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August 24, 2009
I cannot recall the exact reason why I clicked the link; most likely it was boredom, coupled with curiosity. I had not been to the website in a very long time. Up popped the intro page and then one more click and I was patiently waiting for a page of gallery photos to load of mustangs in the BLM’s Internet Adoption.
I had been to several satellite adoptions before and had even been to the holding corrals in Palomino Valley, Nevada. But never had I entertained the idea of adopting a horse over the Internet on the basis of a photo. I especially was not looking to adopt anytime soon, considering the precarious financial position of my employer, a small rural county on the verge of bankruptcy due to the California state budget crisis. I was not likely to lose my job; fourteen years of job history helped ensure that. However, I had just lost 20 percent of my income and was learning what corners to cut to keep myself and my four legged dependents adequately fed and housed.
The first horse to catch my eye on the website was a beautiful yearling filly located in Oregon. She was a huge girl with a soft expression and a gorgeous, flowing flaxen mane that contrasted against her bright chestnut body. The photographs were worthy of a calendar. The adoption had not officially started, and several of the other holding facilities had not yet uploaded photos of the horses they planned to offer. I thanked my lucky stars that the only horse I really liked was over 400 miles away, not that I was going to adopt a horse, anyway. You know, just looking.
How was that Bidding Going?
Maybe a week or so went by--I really cannot recall--but I was curious about how bidding was proceeding. How would a wild mustang fare in this economy when good domestic horses were being given away due to their owners no longer being able to afford their upkeep? This time the page load took quite a bit longer. The auction was in full swing, and all the pictures had been posted, including pictures of horses at Palomino Valley.
Palomino Valley is a couple hundred miles away from where I live on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. It's a hair-raising trip during bad weather, and a somewhat white-knuckle one during good weather--well, at least for those of us who normally haul horses on an X-Y axis. I’d never asked my 14-year-old truck to do that haul, and I really was not interested in seeing if its original transmission would survive it. So, I was relatively safe to gaze upon the visages of the Palomino Valley horses. Or so I thought.
I Found Her!
Across the distance of cyberspace, a few pixels conveyed something that I normally thought could happen only in person. I had found her: my mustang. Oh, you dolt, it is just a picture, I told myself. But 5083 called out to me, enough so that I figured during a brief moment of insanity, it would not hurt to fill out the on-line application and get a bidder number.
A Friendly Helper
Well, to be honest, the insanity lasted more than a moment. I also sent out an e-mail to a very good friend with a link to 5083’s picture with the simple statement of “Look, we could be twins!” I was referring to the fact that my friend owned a strawberry roan mustang that when paired with 5083 would make a pair of matching bookends! My friend, did not retort with a declaration of my mental instability. Rather, she returned fire with an e-mail that basically stated: “Cool! When do you want me to go get her?”
You see, my friend has a bigger and more powerful truck, and she knows my fear of transmission failure. Her volunteering to go get 5083 had just solved one of the many problems that stood in the way of my adopting a horse in the first place. I took the offer as a means of encouragement toward exploring this improbable fantasy. That was when my logical mind said, “Why don’t you make a road trip up to go see this filly so you can quell this insane idea of mine and get it back to reality?”
With the recent change in my work week schedule, I had Fridays off, and there was one more Friday remaining before the close of the Internet adoption. I invited my friend to accompany me on a road trip, which she enthusiastically accepted.
Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I invited a second friend who gets along famously with the other. When she, too, accepted the invitation, I was on Cloud 9, not because I really thought I’d be deciding to bid on a horse, but because now I had all the makings of a perfect all-girl road trip. It would be a great time to catch up with each other’s lives, hopes, dreams, and fears, and I could think of no better way than to fill the middle of it all than going to look at a bunch of horses!
The East Coast coordinator of the Internet adoption called me to ask the final questions and to give me my bidder ID number. I mentioned to her that I wanted to make an appointment to view the horses at Palomino Valley but that I had not heard back from anyone, yet. No sooner had I gotten off the phone than it was ringing again. The caller ID on my phone displayed a Nevada area code. Wow! Talk about customer service. Within a few moments I had an appointment arranged to go view mustangs. The Friday road trip was coming together without a hitch.
Heading to Palomino Valley
Friday dawned, and soon I was on my way in my sedan. The first friend had stressed her back pulling too many weeds and was not up for the eight-hour car trip. Fortunately, my second friend stayed healthy and enthusiastic. I picked her up at her house and our adventure began.
During the drive, I shared my worry over the irrationality of even entertaining adopting this pixel pixie and that I was glad to have an emotional and rational baseline in my friend. I stated that regardless of whether I connected to 5083, I would not consider bidding on her unless I had successfully found a new home for High Rock Arwen, a beautiful 3-year-old filly that had been at her third and final adoption as a yearling at the time I adopted her. Arwen had filled the vacancy of Twin Peaks Nikki, a 3-year-old mustang I had recently sold. Nikki’s story was that she had been re-possessed by the BLM from her original adopter as a yearling due to severe neglect. I had taken her on to rehabilitate her and halter train her for another adoption, but I ended up adopting her myself to make sure I could choose her home. See a pattern here? I intended to keep it! The difference this time, though, was if I adopted 5083, she was to be MY horse and stay with me. I was traveling to Nevada to see if my intuitions about her were based on fact or fantasy; or perhaps a combination of both!
The road trip to Palomino Valley was a blast, until we hit the road construction on Interstate 80, just north of Truckee. They had squeezed the multi-lane highway down to one narrow lane with concrete barriers channeling traffic into a stop-and-go nightmare with no escape. The heavily-scored road repeatedly grabbed at my little commuter car’s tires, threatening to take malicious control and steer us into certain disaster. A great big semi truck ended up directly behind us and both my passenger and I nervously kept a watch on it from our insecure vantage point. Mutual consensus was that we would not take this route home, even if it meant adding extra mileage to the trip.
Even after the road construction delays, we arrived a half hour before our appointment to tour the holding facility. It was a welcome relief to step safely out onto solid ground and gaze upon the multi-pastel hued high desert landscape. It was simultaneously gorgeous and desolate.
We received a friendly welcome from the BLM staff and they immediately began our tour, starting with a corral that held a few remaining yearlings and then the Internet adoption mustangs.
5083 has Warts!
5083 in the flesh was not the 5083 I had built up in my head, based on the Internet pictures. 5083 in person had a huge, plain mustang head, was butt high, had swollen and banged-up hind legs, along with a face covered in warts! She was not about to win a beauty contest.
Before I had time to recover from the shock of seeing her in the raw, we were on our way to get a bang-up personal tour of the mares and foals in the holding corrals, courtesy of a personable BLM staff person who chauffeured us around in a BLM truck. Oh, we were in 7th Heaven getting to see all those foals so close up and personal. All of them had been born at the holding facility and so were relatively fearless of the big truck. Their curiosity had them tailing the truck like snakes following the Pied Piper.
I was busy writing down the numbers of a few foals I saw that clearly demonstrated an intermediate smooth saddle gait. I had always wanted a gaited mustang, but I had never found one, other than in the care of someone who had already adopted it. I was ready to plop down the standard $125 adoption fee and reserve one of those little gaited boogers. However, I was told that I would have to wait until they were weaned before I could adopt one, because the hope was that someone would adopt the mare along with the foal prior to weaning. Fortunately, I did not have fences high enough for an adult mustang, so I was saved from adding two to the feed rolls instead of just one in case “Just Looking” turned into “too tempting to resist!"
A Second Look
At the conclusion of the tour, my friend and I walked back to look at the Internet adoption mustangs. 5083 was patiently waiting, this time her persona projecting through the warts and awkward growth stage. She sported a rope halter and an extra long drag rope. The rope appeared to have served its purpose and was trailing her like a needless appendage. 5083 came straight up to us and wanted to be scratched and petted. She was no longer a mustang who needed to be reeled in, at least not by people visiting from outside of the corral. I hung out there, petting on her. She was exactly who she said she was through cyberspace. I was not going to be leaving Palomino Valley with a discarded fantasy. She was the real thing. My friend commented that she just knew 5083 was destined to be my horse. I responded that it remained to be seen. I had no business taking in another horse unless my other mustang found her person. The Internet adoption had only 5 days left to go. I told 5083 in mental words that she was special and whoever won the bid would love her. In fact, she already had bids on her and was going to a new home, wherever that might be.
But it remained to be seen if that home could possibly be mine.
Be sure to catch further installments of Tara's story on her website at www.foursquareequinetraining.net . -Editor
About the author
Tara Flewelling trains horses at her ranch in Artois, in Northern California. Visit her website at www.foursquareequinetraining.net.