turned out the light, my thoughts were Sky Mountain thoughts. I may have whispered, “Goodnight, Luna,” but who knows.