The dream is real: A mustang of my very own
Thursday, May 23, 2013 9:11 AM
It was something I had dreamed about my entire life: owning my old wild mustang.
Growing up, I thought it would be amazing to spend time sharing space with a being that had once been wild. A legend. A symbol of the untamed wilderness. Of the American West.
As a kid, I never even knew anyone who owned a mustang that came from the wild. Because of that, I always imagined acquiring one must be a hard feat to accomplish ... perhaps it was expensive or time-consuming ... perhaps there was a lengthy vetting process, during which G-men would visit our farm to see if we had the proper facilities to house a wild horse. I didn't know. It was something that always danced just beyond the realm of possibility for me ... a pipe dream never to be realized. Like being a thoroughbred jockey. Or marrying Shaun Cassidy.
But last Friday all that changed, when I found myself pulling into the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Bureau adoption event just outside Decorah.
When I arrived, I was astonished to learn that rather than the imaginary, years-long qualifying process I always thought it would take to get approved to adopt a wild horse or burro, you simply had to be able to prove to the BLM agents you had a 20 x 20 space with six-foot walls and knew a little something about horses. Just a short interview and application were required.
When I inquired about the cost, I was flabbergasted. It was $25. That was it -- $25 to purchase an American icon from a program the federal government pays an estimated $80,000,000 a year to support. That's eighty million dollars. With six zeros.
As I walked around the pens, I was pleased to find most of the horses in pretty good shape. Recent media stories have revealed a number of travesties against the wild mustangs, and I was bracing myself for the worst.
Although most of them could have used a long drink of water after their semi ride from Hutchinson, Kan., and maybe a good currying, for the most part, they didn't look too skinny or down on their luck.
Then, as I approached one of the pens, I saw her: No. 8076. A four-year-old blue roan mare, captured in Nevada in 2010. The wheels started turning as I tried to imagine what her life in captivity had been like over the past three years.
Later that night, after my husband and I were finished with chores, I casually asked if he might want to stop by the pens and look at the wild mustangs.
"I've already been there," he admitted.
"Me too," I said.
As we pulled in and climbed out of the car, I kept my cool ... trying hard not to reveal that I had already fallen in love.
As John and I perused the stock, I nonchalantly pointed out No. 8076.
"Hey, what do you think of that one?" I asked.
"Her head is kind of big, don't you think? There's some nicer ones in this next pen," he said.
My heart sank, as I carefully formulated my reply.
"Well, I guess if I was going to adopt a wild mustang, I'd be looking for one that had the characteristics of a wild mustang," I said, hoping the size of her head was directly proportionate to the size of her brain, indicating some type of higher intelligence.
We meandered around for a few more minutes, before John said, "Well, are you going to fill out an application?"
I couldn't believe it. He couldn't be serious.
"Really?!?" I asked.
"It's up to you," he said.
As we stood there, Steve, the guy wrangling the event, walked up to me.
"Which one do you like?" he asked.
I told him, and he warned me that a four-year-old mustang mare has one mission in life: to be the boss.
"Have you ever worked with a bossy mare?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, thinking of a couple of prime examples at home.
"See you in the morning," he said.
Still incredulous, I remained quiet during the drive home, not wanting to jinx my prospects.
John broke the silence by saying, "If it's first-come first-served, we better get there early."
I went home and carefully filled out the application, complete with an elementary drawing of the pen and shed where she would be housed. I could hardly calm myself enough to sleep that night, and arose at 4 a.m. as my mind continued to race.
What if someone who already got approved online claimed her before I got there?
As we arrived early Saturday morning, I realized my anxiety was for naught, as the kind volunteer had been keeping track of which horse each person was interested in.
"I think you're all okay so far," she said, meaning no one had designs on anyone else's horse.
As my turn came, I handed in my application and listened to the BLM agent's spiel, before handing over my $25,
John ran home to get the truck and trailer, as I waited outside the pen, making absolutely sure there wasn't a way for someone to snatch her while I looked away.
As I meandered around, I was close enough to the people waiting in line to hear two more people try to adopt No. 8076.
"Too late," said the agent. "She's going home with that lady."
The rest of the morning was a challenge, as we maneuvered the transition of getting her home to her new stall.
"I can't believe you're letting me do this," I said to John as we hauled her home.
"I think everyone should try it at least once," said John, who 25 years ago adopted two mustangs: one who turned out to be a trustworthy, children's pet, the other a nutjob.
No. 8076, aka Nevada, is settling in fine, but we are still working out the kinks in our new relationship. I continue to approach her carefully, always keeping in mind that, above all, she is a wild and dangerous animal.
Day one involved staying out of her way in order to let her get her bearings.
Day two I made some progress by brushing her and singing to her. She now approaches me when I walk into the pen and is no longer afraid of my touch.
Day three she reminded me this isn't going to be all sunshine and rainbows, as she nipped at the back of my head when I lowered my guard.
I'm still formulating my approach for day four.
There's no question "gentling" her will take some time, patience and skill in order to not get hurt.
But I think it will be worth it, and I am grateful for having the support of a wonderful husband who is willing to let me try it.
Winston Churchill once said, "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."
I think he was definitely onto something ... unless they hurt you.
Only time will tell.