Journey Back to Freedom

written by Michaele Dimock

Mariah and Saint Patty are two mustangs that share much in common. Both mares grew up on the wide-open spaces of Wyoming – Mariah in the Adobe Town Herd Management Area (HMA) and Patty in the McCullough Peaks HMA. Both were gathered by helicopters, transported and placed in crowded corrals of the BLM Rock Spring’s horse holding facility, and both wanted a ticket to freedom.

Each year I make an annual pilgrimage to the Rock Springs corrals to select 6-10 untouched mustangs from amongst the 700-800 residing there, thanks to a fostership agreement I have with the BLM. I then transport the horses back to my ranch where they become participants in Anna’s ‘Reach Out to the Untouched Horse’ course. In 2010 I selected Patty, and in 2012 I chose Mariah.

It was hard to ignore both Patty and Mariah in the selection process. They positioned themselves right in front of me as I peered out into the corrals to get a good look at all the horses contained within. When I moved… they moved… making sure I took ample time to admire their good looks and suitability. And so the two were selected and came home with me.

Mariah in BLM Rock Springs
ROTH student Janne Jensen did a stellar job gentling Patty in 2010 and would have loved to adopt and take her home – if it hadn’t been for the 6000 mile distance to Denmark! It was easy to see that Patty enjoyed Janne’s attention too, especially the scratching. But with subsequent training, it was also easy to see Patty’s uptight, up-headed, suspicious nature whenever anything new was introduced. Though compliant, I don’t believe that Patty ever really enjoyed or fully engaged in the courses that followed, so she was eventually taken off participant roster and became more of a pasture ornament.

The nature of Mariah was quite different. She let it be known from the very first day that she had no use for humans. She was reactive, fearful, distant and unwilling to participate on any level. Anna suspected that she had been abused – probably roped – sometime between her capture from Adobe Town, temporary housing at the Honor Farm in Riverton, WY, and final destination in Rock Springs. During the next two years I did make several attempts to reach out by offering hay from a bucket; and while she was able to approach to within a few feet, it always felt like a potentially dangerous situation. She became alarmed at even the slightest ‘surprise’ movement and would spin on a dime or jump away, leaving me to believe that this raw, reactive behavior would get me injured or killed some day.

Mariah & Lloyd - clinic session
Discussions about finding a wild horse sanctuary for Mariah, where she could spend her life in freedom, was never far from my mind. During the ROTH get-togethers, it was one of our regular topics while standing by her pen. And while inquiries had been made to various rescues, all was at a standstill until a village of generous individuals stepped up to make it happen.

This past July I met a very special ROTH student, Val Israel, who told Anna and me that she would make the financial commitment to sponsor Mariah at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Val contacted its Director Susan Watt and had Mariah placed on their waiting list. About that same time, an anonymous donor from the east coast told Tricia Hatle (friend, BLM wild horse specialist for the McCullough Peaks, and fellow ROTH student) that she would like to sponsor a McCullough Peaks horse if a sanctuary situation was needed. So when Susan Watt asked if Mariah would be coming with a traveling buddy we could enthusiastically answer, “Yes”! In the days that preceded the journey, Saint Patty bonded instantly with Mariah. I believe they knew the importance of this relationship, their destinies would now be aligned, and they needed to make every effort to make it happen too.

Patty & Mariah bonding
There was only one large hurdle to climb before setting out on our trip. Both Mariah and Saint Patty had Coggins Test results too old for transport. (In the state of Wyoming, horses need a health certificate, a Coggins Test showing negative results from within a year of the blood draw, and title of ownership from the Brand Inspector in order to go over the state border). We knew that drawing blood from Patty wouldn’t be a problem, but Mariah would be extremely stressed and here’s why…

Soon after arriving at my home, Mariah’s BLM identification tag (suspended from a cord wrapped around her neck) pulled over one ear and became so tight that it caused a sore spot along her cheek. It may have even affected her breathing. With dart gun in hand, Tricia sedated Mariah in order to remove this tag but the ordeal did not go well. The veterinary clinic had given Tricia a concoction of sedatives which caused Mariah to struggle horribly in the process of falling asleep. For forty-five minutes she fought against the drug by struggling to get up whenever she fell down; and when she was finally sedated there were only a couple of minutes for removing the tag before the whole ugly ordeal happened again in her awakening. At one point Tricia was fearful that the mare might kill herself. So as you can imagine, both Tricia and I dreaded the idea of drawing Mariah’s blood sample either through sedation or by forcing her into a chute (given her volatile nature and limited chute options available in the area).

Again the stars aligned when Tricia contacted the State Veterinarian for Wyoming and explained the situation. He in turn contacted the State Veterinarian for South Dakota and they discussed the possibilities for transport. Since Mariah was extremely untouchable, both mares had lived on my property for years without illness, and both had previously tested negative for Coggins, they were given a one-time special clearance for transport – provided we go directly to the sanctuary.

One week before our trip, I parked my stock trailer in front of the mares’ open corral gate and offered them hay in the trailer and just outside of it. Though they managed to lean far into the trailer to snatch the hay, they never had the courage to actually enter; but that was okay with me because I just wanted them to get used to its sight, smell and sound. Tricia & Michaele after a successful loading
The morning of October 5th was beautiful with warm temperatures and blue skies. Tricia and I have become experts in loading untouched horses; so with our strategically positioned panels and a little bit of pressure, the girls quickly hopped aboard. Thus we were on our way to South Dakota.

I wish I could tell you that the release into the sanctuary was magical… with the mares galloping off in the distance – manes flowing, tails standing tall, whinnies of joy – but it wasn’t. It was quiet and peaceful, as Patty and Mariah jumped off the trailer and into an initial holding corral. We were told that after a day or two they would be moved to a large ‘kindergarten’ area (surrounding the corrals) where they could meet other members of a selected band with whom they would hopefully bond. Most likely they would remain there throughout the winter until time came when all would be released into the 12,000 acre sanctuary.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to see that wonderful day, but my heart will rejoice when my beautiful mustangs, Saint Patty and Mariah, return to the freedom that was once denied them. Be free my beauties!
Black Hills Sanctuary holding corral

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