The Hands and Heart of an Adopter

I have a couple of stories to bring to you about adoptions of Wild Horses.

I’ll start with an article Rob Pliskin sent to me.


In Memory of Tobey, A Wild Horse:

and in Honor of Robert Denlinger and Cher Eastep

by Rob Pliskin

Rob Pliskin with Duster and Mel (Tracy Gantz)

I have been a volunteer in the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program for 12 years.  During that time I worked two stints at Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, a gracious way station and sometimes end of the line for horses and burros in the High Desert of southern California.

I have seen horses and burros come and go, from weanlings just off the range who wanted to walk up under your elbow, to adults bouncing off the panels to escape.   What I’ve seen in these 12 years runs the gamut, from blessed unions between animals and adopters, to hard rescues of the abused and neglected in dire, deadly straits.

The first strong truth which stands out for me in every case is this:  These horses and burros, against their will, have been delivered into the hands and ultimately the hearts of the people who will come in contact with them for the rest of their lives.

Nearly all of these animals (that is, a number far more than any “vast majority” you could name) were living good lives meant for them in the wild before their capture.  They lived in family bands and herds in a way which guaranteed them the biggest shot at thriving nature could provide.  At the exact moment of their capture, this freedom was replaced by a complete and lifelong dependence on the hands and hearts of humans.

Even in the best of cases, I question whether that is a fair trade.  And in the worst, we all know it is not.  Who among us would not bounce off steel corral panels in their place?   We, who can never fully imagine the freedom of their wild, or the deadly fear of their captivity, would still know it for what it is.  And we too would undoubtedly resist.

Regarding this captivity then, the second equally strong truth which stands out for me is knowing the importance of the hands and the heart of the wild horse and burro adopter.

And when I try to describe these hands and hearts, too many words just flat get in the way.  So let me choose a few, and then introduce you to two people, Robert and Cher,  and a wild horse named Tobey:  two sets of human hands and indeed, three linked hearts.  The story of the Hands and Heart of an Adopter is really told in the text of the email below, sent by Robert Denlinger of Denstar Farms, one of Tobey’s first rescuers, to Tobey’s second rescuer, Cheryl Eastep  of Freedom Ranch, who provided a lifelong home for Tobey until his passing this week.

I met Cher in 1998 and Robert in 1999, when the Adoption Program began co-sponsoring weeklong gentling clinics across the country, providing hands-on education for anyone who wanted to learn to do their best with the captive wild horses and burros in the Program.

With an adoption at the beginning of the week and one at the end, many animals had an improved chance of a good adoption, having received some decent experience with human beings.  Many of the public participants during the week also had good experience with the horses and burros, and many took home an animal they could meet in the corrals for a week first at the workshop.

Robert was one of the teachers.  Cher was another, and co-directed the weeklong activities in the clinics for years, in addition to founding Freedom Ranch, a non-profit facility for abused and neglected wild horses and burros.   While many of the teachers like Robert and Cher were handy and adept with the animals, many of the participants had a lot of that to learn.

But here is the key:  Getting handy, good with your hands and your feet, your arms and your legs, your ropes and things, is something you can do – it just takes practice.  Lots of practice.  And the wonderful thing about the horses and burros is, they like it when you practice, and they are forgiving for the most part when you make a mistake.  Because both of those things when put together mean you care about themAnd it is in a horse’s and burro’s nature, in their own unique way, to care back.

THIS to me is the most important part of an adopter’s profile.   Experienced hands and a cold or cruel heart do not make a good adoption.  But inexperienced hands and a kind heart do.   The horses and burros know this, and again and again, all they try to do every day is wait their best for you to get better at both.  Obviously, it is far easier for them to wait for your hands and not your heart.  But they will even wait for that, and sadly for some, even to their starvation, injury, or death.

This, in Tobey’s case, is what makes them horses.  And this, ultimately, is the third and strongest truth of this essay.   They will wait for you, but do not tarry.  It is in the heart of a wild horse and burro.  It is why they followed us for centuries, and still do, helping us build this country.  Reach in and  match the bigness of your heart with the bigness of theirs, in some way, your way.  Then,  reveal it to them, every day, day in, and day out.  That is the Hands and Heart of an Adopter. Find them here, in the email from Robert to Cher.   And take them with you into the corral, wherever and whenever you go.  Because these animals, no matter what they look like or what they do, are bringing theirs to you.

(Note:  Cher at Freedom Ranch is www.freedomranch.net .  Robert’s Denstar Farm website can be found in the link in his email below.)


Oh Cheryl I cry with you I am afraid. Tobey came here beaten and
bedraggled by humans. He had three ropes from lariats embedded in the
poll area and maggots crawling out everywhere. He had snaggle teeth on
one side of the jaw from being beaten with boards. He had burn marks on
his back from cigarettes. He had the definite outline of white hair
across his back from being hit so very hard one time with a 2×4.

That was the Tobey I met .. his head hung a little lower than normal,
when he stepped out of that trailer.

When no one was around a little later, I asked him if he’d let me remove
the ropes; spray it with water and put wound dressings on it. He looked
suspiciously at me. So I promised I wouldn’t go beyond certain zones, in
front of the ears nor farther down the neck-line. He agreed and lowered
his head and I knew I was communicating with him. This was Tobey, always
ready to try and believe in someone. Yet he was also always ready to
defend himself in a serious manner.

After 45 minutes, Tobey had patiently let me cut the ropes out and spray
it all off as well as put dressing on the area.

The first picture on this page was taken by Mary just a while after he
got here. I had the spray-wound-dressing in my left hand:

http://www.denstarfarm.us/Denstar%20Web/Trash/Horse/Tobey.html

Tobey (photo courtesy DenstarFarm)

Tobey was so very intelligent and so very regal. When he met Cheryl, we
all could see he knew he’d gone to heaven. At Cheryl’s place in Colorado
Tobey would proudly demonstrate the things he new would get him a
“Click” and a treat.

I loved listening to Tobey ;;; He just really liked to chortle. Chortle
a greeting; chortle that a sheep was in his stall; chortle that he
wanted Cheryl to turn on his favorite country-western radio station.

What a guy he was! That stout chest .. and when he had to demonstrate to
a miscreant horse exactly *WHO* was king, Tobey would sit back on his
butt and punch with two front feet!! It was quite an awesome thing to watch.

Tobey let me ride him, though no one was ever around to take a picture.
He did let Mary watch a few times. I suppose I am the only one who ever
got on his back. I am truly honored to have met him and been allowed to
be his friend.

We are all lucky that Cheryl drove all the way out here to give him a
life long home. I knew I’d lost a buddy but I knew he’d been in the
absolute best care he could ever have. Tobey ate well when Cheryl had
hard times and had to cut back for herself.

Well, I guess I’ll tell Mary about this. I can promise you that there
isn’t a week go by, since he left here, that the splendid guy isn’t
mentioned as a reference to this or that subject.

Long live Tobey’s memory!

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4 thoughts on “The Hands and Heart of an Adopter

  1. Jan Eaker says:

    Thank god for the people who care about these horses, and thank you, Laura, for bringing us their stories. The hearts of horses humble me.

  2. Me too, Jan. When I was a girl I was given an abused mustang. He was so smart and likely one step ahead of me. He taught me and we both overcame our fears together. Tobey, you were loved and deserved every moment of kindness. mar

  3. Rob Pliskin says:

    http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Planning_and_Renewable_Resources/wild_horses_and_burros.Par.45784.File.dat/fallwinternewsletter0708final3.pdf

    For those interested in a “Hands On” approach to gentling a wild horse, this is a link to four articles I wrote for the BLM Adoption Program Online Newsletter.

    My best, for the Horses, Rob Pliskin

  4. Rob, Some of us need no convincing and these stories are like ones from our own lives. But they do tell us over again that these are wonderful, smart and giving horses. Thanks for these. The abilities of these horses and enjoyment a rider/friend derives from the relationship is fulfilling and life changing. mar

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