Little Lunga

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.