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Lewis & Clark: Born to be Wild

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LEWIS AND CLARK: Born to be Wild, after all

Lewis and Clark were captured off the range in the Steens Mountain in October, 2004. Clark was 15 years old, Lewis was 20. Michael and I purchased them under the Burns Rider Sale Authority on April 18, 2005. So they have been with us almost a full year (today is March 17, 2006). Clark is now 17 and Lewis is 22.

Clark still wild on the South Steens HMA
Clark at age 16 and after a year and a half in captivity 

Progress has been very slow but very real. We measure it in things like how close they will remain to us when we walk up to their pen, before they back off, and whether they run in a panicked fashion or simply step back quietly. They are doing more allowing us close, and more quiet stepping back, and less panicked running away.

The incidents described in earlier pages about Clark coming up to sniff Michael's hand, allowing Lesley to touch his muzzle, etc. and Lewis facing up and stepping forward, actually did happen, but they did not become part of their normal behavior patterns. I really did pet Lewis in the squeeze chute, and, while he was still drugged, I even groomed him once. But again, next day he was wild as ever, and that fellow is just downright dangerous, there is no way around it.

Both Lewis and Clark are still very, very wild, and even though they are slowly making progress, their hooves continue to grow at a much faster rate than their progress toward being gentled, and getting them trimmed is very difficult and very dangerous. We have wonderful friends and a wonderful vet, but how long can we ask them to risk career-ending injury to help us with these things?

And the bottom line is, What is best for Lewis and Clark? It's not about our egos, it's not about proving that we can tame them, it's not about other people's expectations.  It's about first, saving their lives, second, keeping them together, and third, giving them a life worth living. We've done the first two things, but what about the third?


 They aren't totally miserable here. They get along with our other horses, although they clearly prefer each other. They bask in the sun on nice days, they go into the barn on rainy days, AND they spend a lot of time gazing out onto the green hillsides and pasture on the other side of their 6-foot high, un-jump-able pipe panel fence, which is sad.

They are okay, but they are a far cry from the noble beasts pictured here:

They have never played like this since they arrived here. The only real exercise they get is when Ruby chases them around. They are surprisingly docile around our other horses - they make absolutely no effort to defend themselves or to try to rise up in the "pecking order." This seems odd to me - like maybe they are depressed and simply resigned to their lot in life.

Over the past year, there have been times when either Michael or I have seriously considered the possibility that the best thing would be to find a good sanctuary for them. But each time one of us had that thought, the other was not in a frame of mind to consider it.

But during the last hoof trimming episode a few weeks ago - which was really a very stressful and strenuous day for all of us, human and equine - Mike and I looked at each and simultaneously said to each other, "We really shouldn't put them through this, these guys need to go to a sanctuary!"

Jerry Tindell, who was directing the procedures and doing the hoof trimming, said he agreed that was the best plan, when you consider the long-term well-being of the horses. It so happens that he is on the Board of Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, and that Lifesavers is starting a new sanctuary for older, unadoptable horses, called the Born to Be Wild Sanctuary. Although Lifesavers is full, Jerry talked with Jill Starr, Lifesavers' director, and she agreed to make room for Lewis and Clark in the sanctuary, which consists of 160 acres of beautiful hills and meadows.

They have it about half fenced, and when the fencing is completed, Lewis and Clark can go there, which will probably be May.

Click here to read about the Born to be Wild Sanctuary, and/or to make a tax-deductible donation toward finishing the fencing.

So Lewis and Clark only need to hang in a couple of more months, and then they can go back to being what they do best - being wild, free-roaming horses! Being semi-celebrities in the mustang world, we are hoping that Lewis and Clark can help Lifesavers in their fundraising efforts - they do so much wonderful work to save so many horses!

I know that some will criticize our decision, since many were hoping we would succeed in gentling and training these guys. But before you criticize, as yourself - is that a dream for Lewis and Clark or for people?

I also do not want Lewis and Clark's story to be taken as a Morality Story with the Moral being that older horses should not be adopted! Some can transition quite successfully, and should be given a chance.

Here's a Sale Authority horse that Shelby Bedard of Madison Florida, purchased. She reports that "Kheiron" is doing very well.

We did make progress with Lewis and Clark, and I have no doubt that this would have continued, if we had no other alternative. Eventually we probably would be able to halter and lead them around, and to release them into the grassy pasture with the other horses. And eventually - WAY eventually, but nevertheless eventually, if we had no choice but to keep trying to gentle them, the day might come when we could even trim their feet without a squeeze chute and tranquilizers - although that part seems to be very far off in the future! Would they live that long?

No doubt, if we had kept them separate, they would have gentled more quickly, although they would have been more unhappy during that time.

But even if eventually they could come around, these are older horses. In human terms, they are like 45 and 60 year old men, uprooted from their entire world and confined to a very small one surrounded by scary foreigners who don't speak their language or observe their customs.

Is it fair at their age to ask them to make such radical changes in their minds? 

As Jill Starr put it, why should they have to be domesticated just to survive? Well, it turns out that they don't! They have an alternative, thanks to Jill Starr's & Lifesavers' Born To Be Wild Sanctuary!

I sometimes feel sad when I think of them leaving, but it is sadness for myself, not for Lewis and Clark. Clearly they will be happier in the sanctuary. I also feel very good that Mike and I were able to save their lives, to keep them together, and then to move them on to a life that they can feel good about!