Horse & Rider
The young mustang filly—probably a yearling—was part of a round-up at the White Mountain Herd Management Area in Wyoming. Separated from her herd, she was moved to a small pen where she received her trademark mustang freeze brand, vaccinations, and a hoof trim. This would have been her first close encounter with humans, and it was probably a scary and confusing experience.
The little filly remained in captivity for nearly 1½ years. She was among new horses, all colors and ages, but had very little human contact.
Humans loaded her into a trailer— another scary and confusing experience—and hauled her across the country to Asheville, North Carolina, where she was auctioned off and adopted. After a year of owning a Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) horse, adopters have the option of receiving a title for their horse. In June 2010, the mare was titled. This meant she was now owned by her adopter, but also now out of reach from any BLM assistance and aid.
The mare was boarded for approximately one year in a sub-par environment. Her owner had moved and was not checking in on the horse regularly. The mare ran wild in the pasture without farrier or vet care. Concerned neighbors fed her hay through the winter.
The mare changed owners and was moved to another boarding facility.
The mare was confined to a small round pen in the pasture so that she could be caught. She had to be sedated to get haltered or receive veterinary care. Though the new owner cared about the mare, she had limited resources and wasn’t getting the training help she needed.
The mare’s owner tried to find another home for the mare. If she couldn’t, she would have the mare euthanized. Instead, the mare was given to one of the workers at the barn, who moved her to a different location.
The little mustang was found abandoned in a trailer left on the side of the road in 90-plus-degree heat. She was near death. The vehicle identification number and plates had been removed so there was no way to track the owner. A crowd of bystanders had gathered, and animal control was called. Animal control let one of the bystanders take the mare on the con
dition they kept her for 30 days in case someone claimed her. They did not know that the person who took her had very little horse knowledge.
The mare was in rough shape: her ribs and hip bones were prominent: rain rot and open wounds covered her body. Though the bystander who took her offered food and water, he had no idea how to care for an emaciated, injured horse. At Carolina Equine Rescue & Assistance (CERA), we received multiple calls from concerned individuals about the mare, but animal control insisted she stay where she was for 30 days.
After 27 days, animal control agreed to let the mare come to CERA, three days short of the 30-day hold. When she arrived, she was nothing but skin and bones and had little interest in anything. Human kindness seemed foreign to her; had anyone ever offered her a gentle touch or caring voice? Still terrified of people, she would not look at anyone or let them approach her. She had to be sedated in order for the vet to examine her. Amazingly, she was in relatively good shape despite needing to gain a good deal of weight. The vet determined she was around 4 years old.
She needed a name. I chose Willow, as in the tree. They bend, but they rarely break.
With ample food and water, Willow physically blossomed at the farm. And though she eventually began to trust people enough to go into her stall, she was still very wary of being touched, especially around her face and head.
This beautiful creature had been through a lot at such a young age and despite being surrounded by food, comfort, patience, and love, I could tell she was not happy. Living in a stall was not a good life for a horse like her, but we were afraid if we turned her loose in a pen or pasture, she’d either jump the fence or refuse to be caught. After much consideration, we decided that she needed to be a wild mustang again.
I got in touch with Jackie Fleming of Cimarron Sky-Dog Reserve in Cerrillos, New Mexico. Willow’s story touched her heart and she agreed to give Willow a forever home on 1,000 acres of open range that is part of her fenced-in property. Willow would finally be happy again, running and playing with the other mustangs at the sanctuary. I knew she would never go hungry again, nor would any human ever hurt her for the rest of her life.
Willow left CERA on November 14, 2011. Although we miss her dearly, Jackie continues to document her story and keeps us posted to this day. The photos need no words. Willow’s return to freedom proved to be one of the best decisions we've ever made.