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Juliane Dykiel's Horsemanship Blog

Rocío’s Arrival: I Thought I Was Supposed to Get a Wild Mustang!

Rocio & me the morning after her arrival.

Rocio & me the morning after her arrival.

This weekend has been one of the most exciting weekends I’ve had in a long time. As an inherent worrier, I had pictured many worst-case scenarios that could happen during Rocío’s arrival, but the process was smoother, more exciting, and more fascinating than I could ever imagine.

Our lovely lady. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Our lovely lady. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

We are fortunate enough to live only an hour from the pick-up location. My friend Jon, who is also a trainer, volunteered his trailer and time to come pick her up. He drove up from Connecticut Thursday night, and he and I met up with Ainslie, my trainer and the owner of the facility, at 6:15 Friday morning. In our eagerness, we had chosen the earliest pick-up time. We also wanted to pick her up early in the day because we wanted to watch her for most of the day to make sure she settled in.

Two of our students, Zoe and Katie, tagged along with us to document and witness the experience. We all piled into Jon’s truck after running to Dunkin Donuts. His dog, Curtis, squeezed in the back seat with them, a quiet, well-behaved observer on our journey. Several coffees later, we were ready to begin our adventure.

Katie, Zoe, and Jon's dog Curtis in the truck. Do you notice how much Curtis matches our mare's colors?

Katie, Zoe, and Jon’s dog Curtis in the truck. Do you notice how much Curtis matches our mare’s colors?

We arrived in Orange, MA right at 8am. Due to some trailer issues (which led the incredibly nice trainer at the pick-up location to lend us his trailer for Rocío), we had to wait a while before loading up my mare. Therefore, we had plenty of time to explore.

First, I filled out some paperwork, and my heart soared when the manager, Rebecca, said in an excited tone: “Oh, you got a pinto!” I had heard that the mustangs were usually solid colors such as bays and browns, since those are generally harder to adopt out. She told me that Rocío is one of the very pintos at the facility.

Then, she gave me Rocío’s number: #8171

Rocío's tag after I took it off Saturday morning.

Rocío’s tag after I took it off Saturday morning.


Looking over her paperwork gave me a sinking feeling. The mare is 5 years old, and she comes from Rock Springs, Wyoming. However, the capture date is shocking: October 2010. I asked Ainslie, “How could she have been captured five years ago and still be wild?”

“She was kept in a holding pen,” Ainslie answered. “She was never handled, but she’s used to being in a confined space. She’s used to seeing people around her.”

Rocío being calm right from day 1. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Rocío being calm right from day 1. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

It broke my heart that, for the past 5 years, Rocío’s only identity has been #8171. It only reinforced the importance of the competition: to increase awareness and promote the adoption of these mustangs, who are being driven out of their homes. Since then, I’ve had to do a bit more research to understand the situation better, and here is more information. Also, here are some pictures of where Rocío was probably held.

After filling out the paperwork, I walked into the indoor where the mustangs and burros were being held. There were pens on either side of the indoor with about a dozen animals in each, and a long chute in the middle. The trailers back up into the indoor and lined up with the chute.

There were many full-grown mustangs, along with some burros and some weanlings, who seemed generally friendlier than the full-grown animals. We spent a lot of time petting as many animals as we could. They were all beautiful in their own way.

Ainslie and some burros.

Ainslie and some burros.

I went hunting for #8171. There were truly very few pintos, so she was easy to find. This was my first glimpse of her.

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The first thing I noticed was how small she was. She was skinny, with absolutely no muscle tone, presumably from standing in a holding pen for 5 years. She was one of the quieter horses there, and she didn’t seem curious or engaged like her herd mates were.

When it came time to send her through the chute, the wrangler separated her very easily. She walked out calmly with her head low. However, as she was chasing her into the chute, Rocío doubled back and tried to go back to her herd. I heard the wrangler, who was one impressive lady, yelling and trying to round her up. Several failed attempts later, I turned and asked Byron, the EMM program director, “Is she a tough one?”

He laughed loudly. “She’s a wild horse,” he said. “You do know you’re getting an untrained one, right?”

I had to laugh along with him at this point, feeling a little sheepish after my question. I just hadn’t seen anything quite like this before.

Despite Rocío’s initial hesitation, once she finally got through the chute, she stepped calmly onto the trailer.

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I had seen one horse gallop up there beforehand that morning, and the sound of his hooves slamming against the steel was loud and dramatic. Our little lady, however, seemed to decide that she wanted none of that drama.

Rocío's first look at me. She was calm from the start.

Rocío’s first look at me. She was calm from the start.

This stayed true throughout the entire ride. She stayed calm as we turned the trailer around and backed it into her turn out. We had pulled the round pen panels apart to allow for the trailer and shut her stall door. We had brought Tica, our calmest mare, into the stall so that they could sniff noses through the steel bars. Ainslie hoped that would comfort Rocío some.

Jon & me telling her to take her time. Copyright Ainslie Sheridan.

Jon & me telling her to take her time. Copyright Ainslie Sheridan.

She did not need comforting. She had some initial hesitation, and her body shook a little, but she hadn’t even broken a sweat on the ride home. She didn’t run off the trailer like I had anticipated, but stood on it calling the nearby horses for a few minutes. Then, she stepped off calmly.

She settled in as calmly as she transported and unloaded. Within a few minutes and some approach and retreat, I was scratching her neck. I would touch her for a few seconds at a time, making sure to step away before she decided to leave, making it my idea.

Our first contact.

Our first contact. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Before long she realized she had been very scratch-deprived her whole life, and she was one itchy girl. We spent the rest of the afternoon hand feeding her hay and scratching her neck. Before the real training began, I was also able to reach below her neck and untie her tag. It was moving to think about the fact that she had never been scratched before that day.

She has discovered that she loves being brushed.

She has discovered that she loves being brushed.

For those of you who want to see the adventure on video, watch the YouTube here.

After getting to know her, I have also realized that she’s one of the most engaged, curious horses I’ve worked with. Her blank look and seeming lack of engagement when I first saw must have been her reaction to the stress of her environment back there – to shut down and try to block everything out rather than to pace and react.

Curious girl playing with a tarp (day 2) while not caring one bit about Zoe behind her with the umbrella. Copyright Ainslie Sheridan.

Curious girl playing with a tarp (day 2) while not caring one bit about Zoe behind her with the umbrella. Copyright Ainslie Sheridan.

Thanks for following the story and be sure to like our Facebook page, and if you haven’t already, donate to our GoFundMe account. Thanks to everyone who already donated, we couldn’t have done this without you!

Copyright Ainslie Sheridan

Copyright Ainslie Sheridan

Also, Sheridan Studio and Waxler imagery have contributed many wonderful pictures to the project, so make sure to check out their pages as well. Buying gifts from Sheridan Studio will benefit Rocío directly.

Making herself right at home with a big roll.

Making herself right at home with a big roll.

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4 thoughts on “Rocío’s Arrival: I Thought I Was Supposed to Get a Wild Mustang!

  1. Fran Hendrickson on said:

    Wonderful!!!!! My pinto was of similar coloring so I’m really going to watch this one grow. Sounds like you are off to a great start….how lucky for you all.

  2. Karen on said:

    Congratulations! I have posted a link to your page on the Mustang Challenge – Gentling a Wild Spirit’s Facebook page

    • JulianeDykiel on said:

      Thank you so much Karen. That photo you took of her was lovely, and you can bet I’ll be using it as a “before” picture 🙂

  3. JulianeDykiel on said:

    Fran – s0 glad you are following the story. It’s been exciting for all of us! Pintos are adorable.

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