Little Lunga

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Stranger in a strange land on a strange horse

I was sitting in the coffee shop the other morning, drinking coffee and working on my plans for the fall and winter months that were approaching very quickly. I was thinking about how fast the summer was moving by and how, before I knew it, it would be the end of a season.

The bell rang against the opening of the door and in walked a cowboy. He seemed quiet, a kind soul with a lot on his mind, but at the same time he seemed very at ease. He walked passed me and smiled and nodded his head as to say good morning. He sat in the corner away from everyone. He faced the entire restaurant from where he sat as if he wanted everyone to know he noticed them starring at him as he walked across the floor to his table. I knew this type of thing happened all the time. He sat down, tipped his hat back, twisted the coffee cup around and then turned right side up. He then removed his hat and placed it on its own chair as if he regarded it as a close friend.

He began to speak:

You might be one of the few people who understand me, but to most I am a stranger. I have been across this country and I have known a lot of people and I have known a lot of horses, but the circles for which I have worked have never thought of me as one of their own. I have worked within the boundaries of what people see as normal, I have listened to what people have said and I have observed quietly in order to learn, but I have also learned my own ways and I have been taught unconventional ways by experience and by miles and miles of having good and bad horses underneath me. I will admit that I have argued some and I have shaken my head at what I thought of as magic and showmanship. I have been rejected for not following. A woman from England once said to me that it was my job to fit in and why did I think it necessary to wear a big hat? She told me that there is no point to making people feel uncomfortable by trying to stand out. I told her it was not my job to make people feel easy about my hat or who I was, if people did not like my hat, they could simply realize that I was a stranger to them and be on their way. I am a stranger, I am ok with this. I wear big spurs and my big hat. I am an individual, I keep company with very few and being horses…they do not seem to mind. I love a fast horse, and I will pretty much ride anything. I have never been accused of being a bronc rider and I prefer to make a horse busy rather than try to make him jump high. I will ask a horse for a lot and I hope a horse will expect me to. Even close to home, I am a stranger, but what is wrong with that?

I began to wander why he was here, why in this town? The Little Snake River Valley, the Red Desert…..this place is very much off the map, but at the same time everyone at some point in their life has to drive right through the heart of it. The Red Desert, with its purple sage, green grass, red dirt and most amazingly its grey horses make this area a place of beauty and mystery. The valley with its dirt roads, countless numbers of dead trucks, old cowboys, mustangers and the ever tough oil field workers make it a town of outlaws and refugees, but, outlaws and refugees with a background of tradition and interest. Butch Cassidy once thought enough of the valley to make a hideout of it, or was it just his foresight to know even back then no one would ever look here, a strange town, a strange land and a strange dynamic that keeps its youth coming back and the curious stopping by. Being named the Little Snake River Valley makes some think that it might be a part of something bigger, maybe that is why this stranger was here. Yes, he was a stranger in these parts, but also, he fit right in, in his own way. Just as he sat in the corner of the coffee shop, was he simply sitting back in the Valley somewhere….watching, observing?

He spoke again:

I have had the fortunate opportunity to make a life of riding and training horses. I have been very lucky in the fact that horses and the people who own them have afforded me a lifestyle of not riches, but of freedom. I have seen homes of legendary horses, both thoroughbred and quarter, I have walked through the bluegrass of Kentucky and the brush country of south Texas. But now I am here, a stranger once again, in a strange land and for what? To ride a strange horse, a horse with a centuries worth of history, but hardly a days worth of a future; a horse of many colors, many sizes as well as many breeds. A horse once captured seems to be worthless, but wild seems to be priceless. This strange horse only becomes stranger when they are branded down the side of their neck. I have seen many types of horses and now I have seen many types of wild horses and to tell you the truth, there is some damn nice blood out there. These horses have a great history and they deserve a great future, so call me strange for thinking so. I am a stranger in a strange land riding a strange horse. I will either remain so and so will the horse, but in the end they deserve to no longer be a stranger.

He compared these wild horses to domestic horses like this:

Have you ever thought about the difference between a fiddle and a violin? Some will tell you that a fiddle is just a violin being played out of tune, and others will tell you that a violin is an over priced fiddle being played by some snob. Well, part of each may be true, but in the end they are both fine instruments belonging to their respective circle. It is a novelty to hear a fiddle amongst the orchestra and a violin at the barn dance, but each deserves mutual respect and dignity……

I will pick up the fiddle and play it like a violin, no one would no the difference if not for the scratch on the neck.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Horse is Our Reward

The air has become warm and fresh outside. It is now the time of year when we can open the windows of our little house and let the breeze cool it in the day and give us a cozy almost unexplainable comfort in the night.

Sleeping has not been difficult since starting the latest group of wild horses and as we move forward in their training I feel a different calmness every night as I think about the days work. I know things are not perfect and we have had some trouble with a couple of the horses and I am sure their trouble with us will continue in some way, shape or form. But, I know we will help them get over it and each horse that is easy will allow us more time with those that are difficult.

I woke this morning to sound of an alarm clock making a terrible noise. I realized that I do not use an alarm clock.....sleeping with the windows open has allowed the sounds of outside become a part of the inside. We fall asleep with the sounds of only the breeze; as we are bedding down for the night, so are the birds, the horses and all the other creatures amongst us during the daylight ours, from sun-up to sun-down. We are all tired and ready for a peaceful rest. I wake to the sound of this bird and I want to be mad at it, but then I realize this is what it knows, this is part of what it is. I immediately start think of the horses down in the paddocks, I start to realize something slightly profound. The horses waiting down in the paddocks this morning, waiting for us to catch them and feed them, check them for any injury that could have happened during the night, waiting for us to take care of them. These horses are changing, evolving into a new type of horse. Just months ago, these horses were in the wild, surviving feral horses out in the desert or the hills, not knowing what man was, or what it meant to be taken care of. All they knew was to be in constant motion, in constant search of feed, water, and safety. They only knew the horses in their area, they only knew the possibilities of the predators over the hill. Yes, they did know a form of relaxation, but a relaxation similar to that of someone falling asleep at night worrying if their alarm clock is going to wake them in the morning. We have taken this group of horses and completely changed their way of life and their way of thinking. There is a good feeling when we look outside in the late evening, when the sunset has cast a fiery glow over the valley, we look down into the pens and see the horses relaxing to the fullest extent of the word. They are full of good, clean alfalfa, their bodies getting strong from the days work. They are tired, but a good tired. Some of the horses are laying down, while others are sleeping, knees locked, back leg cocked. They are comfortable and healthy and even allowing the dogs to be amongst them. We are changing the lives of these horses and I believe we are just the beginning of the evolution of these lost herds of horses across Western America.

The feral horse herds that we are familiar with today, the ones we have dubbed MUSTANGS, are more or less descendants of the herds from decades ago. A grab bag of so many infusions of "solutions". When I say "solutions", I mean different breeds introduced into herds of feral horses in order to improve upon size and conformation. In essence..the reduction of herds by way of improving them. A responsibility from long ago, that just like the horses themselves we have turned out. So, not only do we have herds of horses running out in the wild, somewhat lost so to speak, but the responsibility has also gone wild or even harder to gather. But, I will not be engaging in the politics or even taking one side or the other on this subject, and I do not want to give a history lesson either. I guess I would rather play Devil's Advocate and create several arguments for all to engage in. If this animal was truly a wild animal, would we be able to take her from the wild and change her frame of mind or her way of living, would we be able to train her? Could you do the same with a antelope, deer or even a jack rabbit? Are they simply horses born in the wild, living in the wild?

Moving on....

The horse is a majestic and very dignified animal, especially the wild horse(the opinion of many). There seems to be an added purity to this group of horses. I think we should honor this horse as well as those horses born under the watchful eye and helping hand of human. Instead of trying to train either with the idea of giving them human characteristics or trying to give ourselves horse like characteristics, why not be humans training horses? Why not take pride in the fact that we are people with the privilege of being amongst them? The horse is an amazing animal and is very diverse. Why discount that by adding all kinds of labels to what we do to them or with them? I recently read an article relating to natural horsemanship, and it made very valid points on the issue. I would comment that the only natural thing about any horsemanship should be the sweat soaked saddle blanket after a good schooling or solid days works with our horse. I believe the key to any good program of training or horsemanship is an imagination, an open mind, the humility to listen and a good pair of hands, all while being very direct and straight forward. A horse is not a willing partner, but a well trained one. A horse is born with the will to survive, not necessarily the will to serve man. A strong willed horse is often times not the best one or the easiest one to train, but once trained they are strong, committed partners with a fair bit of attitude and many days of training and re-training. A horse is willing to drink, but has the ability to be trained. I believe we are the willing and the horse is our reward.

We can respect and honor our horses by never turning our backs on them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The sun was shining bright and through the window it seemed to create a warmth this old house has been needing, not to mention the ones living here. The sun and the heat is a long lost friend welcomed home to the Valley. Looking out at the sun, I held a mason jar full of marbles up to the light. I was curious about how marbles were made. I looked at the swirls within them, the bright colors, the dark colors, ribbons of stories trapped in glass. I sat down on the hard wood floor, twisted the lid to open the jar, hearing the all familiar sound the metal ring sliding against the glass rim. I set the jar down and layed it on its side. Marble rushed out of the old jar and rushed across the floor in all directions. I tried to follow just one, but as I watched it roll, another cut in front or bounced off a book laying on the floor. It was like all of the marbles were racing to display their own uniqueness, their own shine or lack of. I stood up as they settled down and decided from my view that I would simply look at every marble in my sight and study it. I realized that this is life, this is our story. You cannot control a lot of things in life, you simply roll until something stops you or you change directions. We all have ribbons of stories and life lessons within us, and as long as we do not crack into pieces, we will trade those stories and lessons for others. And, sometimes we are that whole jar of marbles......our lives and stories rolling all over the place.

The other day, Cecilia and I ventured out into new parts of the Red Desert. We had the opportunity to travel into places full of horse history and this made me realize how lucky we are. The sun was shining and we were finally convinced that spring had arrived in the Valley as well as the Red Desert. We could look straight up for miles and the only clouds in view were the wispy mares tails slowly drifting by, if moving at all. We had a slight breeze blowing which only made the 65 degrees feels even better. We had the fortunate opportunity to be escorted deep into the country by some old cowboys and horse chasers. This, to me was a priceless chance to see not only the horses in the wild but the men who understood them, who knew them from their hoof marks in the ground clear up the clouds of dust they stirred as they ran across the desert soil. We followed the dusty two track road about 20 miles in and crossed through a wire gap guarded by the Man and the Boy(rock formations leading into the box canyon)and I was feeling the anticipation of rounding the bend and coming upon something I was not sure of. Sure enough, we rounded the corner of the canyon, and there we saw our first impressions of a horse trap over 60 years old. We got out of the truck and walked around this large, very interesting fence. I needed to get my hands on it to see if I could understand how things were done 60 years ago or even earlier than that. The fence was made of a soft cable woven and connected with barbed wire, but for some reason it was safe, almost like rough, callused hands, not intimidating at all. The post, which were railroad ties, stood steadfast and loyal to the wire it held, as if they had been set only the day before. I was fascinated by this, all the while listening to this old horse chaser tell me a story of when he was a young man and the horses he followed. He told me of the piper airplane they used to survey and herd the horses. How they let the horses lead and they simply followed. How the cowboys on horseback would wait patiently for the horses to top the ridge and then file into the canyon. The preparation of the gathers was thoughtful and efficient. I began to realize how these men and other men and woman of their time and place understood horses, especially the feral horses of our country. Back then, ALL were horsemen in some fashion or another. People had not been jaded by government issues or activist who had no understanding of the horses. Horses were gathered for their use as well as maintaining the herds. The horse chasers managed the land and the livestock, including the horses. Wherever you went in the West, this was daily work, like checking windmills and water gaps.

We moved on a little further into the canyon and soon we had arrived to the place I had been told about and I had read about in books. These were the corrals where many horses had been roped, sorted, loaded and even turned back into the desert. We were standing where many had stood before, man and beast. I walked in silence and ran my hands across every rail, every post and every gate latch. I was hoping to hear the holler of Desert Dust or any of his brood still very much alive within these traps. I stood back just to picture how it must have been decades ago. I moved an old gate latch as if to turn out the souls of those horses waiting for the chasers to come back. It was hard to leave this quiet place without actually hearing the sounds of men and horses and even a baying dog, but this was another time and things have changed too much. It was time to go.

I think much about what a horse chaser told me that day in the desert. He told me that with a little bit of work, you could sure enough catch some horses. He made it sound as if I should have a go of it. I took this in two ways. I felt honored first and foremost for having him give us the time and the thoughtfulness to take us and secondly, I felt as if he had faith in me that I could do something as daring, dangerous and something of the old ways that he and his fellow horsemen had done. It is sad to think of how it used to be and how it is today. So many people with thoughtless missions of self reward. I know times change and we must evolve, but is our evolution actually going the wrong way? We have the most beautiful resource in the world at our fingertips! In the same country we have wild horses, we have oil wells drilling deep into the ground, we spend billions of dollars just looking for the stuff. It takes fractions of that money to see what is standing right in front of our eyes, on top of the ground.......If we can bottle up oil and gas and sell it off, what is wrong with collecting some of our feral horses out of the wild? I am not saying scoop them all up from the land and cage them up, because that will never happen. I am saying that the horses we do gather are well fed, well managed and in some cases, sadly not enough, find a true purpose under saddle. Yes, the wild horse is a romantic figure of the west, that I am not denying, but this modern feral horse is not the mustang of centuries ago, he is a product of evolution just as we are, but the feral horse is also a product of our doing. We can take a little responsibility or a lot, you choose........if someone knows a horse is cold and hungry, wild or domestic, what is the good thing to do?

Now that I am beginning to have a relationship with every one of the horses down in the paddocks right now, I could not imagine ever turning my back on it in the wild. That is something to think about.

This is simply one of the ribbons in my marbles. If we do not have an edge, we will always roll.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


It has been a rollercoaster ride over the past 10 days or so. I cannot remember where or when the weather has been like this. It was getting to the point of almost driving us all insane. I beleive it was having an affect on the horses......well my attitude towards the horses.

Walking outside and looking to the west, I could see the hills that are supposed to protect the Little Snake River Valley from all who try to invade, but nothing could hold back the cold, forceful and rather rude wind, the rain that seemed to freeze just before impact and the snow that stayed long enough to kick us in the teeth. It was becoming something unexplainable and every morning from now until I leave for the season I will wake up and be afraid to look out the window for the fear of seeing it roll in once again. I only hope now as I am writing this that I have not jinxed the Valley.

I am writing now with a new relationship with all of the wild horses now in our corrals. It has been a few days and I have had the chance to get to know them and to see how they relate to me, Cecilia and Tommy. Everyone of the horses is different and each have a dynamic all their own. I said something yesteday to Cecilia about a certain horse becoming my special project and she said to me, "I think you have 15 other projects". This made me realize that I cannot focus on the needs or speciality of any one horse, I have to focus on all of them and always be looking across the trap at the goings on of all of the horses. I have to admit that I do not really have one favorite, but I see some as having great potential in one area and others in another area. It is easier for me to mention the horse I do not like. I hate that I think that way, but I do. It is easy to shine the light on the fancy mover, the well balanced display of atheleticism and potential but sometimes the prettier, better comformed horses turn out to be the biggest donkeys.

The horses are beginning to take shape and settle down. I have started to see trust in them as well as the beginning of their realization that they need us. This is the point of the horse remembering we feed them, we water them and we also guide them. I see potential in horses; potential a horse does not know mentally, but they feel physically. WE are the ones who shape them and show them the way to go......always foward. Yes, a horse, out in the wild can run, stop and turn, they can rate their speed, change leads(not all of them), and I have even seen them side-pass as a way around confrontation, but now they must do these things with us on their backs and by a cue. It is our responsibilty to not ask them but to show them. I am not saying we must make them do it, but if we recognize their ability and we bragg about it, then we damn sure better bring it out in them. Horses have been carrying the human burden for centuries, now it is our turn to carry the burden so to speak. If we choose to pick up te reins and throw a leg over, then we have taken on a challenge of great consequences and triumphs.

Over the next week or so, we will begin to really see the personalities come out in every horse here. With 16 wild horses from ages 2 to 9, we truly have the opportunity to see our world's oldest mammal on display, as a teacher of patience, insight, fortitude, strength, thinking, etc.. At this point all I can say is this: What I see before me is a strong healthy horse with the characteristics of good using stock, old blood and new beginnings. Why not take the best of what we have running wild and make it our own again? I cannot wait for the suprises each horse will bring, good or bad. Our journey has only begun and we will do our best to bring everyone along for the ride.


Friday, April 30, 2010

forecast:high of 39 with snow showers and flying horses

Yesterday was a good day if I had to sum it up genarically. We woke yesterday morning to 6 inches of snow on the ground and a chill in the air. I know it is still April and we do live in a small corner of Wyoming where it can snow in July, but it is still hard to handle. Add 16 horses coming out of the wild less than 2 months ago, and we have a lot of things than can break the ice in more ways than one. Every day I start with planning our approach to catching horses and working horses for the day. I always think of what can go right and really worry(in a good way)about what can go wrong. Sometimes the things that go wrong turn out to be a forecast of things that will go right.
I have to give a big credit to Little Lunga for her part in Helping us yesterday. The horses are beginning to listen and trust her bell and it really played a part in getting the last of the horses into the paddocks. Most of the horses followed us into the big pen where we needed them but 3 of the older mares stayed out and I actually wanted them that way for a change. I needed one mare in particular to head down the alley way and into the round pen first thing. This mare is a nice mare but I have seen her jump 2 fences with the greatest of ease and with precise calculation. She has talent, but we just have to focus it and manage it, if you know what I mean. We had layed out hay in front of the alley way so Lunga would stand and eat an hopefully the 3 mares would find her and find their way in. Cecilia and I stood out in the trap and let them run a little until they began to pay attention. Before we knew it, Lunga started down the alley, her bell echoing off of the boards and the 3 mares followed her right on down the alley and into the roundpen. We decided to let them settle and then build a plan to sort Lunga, the little chestnut mare(Peluca) and the nine year old black mare(Hatari) out of the round pen and leave the chestnut mare(Javelina)in the pen. This is hard to do!

We decided to let them be and to catch our saddle horses and have them ready for the days work. We tied them up after their morning grain and then saddled them and let them stand in the loafing shed to keep them from the cold and the snow. I was using Pochito again, Tommy was using Butch and Cecilia was to use The Dude. I am really beginning to rely on Chito and trust him very much. He is coming along very nicely and he seems to add a bit of security to each horse roped by me and him. I will explain more on that later.

Moving on. It was time to try and sort the wild bunch in the round pen and the only way we could think to do it was to have someone stand in the center of the round pen and let them mil around and sort themselves out. I would sand at the east gate of the round pen to let our whichever horses came my way. The ground was nice and deep in the pen due to the moisture of the snow and of the milling of the 4 horses so we figured it would not take long for the horses to tire and begin to sort things out. I might have spoken to early. The horses did begin to sort themselves out and I encouraged Cecilia to begin stepping to them and in between them, this might have been a little hasty on my part. Before we knew it, Peluca had jumped and broke the 3 top rails of the round pen and jumped out, Javelina followed with the greatest of ease(4 foot solid wall cleared) and as we opened the gate to have Lunga and Hatari leave the roundpen, Hatari turned and followed. So now all 3 of the mares were out in the open areas of the barn with everywhere to go! The Red Desert was calling but they were not listening. Cecilia, Tommy and I stayed cool and we went out to let them find their way back in. I went through the traps and opened 2 gates so they would be able to come back. These 3 horses had every chance to leave and run away, but a couple things came into play. Horses are herd animals and creatures of habit; so home for them is amongst the other horses and they know where their feed is coming from, so they were not about to fly the coop. We simply gave them their space and with no chasing or running they found their way back into the trap. I have to say, that when we remove theses horses from the wild, we do remove some of the wildness from them right away. They DO begin to rely on us and in a small way they begin to trust us. After that we fixed the round pen and I walked out to the trap and they walked into a paddock with no jumping or panic of any kind. They and us had learned something from the episode. We need to have a little more patience and they remember who we are now.

After all of that, we still had horses to catch and it was only getting colder. I thought if we catch one today, we can focus on the others already caught. We had one who figured out how to rub her halter and had it crooked on her head and we needed to doctor the big bay filly. Well, everything else went according to plan. We had a halter and lead put on the 6 year old strawberry roan (Red Lips) in a little over an hour. We caught the chestnut mare(La Quinta) and fixed her halter in about 10 minutes(she will need it fixed again today)and we were able to doctor our bay filly (Poppy) out in her paddock. She is very kind and easy to work with. And, we managed to sort one bunch of 6 horses without any running or panic. And we were able to sort them the exact way we wanted them. All of the horses, haltered or not are beginning to trust us and pay attention to us and it shows we are training all of them on some level everyday.

Now if we could only train the weather to behave. We are begging for hot weather at this point!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

strange weather and a tough horse for sure.

It is Thursday morning and I was simply too tired to write last night. Maybe I was just a little frustrated as well.

We woke yesterday morning to really nice and warm weather, I was out feeding horses in a shirt, no jacket or coat. I was thinking that this was nice for catching and haltering horses! The horses already haltered and in pens seemed to becoming familiar with their new rawhide halters and dragging lead ropes, the horses still out in the trap seemed to be figuring out that we are not all that bad. Lunga, was a good bit of help yesterday morning. She managed to help lead 5 horses into the large paddock and then into smaller paddocks for sorting. I think she is coming to terms with her new job as bell mare and maybe she is a little cheeky in the thought of trapping the horses that are bothering her so much. We managed to trap and sort some of the older and fresher horses. I was happy with this because I was ready to get my hands on some of these older horses.

We let the geldings finish eating and I cinched up Pochita and walked on into the round pen, rope in hand. We had to start with a 3 yo filly that was still in the pen from the day before and I was not sure how she was going to be. She has a beautiful eye and seems very very kind, but sometimes they are the worst! She acted like she wanted to jump the padock fence when I walked in to head her to the round pen but she looked and found her way in. The next hour was very uneventful and we had a halter and lead rope on her with very litle work. Pochito worked like a truly seasoned horse and was very patient and very willing to work. This was just what he needed to build his confidence in working horses. He has so much try in him and so much ability to do this. He needed something to do and I think he has found his calling. This filly was sharp and quick and she actually dropped her head into the halter. As soon as we had her back into the paddock and drinking water, the wind began to blow, and I mean blow! It was gusting and we could see to the west that the rain and snow was coming. We put Pochito under the shed and took a break during the rain.

It settled down a little and I was eagar to get my hands on the little blue roan mare who is nine years old. The wind died down and the tempature was also headed down. I got back on Pochito and headed back into the round pen to catch this mare. She was very fast and quick and knew how to duck the rope. I finallly got her roped and her first reaction was to strike with both front feet and she never missed a lick moving around the round pen. It took a while to get her reeled in and close to me, but she was very strong and she knew how to turn and pull forward against the rope and my horse. I ended up having to switch to a bigger horse who was stronger than her and stouter than Pochito. But, I will tell you this, his heart and will were a fraction of Chito's! After a good back and fourth battle she began to remember the routine and she was letting me rub on her and touch all over her. During this time, it rained a little snowed a little and went from freezing cold to almost muggy and hot. At one point we had steam rising from the ground and from the horses backs, it was almost as if the fog was rolling in from the sea shore and we would soon be invisible to everyone and everything. That of course did not last long and before you know it we were freezing cold and dodging big fat snowflakes again.
The blue roan mare gave us a few more fits and revolt and then started to settle down a little, but in the end she needed Tommy on Butch and me on The Dude to kinda "split her in two" to get her full and undevided attention. I was on the rope end and Tommy was on the leadrope and halter end. I was expecting a big blow up when the halter would have to dip down under and up over her nose and over her ears, but I think she had come to some kind of agreement with us. She was very accepting of the rawhide halter and even with being lead by Butch. She took a big sigh of relief and her eye softened greatly. In the end, no-one was hurt(horse or man)and we learned something new. Between the weather and the horses we did not get many horses haltered but we did learn a new aproach to dealing with some of the difficulties of working with these horses coming out of the wild. You can truly go from one extreme to another, with horses and with weather!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

safe arrival

It was one of the coldest mornings I can remember this late spring. The forecast predicted high 60s reaching almost 70!
Today was the day that the horses would be arriving from Nevada and it seems like it would never come. I have been ready for just about a year to start another group of the horses coming out of the wild. I just wanted to discover that last years horses were not some sort of fluke or some streak of luck. I have all the plans in my head of how this years group would be different and how I would implement my changes in training and handling. I could not wait to get started.
The horses arrived safe and sound and not a scratch on them. There is a lot to be said for someone who drives a big truck and takes good care to deliver your horses safely as they ride loose in a straight deck trailer, thank you H.D. Criswell.
The horses settled in quickly and Lunga did not! She was rather upset at her new job as bell mare for a bunch of misfit wild horses. She has long forgotten that in fact she was in this same boat last year as one of the original misfits of the 88 Ranch program. The horses filled up on water and really nice alfalfa hay; it did not take them long to figure out what the feed wagon is all about.
We decided we would start catching horses right away. We wanted to take advantage of the warming weather and the sunshine and of course we could not wait, it was like opening presents on Christmas morning!
I decided I would use my little horse, Pochito, who is also a horse started last year in the program, but by good fortune we have him for the summer. He spent the entire winter doing abosultely nothing and so I can say that he has less than 100 days riding, so it was a perfectly pleasant surpise to have him handle gathering a small group, getting them in one pen and then into another and finally getting down to the work of roping, haltering and leading his very first horse. I was so happy with him, his heart out-weighs his body. He was very patient and very willing and stood his ground when he needed to show his stature and place at the ranch. Good boy, Cheeto Man!
By the end of the day we had managed only 3 horses haltered. We have halters on Gwen, Cueca and poppy. Poppy managed to hit herself on the back of her right front leg, so we spent the latter part of the afternoon doctoring her and she atually let us clean up her wound and put bandages on and a wrap over her leg, so all in all it was a very good day working with the new horses.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Horses in the Wild

It was a cold morning, but the sky was clear and you could count the stars with the greatest of ease. The sun was rising, but all we could see was the glow behind the mountains off to the east. The Red Desert at five o’clock in the morning is something that cannot be justified with words or rarely even with photographs. It is amazingly quiet with a freshness to its being. The desert is honestly in its prime, in this moment.
Driving down the blacktop towards the entrance to the desert floor, I am looking off to the east and then glancing to the west. I am amazed at the difference in the dark and light of both directions. This is very much the yin and yang I would like to know. Without the East, we cannot have the West and the reverse. They are equaled but yet still very different. Dark and light exist together at this moment; we are experiencing them both. Side by side we have the welcomed warmth of the rising sun just over the horizon, and off to the West, we still have the cold dark of night as if we are staring into frigid ocean waters with the threat of falling in. The light brings out all that we wish to see, and at the same time all things reality throws our way, just as the darkness offers excitement of the unknown as well as the feeling of walking with your eyes closed. These are the parallels between two worlds that exist just north of the Little Snake River Valley and Baggs, Wyoming.
If there is truly a heaven on earth, then at this time and in this place…….it is the Red Desert, home of the antelope, the prairie dog, the massive golden eagle and my friend, the horse. We enter heaven as we hit the cattle guard and head west on Standard road in the desert, twenty-five miles north of town. When you live in this part of the world, there are no distractions for man or for Mother Nature. The sun is on the rise and we are doing our best to get deep into the country before the sun is above us. Cecilia and I had been out the previous afternoon walking amongst the horses and we wanted to come out before sunrise to film and photograph during the pre-dawn. We knew the horses would be there, everywhere, but not sure how many groups. We almost needed blinders because we were eager to find the white stallion we spent time with the day before. We practically had to wade through horses in order to get back to his area while we still had time before el sol.
A little back story: Sunday afternoon, we drove out to the desert to look for horses so we could take some photographs, video and to just plain look at them. If we could’ve, we would’ve jumped on them bareback and ridden around the desert looking for more horses, or chased antelope across the sage flats! Anyway, we came upon a small group of horses near the road that were rather accommodating and very much not afraid of us, the truck, the cameras, or even Luli (our dog). We literally had the chance to get to know this young stallion and his family whish consisted of an old grey mare, three of her offspring and one on the way. The stallion was so clean and healthy and very kind. He appeared as if he belonged to someone. It was as if he was brushed daily, blanketed at night to keep his coat slick, and reminded daily of what his manners should be as a stallion amongst people. We had a great time with him and his clan. They even thought well enough of Luli to walk up and give her a once over. We had made friends of them and at that moment it made me realize something…….these are not wild horses, these are horses living in the wild! They do what they have to to survive and they accept us for who we are. I believe we shared a mutual understanding and respect for one another that afternoon. This stallion displayed enormous potential as a sire as well as a performance horse in the equine industry. It was as if his potential and his chance to show the world what he was made of could never be known. Yes, he is majestic out in the wild and he shows wild beauty that so many people think of, but when does it become a side show display of folklore and mystic tale? The fact that we are fighting over gathering or not gathering horses from the wild only cheapens the actual living, breathing west. These horses are sons and daughters of horses once owned by men and ranches who respected horses, who took care of them, who bred them, who loved them. It is as if now we have the Wild West Show all over again for all to see. The West is all bottled up in the wild, and no one is looking; but I am. These horses are legitimate and real. They deserve respect and honor, and between horse and man, we can share a legacy.
We did find the white stallion where he had been the day before and he and his brood were again very good to us. These horses did not act wild as animals do in the wild. They were curious and kind and friendly. They showed patience in us being there and when they had enough they simply walked away. When we think of wild animals in the desert, we think of deer, bear, lions and all of the other creatures that we read about. Do you think of horses when you think of wild animals? When I think of horses in the wild, I think of an evolution of horses from the time when our society truly relied on horses. We needed horses of every shape and size to help us in establishing a foothold in this great country of ours. Like so many things, once we used them up or simply found another way (sometimes not a better way) to do things, we just threw them away. We basically littered the West with unwanted material. If one has to place human characteristics on horses, then this is mine: Imagine how it feels to be laid off from your job, imagine sitting the bench and knowing you are never going to be used again……that is what happened to the horse! From the earliest of days, we dubbed the horse as the beast of burden; we used and relied on them for everything. They were created for our use, our enjoyment. We used them to pull our wagons, to gather maverick cattle from the depths of South Texas and trail them north. We used them in our coal mines and on our ranches and then we used them for our enjoyment as well. As if riding twenty miles to town horseback was not enough, we would spend the rest of the night in rodeo events on that same horse and then ride home! We worked with them, along side them and we enjoyed their company. Our worlds evolved around horses. Slowly we started downsizing and breeding and the horse world changed forever.
The horse world today is divided and specialized and full of many personality types and egos. Everyone sees an opportunity and they do whatever it takes to capitalize on what they see and what they dream of. I see an opportunity to take an endless supply of horses coming out of the wild and giving them the chance to comeback. We turned our backs on them so long ago and I do believe we owe them something, I believe we owe them a great deal! The white stallion is not a mustang, or a wild horse, he is a horse living in the wild. He represents horses coming out of the wild. He is not a side show attraction or a zoo exhibit, he is real and he represents something that can be very real.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I want to get back to the discussion on horses in the wild and the idea that being in the wild and having to survive makes them talented. I do not believe it is so.

I have had a lot of people comment that horses coming out of the wild have a natural lead change, nice stop, and a terrific handle, etc. all they need is training. People tend to give no credit to the trainers who train these horses with such good “wild skills”. The reason we notice this particular horse is because of its natural born abilities. The wild does not make this horse handle. This horse stands out because of its lack of effort to run, stop and turn. It moves with the greatest of ease. You can compare this wild horse in some ways to those great cowponies who seem to read a cow like a book, those perfect polo ponies who will fly down the field as fast as possible and then turn on a dime when the ball changes directions right in front of them. Even the big jumper who seems to have been born with its knees tucked perfectly over a jump and looking for the next one before its front feet hit the ground. The wild horse is not bred out in the wild for one specific thing; but it is born to do many things. They only do what we show them, it is up to us to make it work when it needs to work; stay out of their way when things are perfect. We have the perfect blank slate to work with, if we know what we are looking for! We look for conformation, disposition and that beautiful eye. We look for that horse with presence, with kindness and sometimes with fire. It is very possible that this horse is a descendant of some great horse whose papers were not important, but its heart and ability were.
When we decide that there is more to life than the importance of public and private opinion, when we decide that we cannot ride paper but we can ride a good horse and possibly train some great ones, then we can be a part of a new era and a part of the solution.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Horse Industry

The horse industry as we know it spans the globe. Anyone in this business knows somebody who knows somebody who owns a horse. It could be a quarter horse in Texas who is a half brother to a horse in Germany, it could be a thoroughbred raised in Kentucky and sold in Dubai. I even believe disciplines are just as connected no matter how different. The only boundaries I have experienced in the horse industry are the social boundaries. This leads me to the conclusion that to be a true horse world, we must follow the lead of our horses and recognize no border, no social status and no price to be a true horseman or to own a real horse. We will always be a horse industry but we will be a true horse world as well.

Not too long ago we realized the danger our wild horses in the West. They were facing the danger of vanishing from the range. The ranchers and farmers managed the herds the way they managed their own private stock, but in the end this was not enough. They did in some cases improve different herds of horses in different areas and this lead to the many different areas of beautiful and very usable horses of all shapes and sizes. As a result of the gathering and sorting and protecting theses herds, the BLM developed an adoption program for theses horses which spawned a new type of trainer and horse owner but the industry has yet to grow or to accept this new kid on the play ground. In some ways this is good and in some ways very bad. We have a culture of “Mustang Trainers” but the demand for such horses is low and this keeps the economic growth for the horses very low. We all know that it is a supply and demand world and without the demand we have too much supply. This must change.

The horses that are wild on the range and in Government possession are labeled as Mustangs. I understand this but I have to admit that implies that they are a breed just as the Thoroughbred or the Quarter Horse. We must remember that the Mustang is our recent history’s modern horse. We used them for gathering wild cattle on the open range, we used them to breed our “pure bred” stallions to, to raise our foals; and now they are an icon with very little value and misled respect. Just as the Quarter Horse is our Ranch Horse, the Thoroughbred is our Race horse and even now the Warm Blood is our Dressage Horse, what is the Mustang? The trend is sadly training them to do tricks or to just be owned by someone wanting a piece of the American West in their back yard. I believe these horses are very useful and very trainable and I will refer to them as wild horses. I say this because once you take the wild out of them they are a HORSE and they have the potential and the capability to perform in our horse world and our horse industry. Let us work hard to be horse trainers of wild horses and have a mind that the sky is the limit and that the boundaries that are open to the rest of the horse world include the wild horse.

I can and will make this argument on a personal level because of one particular mare that stands in my pasture and travels with me wherever I go. She was wild as of the spring of this year and she had no identity and now she ceases to be wild and as the identity of a horse as versatile as the man who rides her. I must now rely on the horse world and the horse industry to help make this a legitimate venture and true success. We are now in your hands.

Making the Choice to Stand Out is Making the Choice to Stand Up.

I am heading to Nevada

First off, thank you in advance to those who will read and follow my blogs through out the summer. This is going to be a great undertaking this year and all of the support and interest will be much appreciated by anyone and everyone involved.

To bring this blog up to date so to speak, I, with the help of some very special people have created a program for the reinvigeration of the adoption of wild horses from the BLM(Bureau of Land Management) focusing on the horses of critical age and sex(mares of ages 5 years and older)from the facilties in Sparks, Nevada i.e.,PALAMINO VALLEY CORRALS. We want to create a new business model for the successful training and adoption of those horses branded as permaent residents of the goverment. We are focusing on enlightened philanthropy and showing that we can create an economy and an industry for this particular group of wild horses that can also be applied in the future to any group of wild horses. Although this program is still very much in its infancy, the first year culminated in the successful transition from holding pens to homes across the United States. We learned a great deal from the first years horses(4 geldings ranging from 4 years to 7 years of age and 4 fillies from ages 2 to 5)as well as the publics interest and the evolving needs of the horses still in holding. Our program is ever changing in order to help the horses but also to set ourselves apart from the ever growing themes of contest and makeovers and such. Not to say we do not understand the neccessity of these programs and not to leave out the fact that we do work with Patti Colbert and Kali Sublett of the much appreciated MUSTANG HERITAGE FOUNDATION. Moving on...
This summer we will be working with a hand selected group of 15 mares ranging in ages of 5 years to 7 years of age. I will be heading to Nevada the first week of April to make my selections. The BLM facility has been very helpful and appreciative of our ideas and will give us all of the time we need to make a grand selcetion of horses. I will be focusing strictly on conformation as the crucial importance for training and all around success of these horses. Color will be a bonus for some of the selected mares. The horses will arrive to the 88 ranch in Baggs, Wyoming the last week of April.
My brother, Tommy Gesell will spend his entire summer at the ranch helping with the training. We will be blogging daily on the progression of the horses as well as focusing on the acceptance of training, discipline, and all around work ethic of each individual horse. This will be a great undertaking which many say cannot be done, and I want to remind those who read and discuss our bogs, that we wish to remain out of the polotics of the wild horses and focus on the solutions and futures we are trying to create for those horses in holding who have been branded as permanant collections.