How a wild horse was tamed and became part of our herd.
That year we opened our dude ranch and began our trail rides in late May. There is a magnificent piece of land called Mountain Meadows where we often take our guests riding directly to the east of us. It borders the 2 million acre Wind River Indian Reservation on the other side and is about 4,500 acres. Formerly it was part of the old Thunderhead Ranch. Now it is Wyoming Game and Fish land and is supposed to be set aside as wildlife habitat. The property is very isolated and has no road access except through our ranch. It is supposed to be reserved for the elk, deer, moose, antelope and sage grouse. Wild horses sometimes come in there also and it is good habitat for them
One spring while out on the rides one of our wranglers had seen a single wild horse wandering about and obviously wanting to join our herd, but afraid to get close while people were around. The following week we were not riding because Linda Tellington- Jones was there to do a clinic teaching people how to start young horses so most of the herd was out grazing for the week on the 120 acre irrigated meadow we call “The Bench”. When we finally rounded the horses up from the Bench we found that the wild horse we had seen had joined the herd. The wild filly stuck tightly together with the others as we brought them down to the corral and stayed with our herd thereafter. A huge Percheron mare called Paddywack, who has a very strong mothering instinct, adopted her and the two of them became inseparable.
Our new horse wanted nothing to do with people and always carefully kept the rest of the herd between herself and anyone coming near. We could see she was a young filly about a year old and speculated that it was one of the wild horses which used to run on the nearby Indian Reservation. She must have lost her mother. The Indians used to round up the wild horses on their 2 million acre reservation from time to time and sell them for meat to France or other horse eating countries. The Indians have no legal restrictions on activity of that kind and it is a source of revenue for them although it doesn’t amount to much compared to the oil royalties they receive. The so called Wind River Indian Reservation is one of the largest in the lower 48 states and only has about 7,000 people.
The Shoshone Indians under their great and wise chief, Washakie, cooperated enthusiastically with the US cavalry in the wars against the Sioux, a much more powerful tribe, who were their sworn enemies. Today some of the Indians, especially those of mixed blood, run cattle on the rich reservation which they received. Their ancient culture is inappropriate to the modern scene and, particularly those with purely Native American blood and family background are having a hard time adjusting to a situation which has so totally changed. These people were nomads, warriors and hunters. Except for hunting, these pursuits are frowned upon by our society and even hunting has to be carefully controlled in these days of repeating firearms. They never knew a pastoral or agricultural way of life. Our European ancestors took millennia to adjust from a hunter/gatherer society to an agricultural and pastoral one so it hardly seems strange that our Indian neighbors should be having trouble making the adjustment in a few generations.
3 Dot, as we called her for the distinctive markings on her blaze, slowly became more comfortable with the corral, but still did not want to allow humans to approach her. We did not force the issue and very gradually she began to lose some of her anxiety around people. Most of our other horses are very friendly and no doubt their attitudes to us had an effect on her. Suzanna, one of our wranglers that year, was fascinated by the situation and spent considerable time every day trying to reassure and approach the newcomer. Eventually she was able to touch her and slowly began the process of halter training.
After our guest season was over, we sent most of our horses down in a semi to our lower ranch where they were grazing on wide areas and had little contact with people. In the spring when they came back up for the summer 3 Dot was pretty wild again, but we tried to work with her when we had the time. Another winter and summer went by without making great progress. We had plenty of other young horses to work with which had been accustomed to people from birth and so we didn’t have the luxury of spending vast amounts of time on her. It is striking how much friendlier horses become to humans when they have had pleasant and frequent contacts with them from birth. Then something happened which changed the whole picture.
3 Dot came down to the corral one day with a lump on her esophagus and it became evident that she was having trouble swallowing. We had to treat her with antibiotics so we ran her up a shoot and gave her a series of injections which reduced the size of the lump so that she began eating and drinking again without trouble. Several months later, just before trucking the horses down to their winter pasture, we noticed that 3 Dot was feeling unwell. The vet diagnosed an abscess on her old wound and said there was not much he could do; it would just have to heal itself. We put her in a corral by herself and started giving her small handfuls of tender green grass from the watered lawn in front of the lodge whenever we went by. It was so painful for her to try to swallow that she began to give a kind of scream when she tried. It was a heartrending scene and she was losing weight. After ten days or so we decided we had to put her down rather than prolong the agony. None of us could bear to do it so we called the vet who was supposed to come the next day.
Thank heavens he was delayed and put off his visit a day. Miraculously on the very day he was supposed to come she began to eat a bit and take some water. I have seen this several times with people and horses. All the conventional wisdom says no recovery is possible. Then Mother Nature takes over and the patient gets a new lease on life. As I write this at my desk ten years later 3 Dot is still with us as a valued member of our family.
All the attention she had received during her sickness made a huge difference and after that she was much easier to approach and more friendly and trusting of humans. One person she doesn’t like to this day though is Tracy, our head wrangler for the last 15 years and more. Tracy was the one who gave her that long series of shots which she did not understand or appreciate.
The next year it was time to start 3 Dot’s training and we put her through Linda’s wonderful horse training clinic and backed her with no major problems. After a season of being ridden by wranglers we started giving her to guests and most of them got along very well with her. She is round as a barrel so that she has to be cinched up tight to hold the saddle, but she has become one of our most reliable horses. We have several other Mustangs in our herd, but there is something very special about 3 Dot who came straight to us from the Wild. That must have been more than a decade ago now, but to this day 3 Dot and Paddywack remain inseparable and long may they be happy here!