From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

The Will to Survive

The air of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.

Arabic saying

It wasMay of 1996whenwemoved to our newhome on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. Our house was situated on a rise that overlooked Reno to the west and an area called Hidden Valley to the east. I had heard of the wild horses that roamed Hidden Valley and hoped for the opportunity to see them. Alas, all I saw for months were street signs that warned motorists, “Wild Horse Crossing.”

One night towards the end of August, our dog started barkingwildly at the front door.When I first stepped onto the front porch, I saw nothing but darkness and the dim twinkle of lights in the distance. As I continued down the stairs and onto the driveway, I heard the faintest of unidentifiable sounds. Although I saw nothing, something told me I was not alone.

My eyes finally adjusted to the dark and the silhouettes of horses began to take form. Thirteen wild horses were munching grass on my front lawn. At first, I was afraid to move. Who wants to spook a bunch of wild horses when you are standing in the middle of them? I stood there for what seemed like an eternity. I was totally and completely mesmerized. I went to bed that night, leaving the horses to eat their fill and feeling more peaceful than I had in years. The nextmorning foundme wide-eyed and anxious to see my new friends. They were nowhere to be found. One sighting was all I got. What a disappointment!

Fall of ’97 rolled around and still no horses. It seemed everyone else had seen them but me. Christmas was approaching and my gift was to come early that year. My mother and husband presented me with a new camera. The first weekend I had free we were off on a search for the wild horses. A neighbor told me of a dirt road that would take us into the hills east of our home. It turned out to be a day I’ll never forget.

We came upon three bands of horses spaced out along a dirt path. I walked past the first band in order to place the sun at my back. As a result, the other two bands were also at my back. I was so engrossed by what I saw through the viewfinder that I was oblivious to what was going on behind me. Out of nowhere I felt a puff of hot air onmy shoulder then a nudge on my side. I turned to find myself surrounded by thirty wild horses. Three yearlings and a pregnant mare were sniffing my neck and nibbling at my jacket. Some ignored me completely and others watched with great curiosity.

There I stood surrounded by thesewild creatures and being treated as one of the family. Unlike my first experience, there was no anxiety. It was clear they had accepted me as a friend. The yearlings finally got bored and went off to frolic in the sagebrush. The pregnant mare took one more nibble at my jacket then abruptly turned and led the bands away. I stood for some timewatching themliterallywalk into the sunset.My heart was so full I thought it would burst. That was the first day of a new passion for me. Every weekend, every holiday and any other day I could get free was spent searching for the wild horses.

Winter was busy for the wild-horse advocates who ran an emergency feed program from October though April. Close to one hundred wild ones used the area as their wintering grounds. In February we were on our way to find our favorite harem band when I noticed a very young filly standing alone between a bachelor band and another harem band. It wasn’t until after we passed that I realized there was something wrong with that picture. We continued on our way but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I knew the harem band and they had no new fillies. She certainly did not belong to the bachelors.Whowas she?Where did she come from?Whenwe came back thatway, the two bandswere still there but the filly was gone.

To this day, I don’t know what possessed me. I insisted that we stop. I walked a good 300 yards into the desert and there she was lying in the dirt. Her eyes grew wide and full of fear when she saw me. She tried to flee but couldn’t get up. We observed her from a distance for a while. Daylight would be gone soon and the other horses were beginning to graze their way toward the watering hole.We could hear the howl of coyotes close by. This was no place for an injured filly to be alone. It was time for a rescue.

The rescue crew arrived in less than an hour. It was dusk now and oh, so cold. The vet advised us that her chances of survival were not good. She was extremely emaciated and it appeared as though her hind legs were at least partially paralyzed. An attempt to save her life would be costly and there could be no guarantees.

Wild horse advocates come fromallwalks of life.We’re quite the diverse bunch of coconuts. The one thing that binds us is a deep love and respect for these magnificent animals. I was the first to break the silence with a donation toward the cause. The others quickly followed.

My husband and I were left to guard the filly while the others tackled the not-so-easy task of arranging for a horse trailer to make its way over such unforgiving terrain. The harem band had already disappeared and the bachelors were well on their way. We watched as one young bachelor broke from his friends and made his way back to our filly. He whinnied, then grabbed her by the scruff of her neck in an attempt to get her up.We could imagine him saying, “Come on, friend, we’re leaving now. It’s time to go.” She tried again and again but couldn’t get up. The young bachelor was determined. He wasn’t going to leave her. With each failed attempt to get her on her feet, he got more insistent and a little rougher.Worried that he was doing more harm than good, we finally shooed him away.

It was several hours before our filly was on her way tomedical care. I dreamed of her and the young bachelor that night. I’ll always wonder about the bond that tied them. I knew our wild ones well and she did not belong. Tick paralysis had caused her to go down that day. Aside from being emaciated, she was infested with ticks and worms. The name Bugz fit her well. She was also much too young to be away from mother’s milk. What had happened? Where did she come from?

Her story began to unfold in the next few days. And what a story it was! Two days after last Christmas, members of our rescue crew had been the first to be called byWashoe County Animal Control when thirty-four wild horses were discovered slaughtered in a valley just east of our home. Three young men were eventually tried and given suspended sentences and minimal fines—a slap on the wrist for using live animals as target practice.When all the factswere in, itwas determined that our little filly had been a part of that massacre!

We will never know what went on during those two months. She was only four months old when her family was destroyed. She wandered from one valley to the next, alone and slowly starving. What a will to survive! Did the young bachelor somehow know of her trials? Did Pegasus hold her up just long enough for a wild horse lover likeme to spot her?

Bugz was not returned to the wild, as she would not have survived, but today she is free from haunting memories and now enjoying life romping with a rescued wild colt called Spirit in Carson City, Nevada. A beautiful creature; truly a survivor.

Carrol Abel

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