Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Little Sheepish...

Quiet Storm settled right into the routine around here. Darling would go out and lead her about a bit, or brush her, and then she'd spend the days grazing with her new buddies, our sheep. This provided some entertainment, for our filly was a bit of a follower. Without a horse to follow, she began following sheep. Sheep, however, are a bit nervous around large animals who follow closely behind them.

One day I was out watching them and saw one of my icelandic ewes and her lamb heading from the back of the pasture towards the front for a bit of water. Quiet Storm dutifully followed, expecting that this was her follow. The ewe glanced back out of the corner of her eye, not very comfortable having this very big (compared to her) animal following at such a short distance. She picked up the pace a bit.

Naturally, Quiet Storm's longer legs had no problem keeping up with the ewe's tiny legs. The ewe broke into a trot andQuiet Storm calmly picked up a trot and followed along. Now the ewe was downright afraid. The whites of her eyes were showing and she kept turning back to find that the 'predator' was still hot on her heels! She broke into a dead run, frantic to escape, but to no avail. Poor thing. That horse just followed her everywhere she went!

The lambs, unlike their moms, had no problem at all with the young mustang being in their pasture. They'd graze together, eat out of the same pile of hay, and sneak into the barn to escape the summer heat. It wasn't uncommon to find a lamb standing directly underneath our wild horse. She never offered to kick, just acted like this was a normal part of life! In fact, Quiet Storm has become so bonded with her 'flock' that she completely ignores the horses that live next door or travel up and down the road!

Time to Come Home

We decided to leave Quiet Storm at Cheryle's place for a few extra days. She was easily caught and BLM requirements would allow her to be turned out into our four foot woven wire pasture; however, it was early July and I wanted to be certain she was in a secure location over the holiday on the fourth.

I needn't have worried. Cheryle's family had a little celebration of their own, and our new 'wild' horse could have cared less. In fact, Cheryle's son had been doing some target practice out in the pasture, only a few hundred feet from Quiet Storm's paddock, and she never flinched.

When we first adopted, I'd called a friend to see if she'd haul our new horse home from Monroe, and she declined. In fact, all my friends declined, fearful of the damage a wild mustang would do to their trailers. So I hired a man who was at the adoption to bring our new baby home.

Now, a month later, I was again in need of someone to haul our new horse from Cheryle's to our place. I called a friend who lived nearby, a woman who'd been raising Quarter Horses for as long as I'd known her (a long time!) She hesitated, and asked if I knew whether or not the filly would actually get into the trailer. I assued her she loaded just fine, as we'd been practicing this week in the trailer at the arena. She agreed, but with some reservation.

A few days later the trailer pulled up and I led Quiet Storm out of the barn. "She's kinda cute," the QH breeder said, seeming just a little surprised to see the sleek, fit little mustang. I led her to the trailer and she hopped right in as though she'd been doing it all her life. Again, the QH owner was just a little shocked.

The ride home was short, the unloading uneventful. Quiet Storm raised her head and looked around at her new home as 12 year old Darling led her to the pasture. The QH owner just shook her head in disbelief. I had to smile. Katie's little wild horse was busy winning hearts!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Paddock

It was less than a week before Quiet Storm was out in the paddock. She wasn't interested in the least with the other horses, preferring to graze contentedly on more grass than she'd likely ever seen.

In the few weeks that followed, we spent time walking through narrow barn alleys, past trucks with kitty cats perched on top, and grazing out in the orchard. Daily handling, getting her to not stop and gawk at her reflection in the vehicles, and learning to stand while tied were the main focus points before Quiet Storm came home.

I must admit that, compared to many of the Quarter Horses I'd ridden in the past, this filly was a bit on the dull side. She was slow to respond to pressure, and in the early weeks that concerned me. "It's the quiet ones you gotta watch out for," is the thought that rang out in my mind. Friends warned me that, once dewormed and no longer starving, I'd have my hands full.

But it never happened. Quiet Storm was all quiet and no storm. There was no big spook, no complete refusal to do something she was asked. Sure, she would look twice at something new. She didn't want to walk beneath the low hanging apple tree branch the first time. The cat running around through the alley way that she spotted from the corner of her eye caused to to flinch and look. But by and large, she was a picture perfect example of what most people dream their domestic babies would be.

The most amazing transformation that took place in our new filly was her looks. It's so hard to look at those horses fresh off the range and see what they'll be like with a couple weeks of good food and a it of grooming. But here is the dramatic change that Quiet Storm went through between our first laying eyes on her and two weeks after her adoption. Isn't she a beauty?

Monday, January 29, 2007

To Cheryle's House we go...

Tom halter's Quiet Storm before she's loaded into a trailer to come home.

Quiet Storm's training began as soon as she came home. We sat with her inside the round pen, talked to her as we cleaned, and just allowed her to watch us come and go. The second day, I began walking around the pen, getting her to move forward, turn, and even follow me. I picked up the end of the rope and asked her to move off the pressure of the halter. She did it without hesitation. She was a dream. Not flighty, not spooky. Just as quiet as she'd been in the pen with the other horses.

I got pretty brave, and since the round pen was also inside an arena, I figured she really didn't have any place to go if she got away from me, so I led her out into the open arena. She didn't bat an eye. She followed obediently, just as though I were the strawberry roan.

I looked around the arena. Poles, cones and a tarp were out. We walked around the cones. We stepped over the poles. I looked at the tarp, took a breath, and walked over to it. For the first time in less than 48 hours, Quiet Storm came to a stop. I stepped onto the tarp, allowing it to make some noise under my feet. She looked at it curiously, and stepped forward to check it out. I immediately stepped off the tarp and led her away. She didn't spook at the noise it made as I stepped across it; didn't walk sideways to make sure it wasn't following. She just assumed I would lead her to another safe place in the arena.

We went back over the poles again, and then to the tarp. I walked onto the tarp, and this time she stepped on with me. Well, her front feet stepped on. I made her think she stopped there only because it was my idea. She blew a little out her nostrils and began to paw at the plastic. I turned her around and led her away. That was enough for tonight.

The following morning we walked to the poles, around the cones, and straight onto the tarp as though it was something she'd done her entire life! In fact, here it was, her third day associating with humans, and Darling, at age 12, was able to lead her over every obstacle in the arena!

Quiet Storm proved herself to be more quiet than storm that first week with us, and there was no doubt we'd be able to bring her home by the end of our 30 days at Cheryles. What more could we do with a filly who was already proving herself over trail obstacles that most domestic horses came unglued over? Well, we'd find something...

Our first BLM mustang

Due to lack of facilities here at our place, I'd not been able to adopt a mustang direct from the BLM. I had, however, attended a couple of adoption events when they were here in Whatcom County. Shortly afterwards, I met Cheryle McConnaughey of Living Legends Stables in Bellingham. Cheryle had adopted three horses over the past two years when the horses had been here. She was also an official volunteer for theBLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program. Together, Cheryle and I made the trip to Spokane in 2005 to help with the adoption event there. Getting to know the folks who work the adoptions can be beneficial, as you'll soon discover.

In 2006, the BLM was planning two adoption events in Washington State. The first was in late May and to be held in Spokane. The second was two weeks later in Monroe. Cheryle had told me that I could use her facility for 30 days if I ended up adopting; she had a horse coming in for training and that's all the time she could spare. Since the BLM requirements state that you need to be able to catch your horse before it can leave the smaller round pen, I knew my work would be cut out for me. But both my daughter and I wanted to adopt, so we decided to find a nice, laid back yearling, which we felt we'd be able to gentle within the time frame set.

Since Monroe was obviously much closer to home than Spokane, that's where we thought we'd adopt from. But since we were headed to Spokane anyway during the adoption weekend, we spent a great deal of time there going over the horses. Because this was going to be Darling's horse, I wanted her to have a good grasp on what to look for once the horses got to Monroe. While we were there, we got to talking to Greg, one of the BLM wranglers, and told him we'd likely be getting a horse when they came back in a couple more weeks. Greg told us if there was something we really liked here in Spokane, he'd be sure to bring it to Monroe for us. That forced Darling and I into a decision. How would we know if there would be nicer horses at the next adoption or not? We had no clue what was coming, so we decided to make a short list of our favorites here in Spokane. Darling selected three horses, and I told her those were the three she could bid on. I didn't want to spend more than $150, because I knew there'd be plenty of horses that went for the base price of $125, so we were taking a real risk that she'd be outbid on her choices.

The horses Darling chose to bid on that day were these: A large strawberry roan filly who had a bit of percheron in her background. She was quiet and pretty, not a bully but certainly the leader of the group. She was followed around by the smallest filly in the group, a shaggy looking thing that had a pretty cute face. The shaggy filly never paid any attention to the crowd, while the strawberry roan watched everyone with curiousity, and by the end of Saturday she even reached out and sniffed Darling's hand. This filly was definitely on the top of her list, but there were others who talked about wanting her as well, so we knew the chances of getting her were slim.

A two year old red dun gelding caught our eye. He was long, lean and lanky. A bit stand offish to begin with, but he watched the people from a safe vantage point in the pen. He was near the bottom of the pecking order, but stayed out of the way of the bully.

A few more trips around the pens, and we were back to the yearling fillies again. The shaggy little filly was still ignoring the people, but the fact that she knew to stay in the shadow of her large body guard, we hoped at least, meant she had some thinking skills. And like I said, she had a cute face. I probably wouldn't have chosen her for myself, but Darling liked her, so that completed her list.

When it was time to start bidding, the two year old was the first on Darling's list to come in. She was quickly outbid. When the yearling fillies finally made it in, the roan's number was the first to be called. Again, Darling was quickly outbid. In fact, the bidding went over $300 for that big girl.

One more chance. The shaggy filly's number was called. No one bid. Darling took a deep breath and raised her paddle. No one bid against her, and she won the bid at $125.

Have you ever met a little girl who's just bought a wild horse? It's something to behold. But I've got to tell you, the next two weeks were downright painful as we had to wait for our new girl to come back to our side of the mountains. Greg promised to take good care of her. He told us he'd wrap her up in bubble wrap to keep her safe. And that became her nick-name, which she is still occasionally called by both us and the BLM staff; Bubble Wrap!

"Bubble Wrap", as she was orignally called, was soon to be renamed Quiet Storm.


So you're at an adoption. What now? I don't know what other people look for, but here's what I do when going to adoptions:

I get there early; horses unload (usually) on Friday afternoon or evening. I like to see them get off the trucks and watch them as the get their bearings in the corrals. Everything is new to them here; new pens, new mates, new surroundings. There's always jostling as the new pecking order is established. I try to take notes...sometimes I forget my notepad and am forced to rely on mental notes, which isn't always reliable. I'm not looking for the calmest horse that first night, I just want to remember which ones were bullies, which ones ran out of fear, and which took it all in stride. The following morning I go back and watch them all again, taking account which horses may have settled in the most over night. The bully or the fraidy cat may no longer act the same come morning. That can tell you a lot about the horse's personality.

My primary concern has always been a horse's temperment. Sure, I want one that's balanced, and pretty heads and color are great. But the temperment is what rules when it comes to selection. Watching how the horses interact with each other will tell you many things. Those who were bullies on Friday night, and are still bullies on Saturday morning, are not horses that I want. I look for a horse that knows how to stay out of trouble in the herd. One that manages to keep an eye on what's happening and position itself out of harm's way.

This big pinto was in a pen with a bully horse. The bully would seek out the pinto, demanding a fight. When pushed, the pinto would give in and the two would rear, strike out, and reach out to bite each other, just like stallions in the wild. But the pinto would have preferred to be left alone. Other horses followed him, which irritated the bully. Sound familiar? Kinda like kids on the playground. The bully horse was jealous of the natural leadership of the pinto; he wanted to lay claim to the 'herd' that was following the pinto around the pen. The pinto was a smart horse. He watched and knew where the bully was at all times, doing his best to stay out of the way. I found this to be a very positive thing with this guy.

Some horses get curious about the people who come to see them. They'll come up and sniff and eventually let you rub them through the corral rails. I have mixed feelings about these horses. I like a horse who may sniff, but uses caution over a horse that suddenly falls in love with the crowd of wither scratchers, and this is why; the cautious horse is going to give you more space once home and training begins. The overly friendly horse may become pushy; refusing to give you space. Not that it's always like's just my personal preference when selecting between the two. The younger the horse, the less trouble it will likely pose; but if it's an older horse, I would personally select another. The filly pictured above finally got brave enough to reach out for some hay once all the other horses in her pen had been taken home. Without any other companionship, she turned to a friendly human.

The more time you're able to spend watching the horses prior to the adoption, the better idea you'll have about which one you may want to go home with. There are always plenty of people available to ask questions to. Both BLM employees, volunteers, and past adopters attend these events and have plenty of stories and advice to share. Listen to everyone...but in the end, you'll need to select the horse that speaks to your heart.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why Wild Ones?

Why do I want a wild horse? Don't ask. I can't answer. It's just the way it is...I wanted a wild one when I was a kid, and I wanted one when I was an adult. It's my passion. Some folks want a boat, some folks fancy cars. I want wild horses.

A dozen or so years ago I was wandering about the internet and came across the BLM internet adoption website. All those passions that had burned as a child flared up again as I read through all the requirements and scrolled through the horses.

Wild horses, Mustangs, are feral animals. Not native to North America, they don't receive the same priveledged treatment of animals such as eagles or other endangered or protected animals. At one time in history, they were considered a blight on the landscape by ranchers, who's cattle competed for grazing lands. Horses were shot; many were rounded up and hauled off to slaughter under very inhumane conditions.

Enter Vera Johnson, also known as Wild Horse Annie. She witnessed first hand the abuse that was being dealt the horses that roamed America and fought hard to stop the senseless abuse and slaughter. Her work brought about the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971:

An Act Of Congress

"Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; (and) that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people ..."(Public Law 92-195, December 15, 1971.)

Since this time, the BLM has been holding adoptions for mustangs. You can visit a holding site, adopt over the internet, or go to a live competitive bid adoption to find your horse. You'll need to fill out the adoption application, of course, and there are inspections done to insure that the horse is being cared for properly. After you've had your horse for a year and shown that you've taken reasonable care, you receive the title and clear ownership of the horse.

Adoption fees begin at just $125. Of course, if you're adopting over the internet or at a live adoption, you may find someone has taken a fancy to the same horse you'd like to go home with. That may start a bidding war, driving the price up. A recent adoption I went to had a four year old palomino mare sell for just shy of $1000. Most, however, can be adopted for less than $200 at the live, competitive bid adoptions.

When I was little, and my Irish grandfather finished telling me stories of wild horses, he'd always end his conversation with, "Tracey, if you ever find a wild horse, promise me you won't touch it. Stay away from it, they're dangerous!" And while I haven't totally heeded Grandpa's advice, it's still a good bit of advice for most people. Wild horses are just that. Wild! They'll jump over six foot fences without a thought, crash through gates, and run right over the top of you if you're not paying attention. The adoption requirements are there for a reason; to keep both the horse and you safe. I love my wild horses, but they're work. There's nothing I'd like more than to be able to try my hand at one a little older than the yearling or two year olds I've currently got; but my facilities are not built up enough at this point to bring a four year old home. If you've not got the facility, don't bring home a wild horse.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Some folks are born with the bug, the fever, a burning desire. It's like a calling, really. Others may enjoy it for a little while; they may like to go for a ride, or brag to their friends; yet it's something they lose interest in eventually. But those with horse fever never outgrow it. It's been known to drive people into bankruptcy as well as divorce court. And there's no known cure...

I don't remember when I didn't have that burning desire to be with horses. My kindergarten report card says, "Tracey enjoys animals, especially large ones such as dogs and horses." I remember living in town and seeing a horse go down the street one day; I nearly jumped through the living room window in my scramble to go after it (they make doors for that, as I soon discovered.)

As a lad, my grandfather had traveled from New York State to Washington State, and I used to beg him for stories of the old west. I envisioned him sitting at a camp full of cowboys around a fire of glowing embers with nearby corrals made of logs. I'd always ask if he'd seen any wild horses while he travelled, and he said he had, filling my young head with all sorts of stories. I'd fancied my grandfather taking a wagon train all those years ago, but while it had been a train, there were no wagons. Indeed, as a young adult, long after Grandpa had passed away, I realized most of his stories had been just that; a bit of Irish blarney with which to entertain and amuse his young granddaughter.

I'm not alone when it comes to having horse fever. In fact, you may also be one of the afflicted. As I said...there is no cure...and quite honestly, do we want one?