Five gray-haired women sat around the table in the dining room; I might have been the least gray. John, a gray-beard, sat at the other end of the table. Sandy Webb had organized the ladies of Placitas Wild to visit (and inspect) Mustang Camp to see if we really could be trusted. A lot was riding on it.
Of course, I didn’t trust them too much either. Wild Horse Advocates tend to be a slippery bunch. Women on a mission can get in the habit of carelessly stepping on you as if you were a convenient rock in the puddle they are crossing, leaving you to stew in the muck of their wake. Some of these women had been on this mission for decades. These horses mean a lot to them.
Before we sat down, we had toured the corrals and pens. Petting the animals that were interested and just looking at those that were not ready to trust strangers. The horse-whisperer, Lina, quietly studied the burros. These women were used to horses that aren’t pettable. Karen Tyler, the treasurer of the organization, asked to see the hay we feed. I felt their jealousy as we stepped into our barn and looked at the stacks of giant bales. They are feeding the wild herd at a rate of $1600 a week. Sandy Johnson has been footing this bill for years. Ouch!
I had let our horses from the barn pen and the tree pen out into the yard. They were busy interacting with each other, running along the hill, which was slick with melting snow and ice. Wingnut and Denali took turns trying to impress the girls from the tree pen with their high-pitched stallion screams. The Wild Horse Advocates felt at home.
The ladies’ chatter made me nervous. They were talking in five directions. Everything was still up in the air to them. They have a lot of older animals, what would happen to them? What is the deadline to get the animals moved? I started feeling like they were uncommitted. You know how I get.
Well, John and I had found another possibility. Years and years ago, he had helped sell some land to the Valley Livestock Auction in Milan, New Mexico. He had also sold them a prefabricated building he salvaged from a uranium operation in Churchrock. It had been the auction office until the whole livestock industry changed and the little auction houses all went out of business. The building and pens have sat vacant for 20 years. When we went to see it, I expected a lot of dust and cobwebs.
It has a block of pens on five acres between I-40 and Route 66. Amtrack races by twice a day. The truckstop is within walking distance. There is a giant billboard on the back side, near the highway, advertising T-shirts at Bowlin’s Trading Post. The highway department is the next door neighbor.
Maybe someone has cleaned the building twice a year for the last 20 years? It’s kind of spiffy. A person could definitely live in that wood paneled space, if they weren’t going to use it as a place of business. The pens are another story. There are 60 of them. Half are 16ft by 24 ft, and the rest are 24ft by 32 ft. Everything is connected by narrow alleys.
The pens have three pipe rails and a panel of mesh wire grid. The mesh is a dangerous size for horses, who invariably kick at the neighbor horse, and could get their legs through the mesh with disastrous results. There is 3444 feet of this mesh that has to be removed. It is welded to the pipe. None of the gates are horse safe because they are made out of angle iron and mesh. We sat in the truckstop over a plate of green chile cheese fries and debated what to do.
We have to replace the gates. That’s easy. Could we cover the rest of the mesh with smaller mesh? That would cost more than $1 per foot. A poly mesh (plastic) cover would cost around $0.56 and it would need to be on both sides of the wire mesh. If we just totally remove the mesh, will the horses be likely to wiggle out? What about batten tape rails, how do we attach it to pipe. We finally settled on one or two strands of poly coated wire. The total cost would be around $1,000, not counting gates.
I inventoried our panels. If we move them to Milan, we can have some nice big paddocks for the horses to run. It all works and, if we buy just 17 more heavy duty panels, we would have a truly optimized situation. Okay, we just need the horses… well that and a few people to help me.
I need to start recruiting, I know that I do, but my feet seem to be dragging on it. What part of my intuition is telling me to take this slow? I am not sure. Maybe it’s the conflicting plan I had to get the online class going and require people to learn something before they come. I get up early every morning and work on the classes. Someday I will show you. But, let’s be honest, how can I recruit when I don’t have a place and I don’t have horses? It is like a giant Rubik’s cube that I have to rotate into place in the wee hours of the morning while I would rather be sleeping than staring at the ceiling.
So the ladies sat down at the dining room table. I handed them our Training Protocol Pamphlet. It was like the movie where the people adrift at sea have a shore bird land on the bow. They sense salvation is at hand. We spent a long time talking about how our program works, our adoption policies, how we work with the BLM, and what we have to do differently with the Humane Society horses. In the movie, they are on-board with the Coast Guard now.
We talk about the Milan facility and how it simplifies a lot of things. Mustang Camp has enough money for the renovations needed (thanks to you!) PlacitasWild and MustangCamp start planning to move horses. We will ask the ASPCA to help us craft an adoption agreement that meets the needs of both organizations. They will create a spreadsheet of their horses. We will arrange life to take the bachelor band for gelding as the first order of business. We hope the Milan vet is mustang-friendly. My job is to call him on Monday.
They have to raise money for the expenses of dealing with the horses. We have given them a ball park of $600 for those we also get adopted and $500 for those they get adopted, not including gelding. Everyone is working from a list of things to do.
The yard horses stampede past the dining room window where we work. They are wet with the sloppy mud along the hill. They remind us of what we are doing here.
The Placitas horses have been a problem for decades. There are foals and there are ancient ones. The BLM has been involved at the Regional Office. These horses have press agents. Have you seen their calendar? (buy one) It will be a pretty powerful statement if Mustang Camp, in just a few months, helps these horses gracefully transition into privatization. Fathers of young girls should be warned, we will soon be wanting your daughter to adopt a pony! I am a woman on a mission.
ps. The lease isn’t signed and I just got word that the ladies are looking at some other options. We are going to just have to see where this takes us. I will call the vet anyway to see about getting Pete and Trevor fixed.