I blame Netflix and our realtor for the next equine fiasco in the Gardner Farm story. Now I take full responsibility for everything that happened, (I’m big on owning the consequences of one’s mistakes) but I do hold him at least ten percent responsible. If you are looking for the farm starter kit, we have the realtor for you! (Seriously he’s awesome and even though we aren’t planning on going anywhere soon, he has two loyal customers when we do!) After making us aware of Beau Pony’s plight, and assisting us with Beau’s transport to the farm, our realtor planted the next seed in Darling husband’s brain.
I had passed up watching the documentary “Unbranded” on Netflix several times. The opening scene was enough to turn me off which is saying a lot. I’m an avid equine movie enthusiast. No matter how horrible the film, if there is a horse, I will endure poorly written scripts, bad acting, and completely cheesy plots.
For an equestrian, most horse movies are intolerable for the following reasons: First, wild and/or damaged horses never find their soulmates in teenagers that have zero horse experience (those horses generally maim and/or kill said teenagers). Second, there are only a limited number of competitions that have payouts large enough to save farms from impending foreclosure, and they generally require at least a season of successful competition to qualify to compete for the big bucks. Third, the competitions with huge payouts are usually only ever won by the competitors that have spent years (more like lifetimes) developing the skills and animals to compete at that level. Although, you can sometimes skip to the head of the line if daddy forks out over $100K for the horse flesh and big name trainer. Sorry Sarah, your aunt is going to lose the farm, and your bond with Flicka the un-ride-able, will not generate the income to save it in less than a week.
Back to Unbranded…The film came highly recommended by our realtor. It’s a film created by four Texas A&M students that chronicles their journey from the Mexican border to the Canadian border entirely on horseback using all Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Mustangs. If you are not aware, the BLM is responsible for all of the wild equine (mustangs and burros) in the United States. The BLM allows the public to “adopt” wild horses and burros of their very own in order to control herd populations and maintain a proper ecosystem balance. Basically the program keeps animals from starving to death in the wild.
Unbranded is partially a propaganda film, but does raise awareness for the quandary of the American mustang, which is a good thing. However, the movie also planted a bug in Darling husband’s brain. With Rio headed off to his new home, this bug triggered Darling husband’s subconscious reaction to a horse ad on Facebook.
Richard (who TF names a horse Richard?) is a damaged horse. Odessa may have been severely malnourished, but Richard’s story is tragic on an entirely different level. Rounded up from the wild (placed in a government holding pen), Richard was selected as a horse to compete in the Mustang Million (Salvation! Until it wasn’t). This is a competition where trainers have 100 days to train a wild animal to compete for a cash prize. At the end of competition horses are auctioned off to new homes with the proceeds funding mustang programs or may be purchased by their trainer. Richard went home with his trainer.
We don’t have exact details, but we do know the highlights. Falling on hard times, Richard’s trainer allowed him to nearly starve to death, and brought him to a barn in Central Texas where he and Richard could get back on their feet. Richard and his trainer then moved out of state, but returned to the same barn in Texas when times got hard again. Richard was for a second time in his life on death’s door due to lack of adequate feed. At this point Richard’s trainer abandoned him at the barn, and two years later the barn owner had given up hope that he would see Richard’s owner again. During this time, Richard had been on pasture board with a herd of yearlings. Recovering from a recent back surgery the barn owner decided to cut his losses and sell Richard when he brought his next crop of horses in for training.
Darling Husband came across the ad for Richard, and fell immediately in love. There were other ads, and we visited other potential horses, but the Unbranded film had worked its magic. On the night we went to “vet” (who are we kidding, pick up Richard) Richard was being worked in a round pen by the barn owner/cutting horse trainer. He was a little on the nervous side, but responded well to the trainer’s cues. The trainer let us know that he had only worked Richard for about two weeks prior to our arrival, and really didn’t know much about the horse’s previous training except he had a feeling that Richard had been handled abusively based on the horse’s behavior.
Richard was a pretty shade of gray. Other than that he wasn’t much to look at. His head reminded me of a mule, and his legs were thick like a draft horse without the body to match. His legs made a funny paddling motion when he trotted out, which I discovered upon further research is a gait some mustangs have called the “Indian Shuffle.” I was not impressed, which meant this would be the horse Darling Husband could not live without. So, we loaded Richard up.
If Rio, the equine god, did not prove a suitable mount for Darling Husband, nothing about a damaged mustang would. After giving Richard (now dubbed Battle, because again, who TF names a horse Richard?) a week to settle in, I decided it was time to see what we had on our hands. I was two months postpartum and hadn’t quite gathered my riding balance back, but that didn’t stop me from taking him into the middle of the pasture, and mounting up. I reasoned that I could ride a bolt and run endless circles if need be, but if he bucked, I didn’t want to be near any structure I could be thrown into. I’d rather hit the ground and roll. A lot of trainers may not agree with my method, but I do fear being thrown into a fence, tree, rock more than hitting solid ground and rolling.
Surprisingly nothing happened, Battle was tense at first, but gradually began to relax. We walked several circles, and when the tension began to ease, I asked for a trot with no fireworks. After working for about thirty minutes, the horse had settled, and I called it a day. This went on for two weeks, but by this point we had three horses (Odessa, Battle, and stay tuned for the next post!) in training and only one butt getting any saddle time. Darling Husband and I both decided that Battle would need more training time than I could dedicate, and truthfully I think Darling Husband felt better having a “professional” prepare the horse for him. I wasn’t going to argue, because the “mustang magic” is really lost on me anyway.
Battle was sent to a trainer that came highly recommended by the same person that had recommended our farrier. We loved our farrier so much, we had no reason to question the suitability of the trainer. The horse world is full of charlatan’s, and unfortunately we had unknowingly sent our damaged mustang to one. Thirty days later when the trainer returned Battle to our care, we realized our blunder.
There wasn’t anything telling about Battle’s experience at the trainer. He appeared in good shape, and there were no signs of rough handling. It wasn’t until I swung my leg over Battle the first time, that our mistake became apparent. By apparent I mean, my butt had barely brushed the saddle when Battle went into full Bronc mode. Battle had never offered to buck prior to going to a “professional” trainer, and I had been completely unprepared to rodeo. After three good, head between his knees, back rolling front end to rear, all four legs off the ground, the two of us getting closer to the fence line kind of bucks, I bailed off. (Like I said, I have a fear of being thrown into vertical objects)
Now I’ve experienced my share of involuntary equine assisted dismounts, but this was the first time in thirty plus years that my head made contact with the ground at the same time my body did. I didn’t lose consciousness, but once my lungs filled with air and I attempted to stand, my world went black. Turning in a circle, I literally could not see anything. I dropped to my knees for what felt like an eternity before the blackness gave way to first light, then blurs of color, then fuzzy shapes, and the world slowly began to come back into focus just about the same time a searing pain was shooting up my left arm. Battle was continuing the saddle bronc routine riderless around the pasture. (He was captured, unsaddled and returned to his grazing. No animals were harmed in the incident, only humans)
Despite my weak protest that all was fine, Darling Husband insisted that I get a cat scan. Apparently my crash landing was visually horrific even though I’ve felt worse. It’s a fun thing to explain equine induced injuries to medical professionals. I guess it’s hard for the uninitiated to understand why you would voluntarily get on an unpredictable 1200 lb animal, let alone voluntarily dismount it from a height of six to eight feet while it’s traveling at an estimated twenty miles per hour. Domestic abuse seems more plausible, so Darling Husband received several sideways glances during our visit. I mentally made a note to check my life-insurance policy, if we were keeping this horse an upgrade was probably necessary.
As an avid equine flick enthusiast, I am absolutely obsessed with the Canadian TV show, Heartland, and this adventure brought me face to face with a real life Amy Fleming. Darling Husband and I decided that this incident was definitely outside the realm of “expected equine tumbles” and that we needed to find a trainer that specialized in mustangs. Cue Amy Fleming 2.0. The Mustang Heritage Foundation gave us all of the information they had on Battle based on his neck brand. They also hooked us up with one of their featured trainers (Amy 2.0) who also works with their veteran’s program.
Jury’s still out on how fortuitous this introduction really was. We now have two mustangs instead of one. Like all of our other equine decisions, just because it’s a bad idea doesn’t make us love it any less. In the end Amy 2.0 was great with Battle, and we are slowly erasing years of neglect and mistreatment with kindness and patience. She also encouraged Darling Husband to participate in the Mustangs & Veteran’s program, which was a great experience for him. We’re considering participating in a Mustang Makeover event after we get our current two trained (why not, when our first mustang experience was so great?). Life often chooses the path and destination for you. Neither Darling Husband or I could have envisioned the wonderful new friends we would make all because Battle decided to launch me across the pasture.