It started out as a regular, casual Saturday morning when I was enjoying a cup of coffee and scrolling the news feed of Facebook. As I came across a photo posted of a mustang mare listed in a kill pen, I suddenly had an overwhelming feeling of love. There was so much love coming through from that picture to me and it was so intense, that I had to look away. I could not believe how strong that feeling felt to me. My heart knew, at that moment, she was the horse for me but my mind said, "Wait a minute, that's a Mustang. Do you know what you are getting yourself into? What do you know about Mustangs? You've only had horses for six years and before that you knew nothing about them. You'll be in way over your head."
"Yes," said my heart, "but the gal at the kill pen taking photos to help get them adopted says she's real sweet and when I look in her eyes in the photo, she appears calm too. And I can't deny the overwhelming feeling that I undoubtedly felt." So, I sent payment for the mustang mare and had her picked up that day. Having been at the kill pen, she could very well have been exposed to possible contagious illnesses. We had her sent to quarantine until she was clear and no longer contagious to come home to our other horses.
I went to visit her at the quarantine and she would not come near me. If I tried to get near her, she jolted away. My mind said "What have I done? She won't even come near me. How am I going to have the vet out? How am I going to have the farrier tend to her hooves? How am I going to load her in the trailer? How am I going to catch her in the field once she's home? What was I thinking?" I was focused on the logistics of the relationship.
I had that overwhelming feeling of love when I initially saw her photo online, but I hadn't felt that or received that feeling since that time. My mind said, "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I misinterpreted that feeling. Maybe she's not for me. Maybe she would be better off with someone who knows horses better than me."
Then I receive a call from a dear friend whom I have spoken with in a very long time who has 19 horses of her own. I answered the phone saying, "That is so funny you call right now! I am on my way to see the Mustang I just adopted." There it was. The cat was out of the bag. I have tilted the meter back toward the commitment of keeping her because I know I have support. My friend replies, "That great, Kat! I am so proud of you!" Her words of encouragement were exactly at the right time. I mean really, you couldn't have planned such perfect timing from an experienced, encouraging woman at such the precise time amidst my quandary. "You can do it," she says. "I know you can. It'll be alright."
I scheduled a call with my animal communicator to find out more about her. When you adopt from a kill pen, which is their last stop for social media to adopt them out before they are shipped to be processed for consumption, you know nothing about them or their history. From the conversation, I found out she had been at a trainers before where they were making her run around a lot and she had her hooves done but had been sedated to do so. My mind was pleased that she had some sort of human interaction and training.
I then researched her particular freeze brand on her neck that all Mustangs receive when they are rounded up from the wild by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). It says she was born in 1991 and rounded up from the state of Nevada. "But how old was she when she was rounded up?" my mind asks. "You know they say, if they've been rounded up later in life, they are hard to train and handle. If she was born in 1991, that means she's 25. She was probably rounded up later in life." "We don't know that," says my heart. So I wrote to the BLM to find out at what age she was rounded up.
Meanwhile, I brought her treats while she was in quarantine. At first, she was very hesitant to accept from my hand. Then she accepted the treat from my hand, which was a big step for me. She was hesitant, but she did accept my gift. Still, she would not let me near.
Finally the day arrived we were to bring her home. We aligned the fence panels for her to be guided onto the trailer. It took some coaxing, but we were finally able to get her in the trailer and loaded to come home. We arrived home and opened the gate for her to unload straight into the round pen. This would be her new home for a few days to adjust to her surroundings and then eventually meet the rest of the herd.
I brought her hay and she had plenty of water every day. I set up a chair just outside the round pen and I would sometimes read to her and sometimes just sit with her. If I gave her a treat, she would stretch her neck to receive it but still, there was a 3 foot distance between us. My mind said, "Well, you better be able to get a halter on her before you let her out of this round pen or you'll never be able to catch her. You'd have 5 acres of chasing her and she is quite a bit faster than you, Dear."
So I entered her round pen with a halter slung over my shoulder thinking it would be more incognito by blending it with my body. She could sense I had an intent and she started walking to the back side of the pen. I used all the gentle tricks in my book that I've learned. Approach slowly. Don't face them direct because that is sending predatory direct energy to them, stand with your side to their side and approach that way. Approach thinking about something else. Those little nuggets of wisdom didn't work with this smart cookie. She was on the other side of the pen now standing facing me directly. Hmmm...don't think this is going to work. I'll try a little bit each day then. Repetition.
The next time I came in with a treat with the halter slung over my hand ready to slip it over her nose once she bit the cookie. She accepted the cookie, I touched the halter to her nose and she realized my trickery and pulled away. She did not accept any more cookies that day. I then remembered the amount of time it took for us to work on getting our first horses haltered which definitely didn't happen in a week. So I set that little halter project aside.
At this time, the other horses were getting antsy to meet the new girl so we let them into this pasture while Cassie was still safely in the round pen. They all came up to the round pen, one by one, checking on her, stepping away and coming back to see more. Montana was first to see her. He is the only male in our herd of six horses. He was absolutely smitten with her. They look a little bit alike too. They were all curious but there didn't seem to be any trouble between any of them with Cassie.
The next day we did the same introduction again and all the horses didn't seem to be so interested this time and they went to grazing on the other side of the 5 acre pasture down by the pond. So, we opened the gate of the round pen and let Cassie go out if she wanted. She was ready. She went through the gate with a little hop and started walking around. She got closer to the herd and Montana saw her and went to visit. It was amazing to see how he just cared for her and showed her around the property, the pond, the forest, where to get a drink of water and smoothed any conflicting relations any of the other horses may have had toward her. There was only one rear kicking incident between Cassie and the lead mare, Stella, where Stella went to kick first but Cassie is so quick and street smart she got Stella first and that was the end of any of that ever happening again.
I believe Mustangs innately know herd behavior and I think are quite polite and peaceful. I can only say that from my experience with Cassie. But they have been in a family and community for hundreds of years, it's in their blood. Where most of our domesticated horses for generations have been taken away from their mother at a very young age and are kept in a stall at a stable for most of their life with minimal turnout with other horses. How could they know social interactions so well like Mustangs who have family and community based relationships?
I had been giving time for Cassie to get to know the herd and all the dynamics first before I start trying to work with her more on our relationship. She lives with the herd 24/7 and I see her for a few hours a day. I thought it most important to have all the relationships smoothed out before we can truly focus on our relationship.
I had always been trying to reach out and pet Cassie, always checking to see if she would let me touch her. I even figured during feeding time I could be close enough to pet her nose. With this experiment I would get close, but never close enough to touch. Every time she would come for a bite, I would reach my fingertips out and she would pull her head back. Then I recognized it would be really unpleasant if someone was trying to touch my face while I'm eating. So, I threw that trick out the door.
In fact, I stopped trying to reach my hands out at her completely. I decided to love her heart forward not hands forward, not wanting anything from her but just a relationship.
It was about this time I finally heard back from the BLM on what age Cassie was rounded up from the wild. She was rounded up when she was one year old and adopted to an individual in Oklahoma and titled at the age of two. So my mind was pleased she had most likely been around humans her whole life and that increased my confidence around her.
When we had conversed with Cassie in my call with the animal communicator, Cassie clarified when she pulls away from people, it's not because she is scared but because she is particular about the energy she is around. This changed my perspective of what I thought was a once wild, untouchable horse is now a wise, sensitive being with healthy boundaries. She has taught me to have discernment of friends and counsel in my life as well.
So I started walking along with her as she grazed one day like two friends taking a walk together in the park. We were just walking along together. She, grazing while I'm looking around appreciating the beauty all around me. I, never wanting anything from her, never reaching out to try to touch her or get something from her, but just connecting like old friends sharing in a common interest.
There was a time when the horses were standing around the hay rings seemingly half asleep after enjoying a full dinner. I decided to join them and sat on the edge of one of the hay rings. No words. No movement. Just joining them like one of the herd. I tuned into my surroundings, noting where each horse was, listening to the birds over head, the sound of the tree leaves fluttering as the breeze tickled them. It was a very calm, relaxing feeling. In fact, it was a knowing, a knowing that all was well.
As I was among the herd, I checked in with Cassie. I imagined with my heart that I was standing next to her and reaching my hand out to pet her shoulder. In my heart imagination, she did not pull away. She accepted the gesture. I then imagined in my heart that I was affectionately hugging her neck like I do with the other horses and she pulled away. I again imagined with my heart brushing my hand on her shoulder and she accepted. It was after that moment of heart imagination, checking to see where Cassie and I stood energetically in our boundaries, that she no longer physically pulled away when I was near her.
Then it was like a lightbulb went on. She was walking past me after her dinner and I felt I had the permission to physically connect with her by touch. So I stood there, reached out my hand and was able to brush my fingertips along her side as she walked by. She never flinched, startled nor pulled away. Success! I thanked her profusely for her gift! Wow! It was nearly one month to the day that I adopted to her to having her confidence and trust in me. Now she allows me to pet her and stand close. It is a very natural feeling to be together like indeed we are old friends.
A true, rewarding friendship now has it's solid foundation.
The true relationship is just getting started.
Kate Cornelius posts about her passion and experiences of well-being
weaving ancient indigenous traditions with her herd of horses.
Heart Forward Not Hands Forward
Equine Sanctuary & Community Gathering Place for Wholeness & Well-Being