Florida horse rescue center deals with wild mustangs

The white hieroglyphics that descend from the mustang’s big brown neck and the necks of all horses like it tell part of the story – if you can crack the code.

The big “U” with the particular crossbars is easy. It’s for the US government. The small equal sign with a flattened “V” below translates to 0-7, the year of birth of the 14-year-old horse.

The next two symbols are where it gets good. The flattened “V” and the “L” towards the back indicate 7-6, revealing that this horse was rounded up somewhere in Oregon.

Maybe it was Beatys Butte, or Murderer’s Creek or Riddle Mountain, or a dozen other herd management areas in the state, all types of rugged western land where we imagine mustangs roaming free with swept manes. by the wind.

What you probably don’t imagine when you think of wild horses are the flat, green, mossy oaks of Webster in Florida, where the Wild Horse Rescue Center spans over 30 shaded acres.

This is where Pinto the Oregon Mustang arrived recently, skinny and scared, after being rescued from an “auction” in Louisiana.

The founder and president of the Wild Horse Rescue Center, Diane Delano, has dedicated her life for several decades to working with the mustangs, the free range horses managed and protected by the Bureau of Land Management as “living symbols of the historical spirit. and pioneer of the West ”.

She began by adopting wild mustangs directly from the government, but eventually focused on rescuing mustangs that were abused or destined for slaughter. She likes to say that horses come to her center “to heal themselves” more than any training.

Each horse is given a new name, said Delano, “because that old name is your past.” This is how Amigo became Pinto.

Last week, Delano, whose calm gray eyes are offset by turquoise earrings to match the turquoise chain from which his glasses dangle, entered a corral where Pinto was standing in a corner. She put her hand on the nervous horse’s neck, and when she stepped back, Pinto followed her.

“I did energetic work on him yesterday, and I think he remembers it,” she said. “We do craniosacral massage therapy, acupuncture, energy work, Reiki. My horses are getting all of these holistic things.

Horses that come to the wild also receive many months of traditional training. Some will learn to tolerate a saddle and become perfect for riding. Thor, who was rescued from the same auction as Pinto (and got the name because of his blonde mane), could soon become an MP if an upcoming visit to a South Florida sheriff’s office goes well. .

Others, like Pinto, will end up being gentle enough to make nice pets, but maybe not for riding.

There are over 50 horses at the center in various stages of preparation for adoption. Over the years, said Delano, she has trained and found homes for more than 1,000 of them. Horses that cannot be trained or adopted stay indefinitely.

But there are always more mustangs to take, even though the money to do so has been a little harder to come by since the pandemic struck.

Mustangs are the descendants of various breeds of horses that have escaped or been abandoned for hundreds of years, starting with the horses brought to America by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1400s.

After coming under federal protection in the 1970s, a once declining wild horse population rapidly multiplied. So quickly that the herds, which grow by around 20% a year if left unchecked, have left the Bureau of Land Management to scramble.

Today, it is estimated that there are approximately 70,000 wild mustangs in the West, spread across Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. That’s far more than the 27,000 horsepower the office estimates the environment can support.

To manage the population, the office assembles thousands of wild mustangs each year using helicopters, then makes these horses available for adoption.

But the value of a wild mustang as a symbol of freedom and beauty in the popular imagination – so iconic that an iconic American automobile of all time took its name – is at odds with the tangible value of a wild and wild horse without pedigree.

“Mustangs are basically mutts,” Delano said.

Training them in the type of horse people want to own takes a lot of time and effort. First, mustangs were cheap to adopt, and then the office started paying people $ 1,000 to adopt them.

A New York Times article published earlier this month described how horses adopted under this office program then ended up abandoned in auctions frequented by slaughterhouse buyers.

Each rounded mustang is marked on its neck with a series of symbols, marking it as a mustang, which should protect it.

“But that’s not the case,” Delano said.

Another rescue organization paid over $ 800 to buy Pinto at auction before sending it to Florida.

Delano is considering how the government could better manage the horse population, but remains primarily focused on saving as many Mustangs as possible in a broken system.

“We are focused on the future of these horses,” she said. “And do it with a touch of healing.”

The center was quiet. Once wild mustangs Max, an 8-year-old gray boy from Muddy Gap, Wyoming, and Cortez, an 8-year-old dark bay gathered in Nevada, huddled lovingly in a corral. Both are ready for adoption.

Hope, Faith and Promise, three once emaciated mustangs whose rescue was reported in the Tampa Bay Times 13 years ago, were chewing hay, appearing healthy.

The pandemic has derailed the international program of the Wild Horse Rescue Center. Normally, Delano has a dozen European paying customers at any given time, mostly young people who want to travel and work with horses for a few weeks to a few months.

Delano made up for the loss of income with loans, over $ 100,000 of them, and made up for the lack of people to help around the center with enthusiastic retired volunteers from the villages.

Debra Wyland brushed Ford, a 10-year-old resident at the center, in a barn. Ed Martin filled waterers. Jorge Pousa rode Pegasus around a ring. All three showed up after seeing a brief article about the center in the Villages Daily Sun and kept coming back for months.

Wyland had never been around horses in her life, except for the little horse statues which had briefly obsessed her as a child.

“When I was in kindergarten, I had a pair of red cowboy boots that I wanted to wear every day,” Wyland said. Today, at 56, she is finally learning to ride a horse.

Pousa, 60, had spent some time with horses as a teenager at a stable near her hometown of Miami. Then came a long career in the Navy, where he worked in logistics.

“Now I’m retired and can get my horse fix,” Pousa said. “I clear the stalls, then I can play. It’s like therapy. Horses can read you as well as you can read them.

Martin, 77, was from Boston. He was another “city dweller” who had never been around horses. He was just bored at home.

“There is always a lot to do here,” said Delano. A horse snorted.

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