by Paula Drake
Several years ago my animal rescue work led me down a new path. I met 3 branded American mustangs in 2007 as a result of a cruelty/neglect case in Kentucky.
The Risner family of Cynthiana lived on a dirt poor farm where they thought they would “make a good living” breeding horses for sale. WRONG. They did nothing for the horses – just stuck them in a field, thinking they would get enough sustenance off the overgrazed hillsides. They bought at auctions – buying the low-enders in bad shape and they bought BLM (Bureau of Land Management) branded mustangs because they were cheap and the Risners believed since they needed even less than “regular horses” to survive. The neighbors finally convinced the state troopers to investigate.
The horse non-profit with which I was involved at the time got involved as well. What was found on the property were piles of bones and horses in various stages of decomposition, as well as a sickly herd of survivors. The worst part of this crime was that though the local authorities had known about this for some time, they had chosen to do nothing. That’s Kentucky for you! Most people don’t know that Kentucky is ranked as one of the worst states regarding laws protecting the welfare of animals, especially horses.
The non-profit gained possession of 5 mustangs. I was able to find them temporary pasture nearby where they would spend the fall and winter on a farmer’s cut alfalfa fields that were due to be reseeded the next year. 3 of the 5 were the only survivors of the Risner’s direct purchases from the BLM. We were told the other two were mustangs as well, but they were unbranded. We guessed they were offspring of branded mustangs. Those two were able to be handled and the farmer asked to keep them.
The 3 branded mares had had enough of people and were very wary and aloof, especially the dark bay mare. I named her Fire. I named the red clay sorrel Earth and my favorite became Wind. I worked through the winter to find them a mustang sanctuary that would take all three since they were so bonded. I really wanted to take Wind, but Fire seemed particularly attached to her and I wanted to minimize her stress and make for an easy transition. I was particularly excited when the Black Hills Sanctuary told me they made room for them and a spring haul was planned.
We fundraised for the vetting and hauling costs while unbeknownst to me, a man running a “new sanctuary” contacted the non-profit and convinced them that his sanctuary would be a better place for the mares. I was not told of the switch until the last minute. NOTHING felt right about this, but I was outvoted on the decision. I said my goodbyes to the mares and prayed they would have a good life at “Three Strikes Ranch”, a sanctuary “devoted” to branded BLM horses who had gone through the BLM auction process multiple times and had not been adopted: thus the term “Three Strikes”.
This man also solicited mustangs needing homes, charging the owners a one time fee for “a lifetime of care and beautiful pastures”. I asked about them regularly and the non-profit’s contact assured me they were fine. THEN, one bleak day, the horse sites on the internet were ablaze with the news of “scores of dead mustangs found on Nebraska ranch”. Yes, it was Three Strikes Ranch.
To make a very long story short, the next couple weeks were hell as I worked to locate the three mares after the 220 survivors were moved to the local fairgrounds and catalogued. Former owners were asked to identify and prove ownership in order to remove their formerly owned mustangs. With the AWESOME help of Front Range Equine Rescue, I located the three mares, was able to secure the right to claim and move them, with the consent of the non-profit. I now owned three wild mustangs who wanted no part of humans. Again I was tempted to take Wind, but again, Fire’s attachment to her ruled. Lisa, my friend and owner of the boarding barn where my horses currently reside, always says, when there is a need, the Lord will provide. Just let it happen. HE DID.
I found Eric Moltzan, an awesome rancher/hauler in Iowa who was ready and able to go to Nebraska to pick up three unhandled-able wild horses. I found an AWESOME sanctuary in Oklahoma with mustang credentials (thoroughly checked out by me) who had room for all three. Off they went to Linda of Grey Oaks Farm. Even though the con man swore he would never breed the mares, all three were pregnant. Fire sadly aborted her baby boy en-route to Oklahoma. Wind produced a healthy filly we named Breeze and Earth foaled a colt we named Sky. Little did any of us know three mustangs would become 5 almost overnight.
Now years later, Wind, Breeze, and Sky are still with Linda, living a simple quiet life at Grey Oaks. Fire and Earth had peaceful ends with Linda, both having lived very long lives despite the cruel hands dealt them by man – first being removed from the range by the BLM, then at the hands of the Risners, and then at the hands of Three Strikes’ Jason Meduna.
I am so grateful they found love and care for their final chapter and a life as close to being free on the range as Linda and I could give them.
Sky gave everyone a surprise. Before Linda had him gelded, he sneaked a rendezvous with Wind and they produced a baby boy Linda named Rain. I am forever grateful to Linda for stepping up, to the Iowa rancher for being willing to haul them, and to Front Range Equine Rescue for making it all happen!