Archive for Mustangs

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The Mustang Trail Horse

Me and my Mustang, Bella, returning from a winter trail ride.

Here’s my theory:  If you have a horse who was living wild on the land before he was captured, then you have a horse who is not afraid of going out on the trail.

As any horse person knows, there are horses who are just nuts if taken out of an enclosed environment. They aren’t used to open spaces, and they’ve never been exposed to them. This is a great disappointment to many a horse owner who envisions him or herself galloping across the prairie on a noble steed.

I once had a client who decided to get back into horses after many years of  “abstinance.” She shopped long and hard for just the right horse and was drawn to a beautiful Palomino at a show barn. He was a mature fellow with cool blood–not a hot breed–and had lots of training under his belt. Perfect! Or so it seemed.

Things went swimmingly for the first few months as they got to know each other, schooling and taking lessons in the arena of the barn where he was boarded. The client then decided it was time to go out on the trail.  NO WAY, her beautiful boy let her know in no uncertain terms! Turned out, as nicely trained as he was, he had no trail experience.

I was called in to talk to the horse and explain to him that he would always be safe with his person, my client, and that he didn’t need to be afraid. She wanted me to tell and show him long, lazy, enjoyable trail rides together where he was completely calm.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work this way. Just because we can “talk” to an animal doesn’t mean we can reason them out of an instinctive fear or behavior. And this boy made it as clear to me as he had to his owner that he had no intention of trail riding! Try as I might, I couldn’t really make her understand this, so I fear she may have been disappointed with our session. Be that as it may…….

The point being, if you want a good solid trail horse you might just look around for a mature, well-started Mustang. They are used to being out, they know their way around, and they are surefooted and savvy. In fact, they do often have strong opinions about where they want to go and what they want to do, independent of yours, so don’t expect a trail buddy who’s like a horse from a dude string.

So pick a Mustang, honor one of our country’s greatest icons, and be ready for the ride!


If your curious or crazy about Mustangs, you might enjoy some of the following posts:

Mustangs Come in All Sizes, Shapes, Colors, and……… yes, Personalities

A Metal Mustang

A Very Different Type of Mustang Personality

The More, Ahem, “Robust” Type of Mustang

How Are Wild-Captured Mustangs Different From Our Domesticated Breeds?

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A Mustang’s Goodbye

Gabriel & Bella

In the wild a Mustang herd always has one alpha stallion and one alpha mare. Although the mare can be “stolen” by a competing stallion, the stallion-mare bond is very strong.

I saw that borne out yesterday when we had to say goodbye to our small herd’s alpha male gelding, Gabriel. Gabriel was a big Warmblood rescue who was with me for ten years after an already cataclysmic life full of accident after accident. His days have been numbered since he was two years old, so the fact that he made it to 18 is a miracle.

But Gabriel’s time had come, and he was clearly suffering, so yesterday was the day.

Bella, my Mustang mare, was very bonded to Gabriel. He in fact tried his best to mount her from time to time, even with all his physical handicaps. As strong as she herself is, he was her leader and could do no wrong, and she adored him.

We had Gabriel way out in the pasture when the vet gave him the injection that would help him sail peacefully away. Bella was closed in the corral up at the barn with her other two herd mates. I had talked at length to her about Gabriel’s departure and felt she understood, but what happened next made me really wonder.

We were well out of sight and hearing of the barn, but when Gabriel’s big body hit the ground Bella let out a shrill whinny. Bella never whinnies. She squeals, she groans and grunts, she even growls, but I have hardly ever heard her whinny.

I immediately dispatched the friend who was with me to go open the corral gate. Bella came roaring out like a big black freight train (she weighs 1500 lbs.) — we could hear her before we could see her. And when she came into view I could tell she was furious. In fact the vet said he would retreat far away from Gabriel’s body because he feared Bella would associate him with what had happened and might want to harm hiim.  I withdrew with him, to a distant grouping of scrub junipers, so we could give Bella some room and time to do whatever she needed to do.

Bella tore off in a big circular pattern around Gabriel’s body, about 100 feet out, alternately at a huge trot or intermittently galloping with her chin tucked into her chest — you could feel the anger pouring off her. We could only watch in awe as she circumscribed what seemed to be an area of protection all around Gabriel, making sure there was nothing near him to harm him.

Once she had finished the circle and let off her initial fury and frustration, she finally approached Gabriel’s body, quietly and respectfully. I then joined her in an effort to share our grief together. She sniffed him only once at that point, and let out one anguished squeal.

The vet said he had never witnessed a display quite like this before. He felt it was clearly Bella’s wild heritage exerting itself and wished he had been able to make a video of it to show to young vet students in order to impress upon them how deeply losing a member of the herd can effect the others.

Bella stayed close to Gabriel until it was time to bury him. I tried to show her that would not be something she would want to watch and, amazingly, she quietly walked back up to the barn.

It was feeding time when we finished burying Gabriel and, for the first time in her life that I know of, Bella would not go in her stall to eat and had little interest in her food. She finally ate most of it, with her new herd mate, Lopeh, eating quietly nearby, then she went back to the pasture and spent the evening roaming the area, occasionally whinnying for her lost love.

And that is where we found her this morning too, though she did come on in to eat finally. Afterward, she and I walked back out to where Gabriel had last lain, and she still checked the air and looked toward the distant mountains to see if she might catch sight of him.

Our herd has lost two other male members since Bella joined it, and she has never even seemed to notice. But her grief over losing Gabriel is awesome, her actions magnificent and terrifying.

We are all very relieved that our dear Gabriel is no longer suffering, and that he can finally find rest from his long and difficult life, but we are now grieving as much for Bella as for him and will be putting all our efforts in the next days and weeks to help her, and ourselves, adjust to such a tremendous loss.

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That Mustang Thang!!!

You know what I’m talking about if you are a Mustang devotee. Once you really know a Mustang, you’ve definitely been had — in a good way. Other horses just don’t quite compare.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have several other types of horses, and I adore each and every one of them. But there are just certain things about my Mustang Bella that have me totally captivated.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot these past two weeks because I’ve brought in a new rescue Quarter Horse mare who looks like she’s going to be a real gem. And she has a personality very similar to Bella’s.

And there the similarity ends!

In spite of the fact that this 8-year-old mare has been essentially running wild for the last 4 years as a brood mare, bearing at least 3 babies during that time . . . and in spite of the fact that we couldn’t even walk up to her when we first brought her home without her panicking and jumping away from us . . . she has, in two weeks, turned into a total pussycat.

Her obvious good breeding and early training became apparent after a mere 4 days of consistent handling, and she passed her first farrier visit with flying colors today. She has impeccable ground manners and will do just about anything to please. Including standing on her head  if one has a treat at hand. Well, I’m exaggerating a bit there, but her food obsession will obviously be to our advantage in her in future training.

And why do I mention all this? Because, after an incredible foundation in training and mileage, and in spite of a desire to please me, Bella still does everything on her own terms. She loves treats too, but would never stand on her head for one. She is not nearly as easy to lead as the new mare, or even to move around. In fact, she has a reputation for being the original “immovable object.” She takes a ton of leg when riding her, and if she decides she doesn’t want to do something she simply stops, dead cold.  Stuff like that.  I could go on, but you probably get the idea.

And yet, Mustang Bella is my be-all/end-all, my cat’s meow. She is what floats my boat and blows my skirt up. And I think it’s because she, like all Mustangs, possesses an amazing sense of self and self-preservation. She has extremely high integrity and gives respect back to those who respect her equally.

"Lohpe," short for Penelope

Our new mare, “Lohpe,” will become a valued and beloved member of


family, I can already tell. We will adore her for her gentle and giving nature and hopefully many unseasoned riders will benefit from her flexible spirit.

"Bella," the Cat's Meow

But Bella will remain the queen and reign supreme over our small herd. She knows her place and understands her role. And yet, at the same time, she treats me as her foal. Really. She does.

Stuff gets done largely on Bella’s terms …. but she is my obsession.

My Mustang Bella rules.



How Are Wild-Captured Mustangs Different From Our Domesticated Breeds?

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So What’s the Big Deal About Fasting? And What Does This Have to do With My Mustang Mare?

Fasting. Ugh. I hate it. I have tried it a few times and simply cannot accommodate it in any way, shape, or form — bodily, sensorily (is that a word?), or philosophically. Cleanses, yes. Fasts, no. Perhaps it is just me, or my constitutional make-up.

Whatever, and be that as it may, there is a large body of evidence, harking back to ancient times, that fasting is good for the body and soul, and therefore I guess, what ails you. To quote:

“Fasting allows the organs that cleanse the blood, primarily the liver and kidneys, to take a rest, to detoxify. That which they are burdened with [toxins] are henceforth washed away, leaving the blood clean and the organs rejuvenated . . .”

….. okay, I have to admit, that’s my own quote, making fun of the old, arcane language used by early herbalists and doctors …………..

So yay. Wouldn’t we all like to do this, regularly, leaving ourselves “washed clean” and therefore ready for the next onslaught of burgers and fries?

I would. But I just can’t. Period.

So, back to the topic at hand. Bella. My Mustang mare. What in the world might the idea of fasting have to do with her?

Well, Bella, as you may already know if you have been following this blog, is from a wild herd of horses in Wyoming that has the draft horse, Percheron, mixed into its bloodlines , and she seems to have imbibed every nuance of that draft horse gene possible. She is not your typical Mustang, to say the least.

No. Instead she is ultra-tall for a wild horse, around 16 hands (you horse people will know what I’m talking about), and weighs in at around 1400-1500 lbs. — an exceptional weight even at that height. She’s just BIG. In fact we have to curb ourselves from constantly calling her “Miss Piggy,” while chortling and turning away so she won’t think we’re making fun of her.

Bella, "Miss Bigness"

Bella, "Her Bigness"

Okay. So she’s big. That’s fine and always has been. But normally her ‘bigness’ is somewhat attenuated by ‘working out’ a la my riding her several times a week. Not so these past many months since I injured my back last September.

So . . . back to the fasting thing. What can one do if one wants to “cleanse the blood, detoxify the organs,” etc. without a full-blown fast?  Well, try eating minimally and upping exercise, but then do a partial FAST for a few days from all supplements and superfluous substances so your organs get extra rest. And drink tons of water during that time to flush out the resultant toxins.

That’s what I’m doing with Bella: less feed, less hay, and NO supplements for a while — giving her body and organs a  time to rest and detoxify.

Miss You-Know-Who, frustratedly trying to extract hay from her new mini-hole hay net.

Miss You-Know-Who, frustratedly trying to extract hay from her new mini-hole hay net.

And I’m trying to remind her daily: “Fast? NO! (I would never do that to you Miss Piggy . . . I mean Bella). Cleanse, YES!” So far she’s not really on the team, but I do think she’s going to feel better sooner rather than later. And my back is oodles better now, so “Bella, watch out!”



The More, ahem, “Robust” Type Mustang

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The More, ahem, “Robust” Type Mustang

This pose shows off Bella's Percheron'esque derriere quite nicely, I think.

This pose shows off Bella's Percheron'esque derriere quite nicely, I think.

I bought my very first piece of original art when I was in college — a French lithograph of a teeny, tiny boy standing behind a huge Percheron draft horse, holding her lead rope and yelling at her in French to “move her butt!” Which was literally the only part of her anatomy visible in the sketch. Her name was Bijou, which means jewel in French.

The piece was totally irresistible for me. I had to have it. Maybe I had a premonition that a very similar equine jewel would come into my life one day and become my pride and joy.

That would be my Mustang mare, Bella, above.

Eight years old now, Bella came to me as a 4-year-old from my friend Stephanie, the Mustang Mama of all time. Bella was the first of the many Mustangs  Stephanie has adopted over the years, and I have heard Stephanie express more than once that she was real lucky to make her acquaintance with Mustangs with a horse like Bella! (If you’ve read the recent posts, you know what some of Stephanie’s other Mustangs are like, and what challenges they’ve posed.)

Bella came from a Wyoming herd of Mustangs that has lots of Percheron draft horse blood mixed in, and she typifies what is called a Tai Yin constitution in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This stands for a combination of the elements Earth and Metal. In Horse Harmony — Understanding Horse Types and Temperaments, by Dr. Madalyn Ward, D.V.M., here are some of the passages she uses to describe the Tai Yin horse:

  • …the Tai Yin type tends to have a heavy body and move fairly slowly.
  • The Tai Yin horse is like an iceberg. If you don’t get to know him you may only see the tip of his deep, solid, stable character.
  • …tough physically, and he tends to be a dependable hard worker.
  • He is not overly ambitious, but once he learns a skill he will perform consistently.
  • …often a one-person horse who will not be happy performing for just anyone.
  • He makes a good stock horse but tends not to be quick enough for cutting or reining competition.
  • He is a dependable and competitive trail horse but is not really suited for endurance riding.

Are you getting the picture? Stout, slow, devoted, calm, steady. Likes routine. Likes his person. Doesn’t show a lot of emotion. Isn’t too flashy. Etc.

Nice attributes for a 6-month-old wild filly brought in off the range, wouldn’t you say?

Bella was a dream to work with and raise. Stephanie got up on her and never looked back — just rode her on down the road. In the 3 years she had Bella, Stephanie put hundreds of miles on her, took her camping, taught her to jump (well, after a fashion), to herd cows (also after a fashion), and to be a generally dependable mount.

Bella was a large colt, and she grew, and grew, . . . . . and grew. It became clear  early on that this was not a horse built for speed events or competitive jumping, or for the agility required in moving cattle. And, being rather lazy by nature, Bella often turned her back when it was time to be caught . . . because she knew what was coming and simply didn’t want to have to go to work that day — like some of us.

Stephanie knew I was considering taking another riding horse as a gift to myself for my 60th birthday and felt the match might be a good one. That is putting it mildly. I didn’t want to quit riding, but I wanted a horse I could trust, who wasn’t “hot-blooded” or hard to handle. Obviously, Bella and I were meant for each other and are very much alike. I don’t want to have to work too hard either, and would much rather take a 30-minute amble in the hills or a low-level dressage lesson than a 20-mile trail ride or gallop. Bella likes the same things I do, plus she loves all the extra time I spend fawning over her. The easier-going lifestyle has suited her constitution well too, as she continued to grow until she was 7 years old so now stands 16 hands and weighs in at about 1400 lbs.

If you want a steady pleasure mount, and like to bond with your horse, a Tai Yin might just be your best bet. Sure was for me!!!!


This is the end of this week’s series on Mustang types and temperaments, but we’ve only covered five out of the eleven types. And of course they apply to all horses, not just Mustangs. If you’re curious to learn about the other six types, or want to take an online test to find out the type of your own horse, check out the resources at Horse Harmony. There’s tons of fun stuff to do there, and the book is fantastic!

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A Metal Mustang

Beautiful Reyacita

Beautiful Reyacita

I’m not talking about a bronze statue here. I’m talking about a constitutional type that in Traditional Chinese Medicine is called Metal. And Reyacita is an adorable little Mustang mare who falls into that category.

Reyacita, Rey for short, is the most recent of my friend Stephanie’s Mustangs, having been adopted by her last January from the Canon City, CO, prison BLM Mustang program. She was 3 years old and had been haltered, but that’s as far as her training had gone.

Stephanie has adopted one Mustang a year for many years, and every single one has been totally different from all the rest.

As you can see, Reyacita has an exceptionally beautiful head and face for a Mustang, and a very soft eye. She looks like a pushover, doesn’t she? She did to Stephanie too, and she started out that way. Then things turned rough.

The well-balanced Metal horse, according to Horse Harmony — Understanding Horse Types and Temperaments, by Dr. Madalyn Ward, D.V.M., is “hard-working, consistent, dependable, and tough” and can do well in just about any job.

So what happened with Reyacita? She started out calmly and solidly and looked like she was going to be all those things — but then she blew, and blew hard in a totally unexpected bucking fit! In Stephanie’s words, “I think I pushed her too fast in the beginning, but she was too stoic to let it show.”

This would make sense, given what Stephanie soon found out about Reyacita’s health and considering Dr. Ward’s recommendations for training a Metal horse:

Repetition is the key to success for the Metal horse. Of all of the types, the Metal horse is the slowest to grasp new concepts. It is not that the Metal horse is not intelligent, but he does best when he is allowed to master single skills before moving to the next lesson. Therefore a methodical, step-by-step approach to his training works best.

Stephanie got back on after the bucking fit but then gave both herself and Reyacita a couple of months off.  She also discovered that Rey had a lung problem known as heaves, and Dr. Ward hypothesized that this was the reason she had bucked in the first place — she couldn’t breathe! With good holistic and homeopathic treatment for the lung problem, and once back on a very routinized and revamped training program, Reyacita came right back around to the solid, steady mare she had seemed to be at first.

Reyacita’s lung problem ties in with the Metal constitution and was no doubt one of the clues that helped Stephanie finally figure out her personality type.  According to Dr. Ward, Metal horses are prone to respiratory diseases and heaves. They also have a high pain tolerance, which means they will often keep working until injury or illness incapacitates them, which is what happened with Rey.

This case study is a great example of how figuring out your horse’s constitutional and personality type can make all the difference in how you train, feed, and handle her. Without the changes Stephanie was able to make in Reyacita’s training and care program, no telling what the future would have held for this adorable little horse!

Rey and Steph are way past this point now, but this is the slow, careful approach Stephanie took when she resumed Reyacita's new training program.

Rey and Steph are way past this point now, but this is the slow, gentle approach Stephanie took when she resumed Reyacita's new training program.

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