Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sally (She's a Mustang, and That's Her Name)

It's nice to know that at least one other reader of my occaisional writing is a "horse person." Horses are a passion of mine. I love them deeply. I feel better and act better when I am in regular contact with horses. I keep three right now, two of them are Arabians, which I adore. They are tough, fleet, and have legendary endurance. They are also about as smart as horses come (which, by the way, isn't all that smart).

This isn't about anything with a pedigree though. This is about a mustang. An American mutt of a critter. Just like me.

The history of the mustang is fairly well known. When the Europeans came (except for the Vikings), they brought horses. As anyone who has lived with horses will tell you, horses escape. Fences and other protective barriers get brought down and breached by weather, vandals, thieves, and many other causes. If you breach a fence, the horses take off. There was a long time in the history of the continent where horses did quite well on their own. We have never truly bred out the herd instincts they have so, when on their own, they simply herd up, sort things out and go looking for food and water.

The magnificent Andalusian war horses of the Spanish were on the first ships. Along with them were Barbs, various draft horses, mules, and asses. There were escapes and run offs on every trip, landing, battle, march and encampment. These were the horses that formed the base genetic code for the Western Mustang. As the British and French invaded (sorry, but the place was already settled) the continent their horses escaped and joined in the mix. This mixing of the genetic codes produced what we call Mustangs. The horse cultures of the Native Americans (which is not something that includes my people the White Mountain Apaches) soon experienced an immediate benefit. By using the mustangs they were able to efficiently hunt and exploit the vast herds of bison, something that was very hard to do on foot.

Since the 50's, with the population explosion out here in the West, the mustangs have been put under tremendous pressure. They need lots of open space and free migration routes to keep themselves fed. Those, sadly, are a thing of the past. Before anyone starts to wax all poetic about the wonderful free life of the mustang I must take a moment to disabuse that. Most mustangs live a short life now. Usually they die of starvation, injury, or from bad water. They are also pretty hard on any landscape they inhabit. Not being able to move around like they once did, any resources they find are quickly used up. Often they are used to the point where they do not return.

This is why the bureau of land management has the adoption program. When they see a population of wild horses growing to the point of environmental destruction, or when they see a herd that is being monitored in danger of starving or dying of thirst, they move in, capture them and put them up for adoption.

That's how I found my Sally. She's the fourth mustang that I've taken in. Usually with a mustang I take them home, turn them out and feed them. Get them acclimated to people slowly and then, if they allow it, I train them. I have found mustangs to be about the best children's mount going. They run small. My vet figures that if she had been given access to a decent food supply that Sally would have stood about 15 hands. That's a good, average size for a horse. Instead Sally stands at 12 1/2. Except for her hooves. Compared to the rest of her, her feet are enormous. Imagine a person that's 5'4" but wears a size 12 shoe. Big old feets. Another big plus with the mustangs is temperment. They grow up having to run, fight, run some more, fight some more for every single mouthfull of food and water they get. After a few months around me they are thinking "Wow! This is like horsey heaven! All this food that they just throw at me and tasty water to drink that I don't have to fight for. This is a nice herd too, nobody's fighting all the time. That big stud guy is kept in solitary where him and his big old horse dick belong, and the other males are, well, somehow, nicer to me. I better stick with these guys as long as I can." Since most of my training style involves me working with and through herd dynamics this desire to be and remain part of the herd here is a very powerfull incentive for the mustang to cooperate with the training process. With very little effort at all I can teach a mustang how to respond to commands eagerly. Anther big plus with the mustangs is that they're sturdy. Here's an animal that never saw a vet, never had a shoe, never had any human care at all, and damned little care from the other horses to boot. The mere fact that they survive up to the capture point and then survive that process speaks of a horse that has few if any structural flaws. The mustangs are also brave. One of the biggest things we have to overcome when working with our horses is that their very first and most powerfull response to any stimulus is to Run Like Hell Right Now! A mustang that has been through the process of being captured, vet checked, penned up, branded or tattooed, transported, and all the other indignities they are subjected to before they are transported again to a new, very strange place really can't be surprised any further. Once they get the hang of a rider or a pack saddle, on the trail they are what we wilderness riders call bomb proof. You could ride Sally through Bagdhad and she wouldn't blink an eye. Mostly though, Sally's best job is to carry the pack saddle. Her herd instinct is so strong that she doesn't require much tether control at all. She just keeps up. When my son and I go out on our elk hunts we have Sally with us to help pack our stuff in and out. We pretty much load her up and go about our business. She goes along with us, making sure she keeps us in sight every step of the way. As soon as I dismount though she comes over for her stick of licorice. She would charge into the teeth of hell for licorice or carrots. Once, while hunting, we cut some cougar sign. Even a long time smoker like me could tell from sense of smell alone that there was a cougar in the neighborhood. Instead of running away, Sally got in closer to the herd and to us.

Like I said she's small, but her heart is Clydesdale size. When I come out in the morning to turn them out from their stalls and toss the first food of the day, Sally is right there. She follows me around, often nudging with her head if she thinks I'm not paying enough attention to her. I sing to her like I sing to all my other animals. And no, her theme song is not "Mustang Sally." It's Mabel's short little aria at the end of "Pirates of Penzance."

"Poor Wandering One,
Though you have truly strayed
Chasten thy pace
Thy steps retrace
Wandering one, come home.

Poor Wandering One,
If such poor love as mine
Can help you find
True peace of mind
Take heart, for it,
Is thine."

I encourage every horse lover I know to adopt and bring a mustang into the family. Us American Mutts got to stick together.

crossranged at 3B's


Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:41 PM  
Anonymous Vervet said...

I think horses are beautiful and courageous, and I loved your post about Sally. That being said, the few times I have actually riden a horse have not been pleasant, so I have no desire to ride them-just to look at them and watch them move.
I do have 3 "all-american" dogs though-a mini schnauzer-chihuahua-rat terrier mix, a chihuahua-corgi mix, and an affenpinscher-chihuahua mix.
They are the loves of my life. They have theme songs too.

10:05 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

anon: i encourage and defend a totally free fire speech zone here. that means that even illiterate, factless, all caps bullshit like what you just spewed will be left alone. one of the most beautiful things that happens when working with a horse is that there is a time when the horse connects with the fact that working with the rider enhances the horse's safety. when a horse will allow its rider to direct somewhere or someplace it would not normally go because it believes the rider knows and comprehends things that the horse cannot is something that is wonderfull to experience. there are other times, like going through thick brush or night riding where the best technique a rider can use is to surrender all control and trust the horse to bring them both through. but silly things like saying "all animals are smart" just doesn't face up to the facts of the natural world. it is as deluded in its premise as the "man is granted dominion over the animals by god" bullshit.

vervet: i have a friend who comes to visit from l.a. two or three times a year. he doesn't ride (back problems) but he loves to sit with me and watch the horses. they are beautiful. theme songs for animals are a great thing to have. the old trail bosses used singing voice as a hiring criteria because they knew that the cattle did much better when the men riding nighthawk sang to them. if i start singing one of my horse's theme songs when i'm going out to the corral, the one whose song is being sung usually responds. many times while riding i have felt the horse slide into the rythym of the song that i'm singing. it's like when soldiers count cadence marching. it puts us in synch.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Vervet said...

Minstrel Boy,
I have knee problems, although I don't think that's the reason I don't ride horses. Part of it is fear, which I am sure is communicated to the horse. Part of it is just my incredible, lifelong clumsiness which makes me reluctant to sit atop a large, very strong, and (to me) unpredictable animal.

2:54 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

they can be very unpredictable, and definitely dangerous. there was a mounted infantry commander during the civil war, john buford, who at gettysburg told his troops before a confederate assault on the first day "shoot for the riders men. a dead horse is good cover, a loose horse is 1,000 pounds of panic." your fear is reasonable, and respecting it is prudent. i probably should have quit riding after my third knee surgery. instead, i try to be less reckless. i will probably have a horse or two wandering the grounds when my riding days are over. i love them that much.

11:27 PM  
Blogger konagod said...

Nice post MB. I long for the day when we have enough acreage to adopt all sorts of critters. My friend in Arkansas has two horses so I can get my horse fix (that's stretching it a bit since I'm not what I'd call a "horse person") when I visit her. Hers are very friendly though -- but the size of them is intimidating!

9:15 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

one of the hardest things about weeks like this where i'm stuck in the city (it's the beach but still too fucking crowded) is that i hate being away from my critters and my nice, quiet life. i guess i'm just an ol' stick in the mud anymore. sally is special to me because she's been through so much and still has that spirit and dignity. i really push mustangs with people. you have to be very discerning when you're checking them out. you have to be on guard for chronic conditions and deformities. but if you take a friendly vet or are a judge of horseflesh (which we indins pride ourselves on) you can come away with a total gem like sally. it's worth the effort and time to give a critter like her a chance for a decent life.

2:40 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home