Up until this point our experiences with ponies and mustangs had been so great, we thought “Why the hell not?” Let’s just add one of each simultaneously to our herd. Darling Husband had been informed by Amy 2.0 (as in shout out to Amy Fleming on Heartland) that there was one open slot in the next Mustang Heritage Foundation Veterans & Mustang 2018 (M&V 2018) program.
For those of you that have not read my previous posts (why?), Amy 2.0 is a mustang whisperer. Now, seriously all these posts build, you missed some literary gold, and you really don’t want me to attempt to recap all of our bad decisions here. I tend to go down rabbit holes (especially while drinking and typing), and the story will lose all illusion of coherency. I recommend starting with “The Farm Mascot.” My first post was total shit. I was just warming up, but that second post is where the fun begins.
So Darling Husband is convinced by Amy 2.0 to participate in the Mustangs & Veterans program which was great. He would get the opportunity to learn from a professional, hang out with other veterans, and we were helping one more mustang find a home. I would learn some cool tricks vicariously through Darling Husband. Everything would be awesome.
The weekend before M&V 2018 started, Bowie Livestock Auction began posting their monthly catalog sale animals on Facebook. My news feed was blowing up, and there it was, a bay blanket appaloosa pony mare. I needed this pony (I did NOT need this pony). As adorable as she was, I knew that she would be a little nightmare like every other pony I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. If by some chance this pony was an angel, it would take about two days before our ponies assisted her fall into the demon ranks of hell. So I did the responsible adult thing. Just kidding, if I made those kind of decisions I wouldn’t be a horse person and would have nothing to write about. I signed up for a bidder number and planned to watch the auction online.
Now some of the M&V 2018 participants were eager to get a jump on introductions and made plans to meet at the Mustang Heritage Foundation for a picture the same day as Bowie’s auction. Relief instantly washed over me, these veterans would save me from myself. We would be at the MHF, and I wouldn’t be able to watch the auction or bid. Bowie’s mobile platform sucks, they should really work on that, you know for impulsive auction shoppers.
Darling Husband could not let reason, logic, and a connectivity issue break our current streak of stellar equine decisions. He suggested that I bring my laptop and use my cell phone as a hotspot. So there we are, Darling Husband meeting his new friends, me antisocial, and watching the auction in the truck. I set a bid limit. I refused to go over “X” number of dollars for this pony.
Finally THE Pony is led into the auction pen. Bidding started and after three bids, I tapped out (or thought I did). The bids went past my maximum amount, and I sadly (but truthfully relieved) informed Darling Husband who had joined me in the truck, that the pony would go to someone else’s farm. “I don’t think so.” Darling Husband said. “I think there was a lag time in the connection. I’m pretty sure we just bought that pony.” No! That was 25% more than my self-imposed maximum limit! Then “Thank you Gardner Farm!” flashed across the auction comments.
I freaked out. Darling Husband reassured me that everything would be fine Of course he would say that, he was currently 0 for 3 on horse choices. Once I had calmed down, Darling Husband suggested I find out when I needed to pick up the pony from the auction barn three hours away. Then we had to plan logistics. Darling Husband would be at his M&V 2018 program all week. Pony needed to be picked up during normal business hours on Tuesday, and that meant I would be picking the pony up alone.
Up until this point, I had no need to pull my own trailer. Darling Husband was always around, he’s a control freak, and I really don’t like driving that much anyway. Also, while I had driven a truck/gooseneck combination some fifteen years before, I didn’t have extensive or recent experience (no worries, had to be like riding a bike). I didn’t relish the idea of going that far completely by myself. While I love solo road trips, I had visions of me stranded on the interstate, impact wrench in hand changing a trailer tire. So I coerced a friend with twenty plus years tractor/trailer experience to ride along, because I’m a problem solver like that.
I hooked the trailer up by myself (that was completely like riding a bike), and off we went. Despite a torrential down pour and Dallas traffic, we reached our destination without incident and loaded the pony up. On the way home, I may or may not have cut a turn too close while stopping for fuel (small dent in the trailer fender). We arrived home, safely.
Now I had been dreading backing down our driveway (Darling Husband always backs), but that’s why I brought an expert (professional truck driver) with me. I turned the truck over to him. After 6 hours of driving, I was too mentally exhausted to practice my backing skills. I just really needed a beer. One minor problem, our goose neck trailer operates slightly different than a fifth-wheel semi trailer. Now there is a crease in the top of the bed of our brand new Ram 3500 (that’s why we have insurance, right?), great first trip!
Two days later Darling Husband, Offspring, five other veterans, and myself were at the Bell County Expo Center waiting for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to unload four semi-trailers of mustangs and burros. BLM was having an adoption event, but they were giving the M&V 2018 first pick of the mustangs. The horses were unloaded, and the veterans started the process of selecting their new partners. I spent four hours chasing Offspring around the expo center, dragging him out of a lagoon of pooled water in the outdoor arena, retrieving his submerged shoes and toys from said lagoon, and then bathing him in the restroom sink.
While we were hoping to find a larger, slightly older mustang to adopt, in the end Darling Husband chose a grulla yearling filly. She may mature to fifteen hands tall, but I’m not holding my breath (at least she’s a good height for me to practice mounting bareback from the ground). Dakoda (aka Koda) is definitely Darling Husband’s best horse selection to date, even if she was a wild caught mustang with no human interaction until this little adoption event. Darling Husband and Koda were the first veteran and mustang pair to “bond.” She craved attention, and with only a few hours of work, Koda allowed Darling Husband to touch her, remove her neck tag, and lay a rope over her.
After a vet check our newest pony, Moonshine, was released into Apple Jack and Tater Tot’s (Apple Jack’s foal) pasture. We were worried how she would behave around Tater, but after a few days Tater seemed confused which mare in the paddock was her mother. Tater spent more time with Moonshine than Apple Jack, and Apple Jack was more than happy to let someone else takeover toddler supervision (I can totally sympathize). As predicted, like the ponies that proceeded her, it didn’t take more than a week before Moonshine was taunting the big horses on the other side of the fence.
Six weeks later, Koda and Darling Husband demonstrated their progress with the rest of the mustang/veteran teams. The progress these mustangs and their veteran handlers made in a six week period was amazing. A few of the veterans were even able to ride their horses by the end. Darling Husband and I met so many wonderful people through the M&V 2018, and while you can never predict the future, I feel there were some lifelong friendships created. The group had big plans for veteran and mustang outreach, and I hope they see some of those dreams realized in 2020.
Koda’s arrival on the farm was pretty anticlimactic after the M&V 2018 graduation ceremony. We kept her in a round pen for two weeks before introducing her to the other horses. There are currently two mustangs from Koda’s adoption event running wild in the suburbs of Killeen, that animal control has failed to capture, because their adopters seriously underestimated how high the animals could jump. Koda may not be tall, but she can clear a four foot obstacle from a standstill, which she proved by clearing our box stall gate her second day on the farm while tied in the stall. We’re still not sure how that even happened.
Once Koda settled to farm life, Darling Husband felt introducing her to the ponies first would be our safest course of action. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that nothing could be further from reality. We have two years worth of experiences and vet bills as evidence that ponies are evil creatures that exist only to torture their larger equine cousins, but we’re forever optimists.
On the day we released Koda into the pony paddock, Moonshine appointed herself Tater’s body guard. Apple Jack ensured that Koda did not approach humans or feed pans. When Tater (who barely comes up my knee) could give Moonshine the slip, she would run hot laps around and underneath of Koda kicking out at her legs. Tater’s favorite activity is to stand underneath Koda’s belly and buck, throwing her butt into Koda’s belly.
To her credit Koda took all of their bullying tactics in stride. Koda and Tater are still very much babies, and I guess it must be the closeness in age and mental development that allowed Koda and Tater to become such good friends. Tater is still a bully, but at one eighth Koda’s size, Koda has learned ignoring Tater’s antics is the easiest way to get her to quit. Moonshine and Apple Jack continue to re-enforce that Koda is the lowest in herd pecking order on a daily basis, but in the end no one died, was seriously injured, or left the farm in search of a better herd. We’ve even caught Koda laying down with Tater Tot curled up by her side for a nap.
This is the final installment of “Gardner Hard Luck Horse Farm, A History.” (Harry Potter humor if you picked up on it) Now the real struggle of maintaining the blog begins. I’ve run through most of our past materials pretty quickly. Hope you’ve enjoyed it! Thank you to anyone that has made it this far, and if you found this even mildly entertaining, please share with your friends!