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Monday, January 11 2016


'Men have forgotten this truth,' said the fox. 'But you must not forget it.

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.' 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Because I live with a Mustang, I've given a lot of thought to this quote. Something is wild, living on its wits and the elements, and then man interferes. Once captured, man must assume the responsibility for its care.  When we bought Tiny at the 2015 Extreme Mustang Makeover, his trainer, Tom Hagwood, had carefully molded a wild mustang into a Champion domesticated horse who had chosen to walk with and carry a man as his partner in life.

Here on our ranch, Tiny has a foot in both worlds. He is both a cowhorse, and a wild mustang. Although our ranch is not big, the terrain is varied and wild enough to give a horse the illusion that he is free, and frankly, depending upon which side of the creek he's on during a heavy rain, he is wild, using his own wits for survival.

Our small band of geldings live loose on the ranch and they choose to come in each morning. If there is work to be done, we keep Tiny and a friend up for a few hours, or a few days, but then they are released to return to their lives as semi-wild horses again. The ranch itself is untamed enough that it's entirely possible to completely lose four horses in its bowels. I know, because I've looked for them in the dark. I don't know where they go, but they are swallowed by the night, and each morning they amble up as docile as any plow mule.

One day last week they didn't come in. The water in the creek wasn't up, but recent rains had left sand deposits on the banks that were so deep we couldn't navigate the crossing with a four wheeler. I called for them but the cold wind threw my shouts back at me unheard. I could choose to wade across the creek and hike the game trails through the forest in hopes of getting to a place where they could hear me, or I could take their alfalfa back to the barn and give it to them when they came up on their own. I was tempted to take the hike with the cougar and coyotes, but something in the back of my mind stopped me.  I don't own these horses. They own themselves. They can take care of themselves. Give them the credit they deserve for that. With Tiny at the helm, they are surviving just fine here. Hiking in the dark would just have been a way to ease my worry. The horses didn't really need the alfalfa.

Sure, I care for them, but living in this place has changed my outlook a bit on the concept of animal ownership. Unlike the calves, or the sheep, or the goats, the horses are not helpless. Each night they must deal with predators, the weather, and the terrain itself. Each morning that they come shuffling in, they have survived a night before without falling off a cliff, stepping in an armadillo hole, being attacked by a cougar, or drowning in the creek. These horses do not live pampered lives in stalls, snug at night in fitted blankets. They put their asses to the wind and shelter the storm. Even when given the choice to come into a stall, they choose instead to stand in the pen outside the stall and stare into the darkness as the freezing rain settles on their backs.

They choose to be free, and free from a sheltered life is still free. Despite this they also choose to be with us. They choose to hang their heads into the barn aisle and interact with us. This is not only true for the domestic horses, but for Tiny as well.

It is clear that we are not Tiny's captors, we are his friends. This big red horse genuinely likes humans. Tiny is easily caught when he sees a halter. He lowers his head for a bridle, and does not at all mind participating in ranch work or trail rides. And when the job is done, he is just as happy to shuffle off into the forest again where he can believe that he is wild once more.

Horses are different from cattle. A show cow very quickly reverts to a 'touch me not' creature who comes to feed but stays just far enough away that you can't touch her. A cow knows it is neither pet nor partner, and it is quickly absorbed back into the herd, but the horses made a different choice. The horses chose to stay. So although I feed them and care for them because they are tamed, I do not own them, for they are not property. The word denotes a lack of respect for their choices. They are not tools, not a saddle, nor a shovel. Like the dogs that ages ago cast their own vote to stay with man, these horses are our partners in life.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:31 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
One of my favorite quotes that I try to live by. I love your writing and the sharing of the reality of farm life.
Posted by Suzanne Punch on 01/11/2016 - 11:50 AM
Partners just like the LGD [Briar] Independant and free yet not.
Posted by Liz [Vic Aust] on 01/11/2016 - 03:34 PM
Thank you, Suzanne! I needed that pick-me-up this morning!
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 01/13/2016 - 06:51 AM

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