Mustangs 4 Us
The Story of Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark in their younger days, playing on the South Steens desert - photo from BLM archives
Older Horses affected by the new Conrad Burns Sale Law.
|I went to Las Vegas Cowboy Christmas in 2003, where I purchased a beautiful photograph of two wildly colored stallions. I've had it hanging in my living room ever since I bought it. (Photo removed at request of photographer) It shows the same horses as in this photo (from the BLM archives - non-copyrighted).|
|In January of 2005, this horse, along with 5 other older flashy pinto stud horses, appeared on the BLM's quarterly Internet Adoption:|
I said, "Wait a minute! I know that horse!"
Mark for mark, tiny white fleck for tiny white fleck, "smudged lipstick" above the lips, it is the exact same horse as the one in my photo.
|Just as the Internet Adoption was getting started, the new sale law went into affect, and the BLM had to pull the 6 older Oregon horses off the Internet Adoption (since they are no longer eligible for adoption under the new law - they can only be sold). I was one of the people who called to see what was up, so they put me on a list of "Interested Parties" for when they figured out what to do.|
In the meantime, someone pointed out to me that the other horse in the photo was also in the group of 6.
And then people started sending me all these photos (such as the ones below, which Andi Harmon took 10 years ago) with these same two horses together, so it became clear that these two had been together most of their lives.
Andi Harmon, who lives near Burns and South Steens HMA, writes:
It seemed to me that these horses, who had brought so much pleasure and beauty to so many people over the years, deserved better treatment than a feedlot and a trip to the slaughter house. AND, I thought it only fair that they should get to finish out their lives together.
What the BLM decided was that they would hold a special auction for just the 6 horses that had been pulled off the Internet Adoption, limited to the people who had already called in, which included me. So I faxed in my bid and waited to hear. One morning in mid-March Don Glenn of National BLM called and said I am the "winner" of both!We named them "Lewis and Clark." Which one is which? We'll have to see when we meet them. (Postscript: We decided on the mostly white one as Lewis and the mostly brown one, Clark.)
|We left Napa, California on April 18, bound for Burns, Oregon, to pick up Lewis and Clark. After nearly 4 months of thinking about these guys, we were finally going to meet them in person. We were excited, but also scared to death. Older wild stud horses? The unadoptables. What were we thinking of? What would we do?|
California was sunny springtime, but just over Donner Summit into Nevada, a late winter storm covered most of the Great Basin - cold, windy, with rain-sleet-hail-snow squalls.
Into Eastern Oregon, we caught a glorious glimpse of the Steens Mountain Range, home of Lewis and Clark - looks like a beautiful but rugged and very cold place to be!
We got to Burns after dark, checked into the Best Inn, ate at the Castle Restaurant, and woke up very early on the morning of the 19th.
We drove out to the BLM corrals, and there they were - the last four of the "Internet Six." Each one was even more beautiful than in the photos!
Watching the horses, and seeing how bonded Lewis and Clark were to one another, I felt good that I had made the decision to get both of them, to keep the two together.
We went inside and met the wranglers, Gary and Wendy - super nice people, very "real" and helpful. Andi Harmon arrived and we finally got to meet in person, after exchanging email for so many years! Andi took many of the photos of Lewis and Clark in their younger days on the Steens Range.
The wranglers told us that years ago they had gathered Clark, the little one, and had released him, as they deemed him such an excellent individual who could improve the herd. (I totally agree! He is exceptional - not just his color, but his build) He was branded way back then, which is how they know how old he is.
Here they come! Into the loading chutes. These guys run faster than Seabiscuit!
"Crashy" to the max. Totally freaked out.
"What are we in for?" I wondered...
The first hour in the trailer they were so jumpy it was sometimes hard to control the vehicle. When a semi would pass us they went absolutely crazy, and the trailer rocked dangerously.
Abducted by Aliens? The look in their eyes says they think so! These are horses who have never before seen cars, trucks, neon lights, tall buildings, etc.
|Eventually they got used to trucks, and by the time we got to Winnemucca (stopped for gas) they had calmed down enough that we could stand on the trailer's bumper and talk with them without freaking them out - they would actually look at us and lick and chew.|
Our fear had always been that they would come crashing out and make a run for it, killing themselves when they hit the opposite side of the pen. But no, when they finally did step out, and they just walked out and started eating - very calmly.
|By the time we got to Reno they thankfully no longer reacted to trucks at all, as there were LOTS of them (got there for rush hour in a hail storm). By the time we gassed up again at Boomtown, they were more concerned about the casino than they were about people looking at them.|
We made it over the pass into California with no problems. The lady at the Truckee inspection station had to come out and look - shook Mike's hand, said it was a wonderful thing, etc.
This morning it's the same - very relaxed, very calm, just eating and sniffing and occasionally looking at us and even walking over not too far from us.
Lewis, the older one (21), is HUGE (15.3 hands) - a big spotted draft horse (with long, thick feathery legs and long thick forelock and mane) with very big, kind old eyes. Very calm and self-confident.
|Clark (16, but he looks like a 3 year old) is little (14.2 hh) and much more high strung. He is very dependent on Lewis for comfort and guidance - at first he stuck to him like glue - now is loosening up enough to go to the other side of the pen by himself. His overly-developed jowls testify that he has been a stud horse up until recently, however, and he has all the stud behaviors - he's on VERY "High Alert."|
By afternoon they are very relaxed, and seem to enjoy watching us, as well as eating and basking in the sun. Lewis has made a few steps toward us, especially in reponse to handfuls of grass offfered him. He WANTS to take them, just isn't quite ready yet.
4 - 23 - 2005 Clark Meets Lesley Neuman
|For the rest of the week after we got the boyz home, we just left them in their pen to settle, and visited them on our side of the fence. Then on Saturday, Lesley Neuman came to work with Clark. We had asked the wranglers at the Burns corrals to put a halter and lead rope on Clark, so Lesley could work him - we thought he was the greater "handful" of the two horses, so figured he should be Lesley's candidate <g>. Lesley wanted to include a segment on older horses in her new video, which she and Mike are working on. (Stay tuned!)|
This photo is somewhat out of sequence, as it shows the halter rope functioning properly. But I put it here to show that a mainstay of gentling in the round pen is to establish good movement - not jumpy, not freaked out, not running laps a mile a minute, just nice relaxed trotting and walking, with the body softening and flexing toward the human rather than away.
Over night Clark had apparently rolled and gotten his lead rope wrapped over his ear, so one of Lesley's first goals was to get it unwrapped. To do that she used a special lasso with a quick release loop, to de-condition Clark to the feel of ropes, and when he was pretty calm, she was able to use a fiberglass fence rod to pull the lead rope over his head and back into position.
She also, at some point, introduced him to the "flag"
One thing positive about the mature mustang mind is that once they get over it, they're over it. We were all surprised at how quickly Clark accepted ropes and flags.
Getting up close and touching was something else. This photo looks good, but if you look more closely, you'll see the arched neck, the tight jaw, the overly alert expression - Clark is not sure he's ready for this, yet. But note the slack in the rope - he also isn't extremely afraid.
After a few hours, Lesley invited me to come into the pen to learn how to work with Clark.
I guess I don't look REAL self-confident here, but on the other hand, it was suprisingly not scary. Here I'm stopping his motion with a hindquarter yield.
Taking a break for licking and chewing.
The neat thing about wild horses is how light they are and how good at reading tiny changes in body language. I found that this was actually a lot of fun. Here I'm teaching him to back up.
Lesley's parting evaluation was that it may be some while before Clark wants to be cuddled. So instead of focusing on touching, we should "develop a business relationship" with him - give him jobs to do, keep him on the other end of the lead rope and teach him his ground work exercises. In this way he will learn to trust us more, while staying at a safe distance. Sounds good to me.
|Lewis is now in his own square pen, so we are going to the sporting goods store today to get a bamboo pole to start to work with Lewis.||We cannot thank our teachers, Lesley Neuman, Jerry Tindell, and Kitty Lauman enough for the skills and tools they have given us in order to help these old boyz ease into domesticity, which is really their only choice in life at this point.|
April 25, 2005: Lewis Meets the Bamboo Pole
|We decided to take the pressure off Clark for awhile. He is still breathing fire, and very stressed, just being here. And EVERYONE is warning us not to let him come in too close to us physically until he calms down. So I am going over to his pen for multiple brief visits, usually just leaving him a gift of fresh-cut grass, occasionally asking him to practice his shoulder yield turns, which I can get him to do without going into his pen. I stand on the first rung of the panels and direct him like an orchestra conductor. They guy definitely reads body language!As soon as he does it, I step off the fence and praise him warmly, and he watches in astonishment as I walk away and go get him another handful of grass clippings.|
Other than that, we are just letting him settle.
|However, we really feel that Lewis is reachable - he is a mellower guy, and more self-confident, and he does not seem entirely opposed to making contact and getting along with us. So we went to the garden store and bought a couple of long bamboo poles, and watched Kitty Lauman's "From Wild To Willing" DVD again, and then headed out to the barn to see Lewis.|
This was actually scarier than it looks in the picture. This fellow is HUGE and capable of being explosive - not as bad as Clark, but intimidating, to say the least. He stood still while Mike introduced him to the pole, but he was poised to take off or strike.
As soon as the pole actually touched him, it was off to the races. Like probably 30 or 40 laps - we were beginning to wonder if he would ever stop - incredible endurance!
While continuiong to run around the pen, Lewis did begin to relax, going less feverishly, less frantically, but still going... He finally paused a second, and Mike removed the pole and praised him.
Then time for the other side - his initial reaction was more explosive than the first time, but he stopped after just a couple of laps around the pen - much quicker to learn on this side.
When he stopped, he allowed Michael to rub him with the pole. He seemed not to mind at all after awhile. He would turn often and look at Mike right in the eye. Then we figured that was enough for tonight.
Michael put away the pole, left the pen, and we sat for awhile in the feed alley, and Lewis just gave us this long, long stare - and I think I detected a change in his expression - like he was trying to figure it all out, and that he was starting to realize that we aren't intending to eat him. He started to lick and chew, while still staring. Then we got busy and allowed him to go back to his hay.
So we are feeling pretty good that Lewis is going to be okay.
April 28 - Beginning our Second Week with Lewis and Clark
Lewis is doing better every day with the bamboo pole sessions. He stands still almost immediately, licks and chews a little, and seems almost to enjoy it. Today Michael was able to move the pole from Lewis' head to the tail with no issues.
He tried to touch Lewis' chest, which Lewis did not like, but he didn't actually freak about it - just took a few steps and twitched his tail.
Clark can handle having his pen cleaned, even erratic movements, such as here Mike is waving his arms to see if Clark can handle it. He noticed, but continued to eat.
This may not seem like much, but for Clark, this is HUGE progress!
Mike is cleaning Clark's pen, and, although he is not unconcerned, he isn't freaked either.
Saturday, April 30 was Lewis and Clark's day off, while we took Ruby, Sparky and Benny to the Napa Valley Horsemen's Open House, where we gave a Mustangs demo.
May 1 - It started out back to the races.
Look Lewis - I can pole the donkeys and drink coffee at the same time and they don't care!
The races ended very quickly, and Mike started poling at the top where Lewis is comfortable, then started moving to new territory
Ended up having a great session - touched Lewis all the way down his hips on both sides, and over his tail. Progress - slow, but still progress
Clark seems much more interested, less apprehensive, less snorty.
|5-4-05 - No pictures - I worked with Clark in the round pen, moving him right and left, asking him to face up, etc. |
Mainly we're continuing to work on moving him slowly, at a relaxed pace. He did really well, seemed to be sort of hooking on, wanting to follow me and even taking a few steps in toward me - but I kept him back - I don't trust him yet to come too close - not sure his intentions are all that honorable just yet.
|05-05-05 - Working with Clark|
Poor Clark is still so afraid - every day he starts out racing and snorting, like he's completely forgotten that he's ever seen a human. But each time we get into the pen and spend some "quality time" with him, he ends up in a better place than the time before. So it's two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, one step back, three steps forward, two steps back, etc, but there actually is a slight upward trend.
Here's an example of small progress: How'd I get this close-up portrait? Because he came over right next to me, that's how! I was on the other side of the fence and Mike was inside the fence. So he was getting away from Michael. But today was the first day he could be close to a person regardless of which side of the fence they're on.
|Working with a very wild horse is, of course, serious business, with potentially serious consequences. Still, sometimes you just have to have fun with them. Clark is so serious, that today we tried to interest him in play, with the help of the donkeys, who he allows to nibble at his tail, steal his hay, whatever they want - he doesn't mind them at all.|
Above, Bert wants to try the Bamboo Pole method on Clark. Instead, he finds Michael to be a more accessible candidate:
An offering of fresh grass attached to a pole - Clark took it the first time but got scared when the grass fell off and wouldn't try it again.
The donkeys, however, were quite willing to steal it from Clark.
Working on easy, non-panicked, movement, smooth transitions, gentle turns that don't involve jumping and jerking.
Big progress for Clark today was WALKING most of the time - not dashing and crashing frantically.
|By the end of the session Clark's whole demeanor had changed - he actually looked happy for a few minutes. Then he began to drop his head little by little and seemed to really let down and relax for a few minutes.|
Of course these changes seem always to be temporary. Ten minutes later when I went to feed, he was back to stamping and snorting again, head up in the air, on Full Alert.
But even though he always starts out this way, it is taking much less time to get him to calm down and sort of connect with us than it used to.
JUNE 3 & 4, 2005: Lesley Neuman comes back for a second session.
It was the first time Lesley Neuman worked with him since April 23, right after we got Lewis and Clark. We hosted a BLM Volunteers BBQ in preparation for the Vallejo adoption, so we had a crowd watching - I don't know if you can tell from the pictures, but Clark is SO MUCH more relaxed, less aggressive, more comfortable than he's been up until now. Lesley said that at this point (since he's no longer so intent upon killing us - LOL) he is actually in some ways easier to work with than the immature horses, because his older, wiser brain just processes better than the little guys, who get so flustered. I'm starting to feel encouraged about Lewis and Clark - they are both so much mellower - Lewis looks at me like he's saying, "Why don't you just gentle me and get it over with?" He seems very receptive, and even Clark is starting to act that way.
Saturday night Lesley came back for a short session and actually got Clark's halter off. It was too dark to take pictures, though.
Clark is really starting to improve! We were gone all last week, so he just soaked. Then last night Mike went in to clean his pen and Clark just seemed ripe, so he worked with him for about an hour, and Clark ran a few
June 22, 2005
Clark has been doing so well that I decided to take some more pictures last night. So, of course, Clark was worse than he's been in weeks. Two steps forward, one step back...
Around and around and around he goes - when will he stop? Nobody knows.
But he did finally stop, and Mike was able to work both sides (Clark prefers to deal with the world out of his eerie-looking white-lashed blue eye - his softer, more normal brown eye is less confident, more resistant, harder to work with)
|It's slow going, but we're taking our time, and every time I start to despair, they make a new breakthrough.||Lewis's pen is more shaded, and we tend to work with them after work in the evenings, so I don't have any updated Lewis pics. I have been working with Lewis regularly, though. I have been thinking I'm making no progress, so last night I asked Mike to try, and he said he could see big changes from the last time he worked Lewis.|
|June 29, 2005|
Clark makes a major breakthrough
First, notice the nice, soft look in his eye
Mike offers Clark a handful of hay
Clark sniffs of his own desire to sniff
And he takes a big bite - considering where Clark was just a few months ago, this is HUGE
|CLICK FOR PART 2, starting in July, 2005||
The Lewis and Clark of our Dreams... (and a little help from Photoshop)