It was almost intoxicating being there. The near perfect buzz from the blazing sun pushing down on us as we rode the four wheeler through miles of untouched land, set the prime conditions for an even greater high of what was to come in the next days.
I was invited by the Serengeti Foundation’s Director, and my dear friend in all things animal rescue, Holly, to visit their new project in Southern Colorado after our most recent Soul Dog Rescue clinic in New Mexico. We didn’t arrive to Engler Canyon until late Sunday night/early Monday morning. As we made our way through the black hills of New Mexico, there was no need for anything more than the moon to light the most beautiful rock formations and deep rooted trees that had been there for hundreds of years. Almost instantly, I could feel these sacred lands planting their own roots in my soul, and I knew there was no turning back.
When I finally awoke, two hours later than I had anticipated, I was greeted by my most favorite odd beating tripod mutt, followed by his newest sister- the one eyed rez dog that earned her own space on the odd beating, bad ass mutt crew. The smell of coffee consumed the room as a new days light flooded in as a force to be reckoned with- the duo made for a perfect pair to put an instant smile on my face. The (seriously) always beautiful Holly poured me a fresh cup of Serengeti Coffee, as she filled me in on the days to come. By the time I was on my second cup, I was ready to take on these seemingly untouched acres of land.
We spent the day cruising around on the four wheeler as she told me about plans of the future for something great to happen here. Antelope busted by in herds of anxious leaping, as the prairie dogs called to one another in an even more anxious manner to warn of our arrival as we passed by. I tried to not seem star struck as coyotes made their way through the hills, followed by the first band of wild horses for the day. The dust cloud filled of chestnut, grey, and black moved in unison, and even with over 100 wild mustangs on site, Holly knew exactly who they were. “That’s Audrey’s band”, she said with the most pure smile on her face. I nodded slowly, and internally gave myself my classic “play it cool” pep talk as I encountered a new species of wild creatures. I spend hours surrounded by the cuddliest of kittens and don’t go a single day without getting to squeeze on a puppy, but if you put me in front of anything other than a domestic mammal, I lose my mind. Professionalism goes almost immediately out the window. Mostly, I have found, is because the respect I have for animals is second to none. What an honor it is to be in the presence of something so great. Whether it be a cow or an elephant, my knees go weak at the sight of such beautiful beings that I have yet to get used to.
Later that day, we drove out to a new part of the sanctuary that I had yet to see. We parked the truck at the top of a hill, and made our way into what was rightfully deemed Whiskey Meadows. The canyon opened up into a meadow that was surrounded by steep walls of rock formations that held history I can’t even put into words.
Within minutes, we turned the corner to find a band of horses that had yet to be named. The six beauties immediately stopped grazing upon our arrival-we had gained their undivided attention, and I was soaking in every second of it.
A (minuscule) Canyon apart, we all stopped to stare at one another. Two groups: the three of us mere humans against these majestic beauties. It was my first, real face to face interaction with these wild mustangs I had been longing to meet. It was breathtaking and terrifying and I wanted more. What a beautiful thing, to be able to appreciate such an incredible creature on it’s own time and in it’s own environment. Beautiful may be one way to describe it, but painfully honored is an even better description. As I took in every second of the interaction between us all, I overheard Holly say under her breath that there were only six, and that there usually was eight in this particular band. I took note as we continued on our journey, and left them to continue grazing.
Holly had spent hours, if not full days earning the trust of these creatures that had been betrayed by us humans. Another species that I hadn’t even considered to be tainted so much by the race that I claim my own. Most of the horses on their land were saved directly from slaughter. They were most all caught up in the yearly wild horse roundup. Helicopters swarm from above, chasing the horses for miles in hopes to push them into premade pens. The old and weak often literally get run to death, and many foals are separated from their mothers and die alone. Once in the pens, some spend years until they are even considered to be sold/sent to auction. The process is disgustingly brutal. It’s no wonder most would run scared at the sound of our four wheeler, as it’s motor is eerily similar to the blades of a chopper coming in to strike. I will never forget the words Holly told me as we rode back to the main house when the day was finished, “When these bands were next up for auction, we stepped up to take them. They gave us the too sick, too ugly, and three strikers”. I was sick to my stomach at the thought that these near perfect creatures could be “too anything” other than beautiful.
The next day, we made our way out to a similar area that we went to before, except from a different entrance. Even with the slightest change of a new approach, gave new light to these breathtaking lands. We parked our vehicle, and decided to head towards our destination by foot. Within minutes, there were three bands of horses in different areas all surrounding us. They lifted their heads with the slightest bit of curiosity, and after a quick examination, they continued on their day. It was clear that Holly had made herself known among these vast groups of geldings. As we rounded the bend, on the opposite side of where we were the night before, I was stopped in my tracks as I made eye contact with the same band from the previous evening.
They immediately stopped what they were doing, as I quickly counted not six, but seven of my favorite chestnut colored band. Holly pointed out the added number, yet there was still one missing. We began the dance of the mustang, something very foreign to me.
Holly had previously given me a debriefing of how your interaction with a band should go, but it wasn’t until this moment, only a few 50 feet away, that I was to put it to the test. Slow movements, relaxed postures, and good vibes were the key to this strange, new way of interaction. As a Veterinary Technician for small animals, I am used to physical, hands on relationships. I build connections through my “forced TLC” methods, and almost always get to touch my patients to show my gratitude and respect, even if it takes extra time. But this, this was a foreign language to me, and I was immediately intoxicated, almost addicted, to it all.
We made our way painfully slow towards the group, and would stop after any sense of fear or hesitation on their end. We would stop, heads down, even talking to one another pretending that they weren’t there, as they decided what their next move would be. The leader would make the first move. If they were curious of you, and not as fearful, they would turn, trot back as if they were going to run away, and track back around to face you again, either steps closer or further back than before. The rest of the band would follow suit, and end up in a straight line to face you once again. Their communication was without a sound, yet they knew exactly what to do.
This interaction continued, as we made it to about 30 feet apart, until something spooked the whole group of them. Whether it be an adjusted posture on our part, or something far off that we were unable to hear, they were gone in an instant.
We went on our way, as Holly continued to be the best tour guide to these unfamiliar valleys and hills that surrounded me. Throughout our journey, we came face to face with many, beautiful bands, but in the back of my mind, I was unable to shake the band that I felt an instant connection with.
When it was time to turn around, we took another route back to the vehicle. Even then, like it was meant to be, we ran into that same band as before; the same band that kept popping back into our lives. This time was different. This time, there was the eighth, mysterious horse that had made its way back to the group. Any other horse that I had thought to be the leader before, was immediately overcome by the sheer power and presence that this new horse held. She was old, at least 30, and had a clear abnormality in her gait that made me wince every time she took a step. She was powerful and strong, and I almost immediately felt a connection between us.
The dance of the mustang commenced, and I was as enthralled as I could have ever been. We had done this dance with many bands throughout the day, yet this one felt different. The leader was confident, and she lead the way to us much faster than any others before. As the rest of the band stood back and continued to investigate our presence, she pushed forwarded at least five feet at a time with every circular pattern. Sometimes, she even skipped the movement of circling around the band to come back around, and just proceeded forward to us. We stood our ground until the whole band was face to face with us, not even 20 feet apart. 20 feet may seem like a long ways away to stand from an animal, but to a wild mustang, to a wild animal that had been continually betrayed by the human race, this was monumental-especially to someone who had never even imagined to be in this situation.
The standoff was at its peek as the band of eight miraculous mustangs stood confidently above us on the hill, and Holly and I faced them with utter respect and gratitude. We didn’t speak a word as neither of us broke eye contact with these powerful creatures. Tears rolled down my face as the band leader and myself exchanged a connection that I am unable to fully put into words. It was as if she took a part of my soul, and I willingly gave it to her. My heart raced and I was completely lost in the moment. Not a single thought crossed my mind. I only prayed that it would never end.
It could have been seconds, minutes, or hours that went by, but when it finally ended, and the band went on their way, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. The seven horses turned almost in unison, and galloped away over the hill ahead, with the final eighth, my girl, the last to follow.
When Holly and I finally looked at each other, I was a nervous wreck as to what her reaction would be. Would she brush it off as just another day at the office, or did she feel everything that I had just felt. To my surprise, she turned to me and said,”Well, I think that is your band”. I could have dropped to my knees and cried in that moment. The reassurance that all I felt was palpable was the greatest feeling I had felt in awhile. It was in that moment that a tsunami of emotions hit me. I had spent so long putting every ounce of my being into helping creatures I could tangibly examine and build a connection with. But this, this was another level of connection.
She continued to tell me that she had not been able to get close to that band before I arrived, and she, too, felt the gravity of the interaction. In that time, she also told me that I could name the band leader, the one I had felt so deeply, immediately for. Instantly, and I’m not completely sure why, Mo, came to my mind. I’m unsure of what her name had been before, or if she had ever even been given a name, but she was mine and I was hers, and that girl will forever be named Mo. No matter what had happened in her previous life, she is surely loved and respected now, as Mo.
We talked later about the experience, and how earth shattering it was for me to come to terms with how incredible it was to appreciate an animal in its environment without actually having physical contact with it. It was made quickly clear, Mo will have rocked my world forever, whether I liked it or not.
How beautiful would it be, to live in a world, where everyone was able to experience and appreciate all of earth’s creatures in their natural environment, without having to physically touch or control them. Without them having to be held captive as we ogle at their presence, and try and change their life to suit our pleasure. A girl can dream, right?
To learn more about these incredible mustangs and some of their stories, as well as how you can help, visit Serengeti’s website for more information.