The Mustang Horses I Grew Up With

by Cathy Cleveland

Ever wonder what the BLM does with all those Mustang horses they round up? Well, the lucky ones are adopted out to loving homes.

They say childhood is a magical time, at least it was for me. Mine got magical when the horses entered my world. Each one bearing gifts, they shaped my life in ways I could never have imagined...

Mustang Horses 1 of 5: Castaña

Meet Castaña, She was captured in Washoe County, Nevada near Virginia City. She was 20 months old when I got to adopt her out of the Susanville holding corrals. She was my family's first Mustang and my first horse. You may wonder why in the world my mother would let a 14 year old adopt a Mustang. Good question.  

Mustang horses can do it all

My mother was raised in the Nevada/Utah desert area and her brothers would catch and train Mustangs for the local ranchers to help support the family. Sometimes they would let her go on the roundups. Her first horse was a Mustang too (secretly I think she was just looking for an excuse to get another one for herself!).

This mare was the LOVE of my life. We had more fun together than should be legal. She grew to a stout 16 hands and we worked all the other Mustangs that followed, off of her. The only thing that I never got the chance to do with her was clock her on the track... always wanted to do that...

Castaña gave me the gifts of pride and freedom.

Mustang Horses 2 of 5: Pepita

Meet Pepita, she was captured in Modoc National Forest and held in Susanville for adoption. She was almost 2 years old when we got her for my mother. (I told you she wanted her own Mustang!)

My Mothers mustang mare PepitaYou've got to have a gentle hand with Mustang horses

Pepita had the sweetest, innocent, most willing personality ever. Just a little doll from the get-go. The older she got, the prettier she got. My mother absolutely adored this little mare. Her very first childhood horse had been a little black Mustang mare named Dina. To her, Pepita was Dina all over again.

As you know, the difference between a green horse and a seasoned horse is time under the saddle. My mother decided she wanted an additional 60 hours on her before school let out for the summer. She gave me less than 2 months to do it. Everyday after school I would saddle Pepita and away we would go. Sixty hours and a lot of miles later, she was shaping up to be a little gem of a horse.

Then our world fell apart. Unbeknownst to us Pepita had brought back with her a belly full of black sand from the Modoc National Forest. We lost her to sand colic/twisted gut. We had owned her for exactly 1 year and 3 months.

My mother was devastated. It's been over 20 years ago and she still can not speak of Pepita without crying. My own mare went into a deep depression and lost over 75 pounds in less than three weeks.

My mother and my horse were both emotionally distraught over the loss of Pepita. My dad and I agreed there seemed only one logical solution. We needed another Mustang ASAP! So back to Susanville we went...

Pepita taught me how to love deeper.

Mustang Horses 3 of 5: Ballerina

Meet Ballerina, she was captured in Lassen National Park and held in Susanville. She was just over two years old when we adopted her for my mother.

My mothers second Mustang BallerinaMustang horses can be a real challenge!

When the wranglers herded her into the loading chute, she kicked the back wall with both back feet six times before touching the ground again! I will never forget the excitement and the look on my mother's face, "Did you see that? She's just like a dancer! Graceful as a ballerina in the Russian Ballet!" Ballerina was named before we even had her loaded in the truck.

There was nothing soft and fuzzy about Ballerina. She was half clown, half mountain goat and wily as a fox. She taught me all about sun-fishing. You know, the unannounced, explosive bucking fits where a horse goes completely airborne with all four feet and turns themselves 'inside-out' to show their underbelly to the sun.

Ballerina's response to fear went something like this: Death Unto Rider

She is single-handed-ly (single-hoof-edly?) responsible for nearly all the aches and pains I have in my body today. There's a lesson in there somewhere... Oh, yeah, I remember now: Don't skimp on the ground work, kids!

Ballerina, a.k.a. 'Rubber Lips,' was also a huge clown. She was the goofiest horse ever. She brought a lot of laughter and many years of joy to me and my family. But more importantly, she healed my mother's broken heart.

My mother is deathly afraid of heights, yet she rode Ballerina over high mountain trails perched on the edge of eternity with utmost faith. The summer I left for college, they rode the Pacific Crest Trail and many others covering nearly 85 miles of mountainous terrain.

My mother would brag about her horse, "My fiery little red-head is the finest mountain horse I've ever seen. She can pick her way through places that would make a billy goat puke." Mom and 'Reeny' had earned their bragging rights. I was true, she really was a damn fine mountain horse.

Ballerina forced me to be courageous and strong.

Mustang Horses 4 of 5: One Eyed Jack

Meet One Eyed Jack, he was captured in Lassen National Park and held in the Susanville corrals. We hadn't come to adopt Jack.

Little One Eyed JackEvery Mustang horse has something to offer!

My Mother selected a pretty 2 year old sorrel filly (Ballerina) out of the bunch to be loaded into our truck. Jack was just 3 months old. At first we thought the sorrel was his dam, but then we were informed that the colt had been separated from his Mother in the round-up and our sorrel filly had just taken him under her wing.

Jack was the saddest looking foal you could imagine. He was malnourished, belly swollen and bone thin. His coat was course and brittle. Worst of all was the gaping wound on his face.

My Mother gasped. His right eye had been kicked out. The eyeball had burst, leaving a sticky trail caked with dirt and debris down his little face. The wound was not fresh. "What about the colt?" she asked the wrangler.

"Him? That's a bummer foal ma'am. He's as good as dead." Mom and I looked at each other. "You can just have him if you want him ma'am, but he ain't gonna make it." How would we explain an extra horse to my Dad?

"Load him up," she replied.

Little One Eyed Jack had grown all he was going to. His cruel start in life had left him stunted. He topped out at a very slender, very narrow 13.5 hands. By the time we re-homed him he was broke to ride and pack.

We gave Jack to a loving horse wise couple. They taught him how to pull a cart, rode him on trails and taught kids with him. Maybe it was his hard luck story, maybe it was his name, maybe it was his personality; but everyone loved Jack.

He brought out the Mother Hen in women and all the guys just thought a one eyed horse was cool. His photo graced the album cover of a local band called 'Austin Alley'. Jack and one of the kids became inseparable. Eventually Jack was given to her and she kept him well into his 30's. 

My Mother once wrote of Jack-

'No one thought he’d be a winner with the hand that was dealt him. Some said One Eyed Jack was plum out of aces, but he out lived the horses he rode in with. I believe if you see potential, if opportunity knocks, you’ve gotta get up off your behind and let it in. Maybe, just maybe, Lady Luck does smile on those who keep an eye out for it.'

Little One Eyed Jack taught me to see past blemishes and look for strengths. 

Mustang Horses 5 of 5: Casino

Meet Casino, she was captured in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the age of 2½ and was shipped to the Ferndale fairgrounds for a BLM adoption event.

My Niece's Mustang, CasinoMustang horses are versatile!

She was adopted by a first time horse owning family. They were afraid of her and she was terrified of them. Two months later they gave her to us. Three months later I started riding her.

Casino was all about food. Whatever you were doing, if it involved food, she was all in. We didn't train Casino to do anything. We bribed her and whispered sweet nothings in her ear. She would climb a tree if you asked her to, so long as there was promise of a treat at the top.

I had been riding Casino for less than a week when she showed her true colors. I was riding her bareback on a trail (leave it to a teenager to do such a thing) when a huge and I mean huge bug landed in my crotch. This horrific thing was straight out of the Amazon Jungle.

That's when I lost it. That very split second I forgot I was riding a brand-spanking-new-ultra-green-broke Mustang. I completely flipped out, screaming and flailing about trying to get that freaking thing off of me.

As for Casino.....I know what she could have done, but what she did do was nothing short of a miracle.

Without so much as missing a beat, she carried on like an old broke ranch horse. Yep, that was our Casino in a nut shell! Three months later my 7 year old niece (more like a little sister) was riding her all over the place.

Casino was our rock. She was the babysitter horse that we used for kids and newbie's. All she ever wanted was love and attention and we gave her plenty of it. Her nick name was Hoover (as in the vacuum) because her only bad habit was snatching bites of grass along the trail.

This picture shows my niece and Casino at their first horse show. She grew up on Casino's back and Casino faithfully took care of her for many, many years until the day she died.

Casino showed me how far kindness and a gentle touch can take you. They all taught me about patience and trust. Love, love those Mustang horses...

Want to learn more about wild Mustangs? Check out the Mustang Heritage Foundation, and how they helping to make Mustang adoptions more successful!

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