Rescue Report

How to Catch a Mustang Part 2

March 01, 2015

As I reported in my last entry, I’d been trying to catch a stubborn little black mustang gelding, Mirlo, at the Colorado Horse Rescue, where I was working at the time. I’d been at it for hours, doggedly following him, but not chasing him.

Mirlo finally stopped to size me up. Who was this person following him through the heat and dust? His thinking led to a change in strategy. Rather than running from me, he started using obstacles. He alternated between hiding behind his buddies and hiding behind the loafing shed. In-between, he’d try to snatch bites of hay.

Mirlo didn’t trust humans, so I was using a gentle, time-honored technique to catch him: Whenever he moved away from me, I kept up my steady, calm pressure. As soon as he faced me, I stopped, releasing the pressure.

I was getting painfully tried. Luckily, Mirlo had also begun to show signs of tiring. We were now both dragging in the heat. I was so hot, I dunked my head in the water trough, but that provided only a short reprieve. My water bottle had been empty for hours.

Mirlo’s coat was soaked with sweat. I knew he was tired. He began to stop and face me for longer periods. I could see he was thinking, trying to figure out how to make me stop.

I felt so sorry for him. I knew most of his experiences with humans were negative. I could see that he wanted to give me a chance, but then his fear would get in the way and off he would go.

I considered giving up. We’d been at this for four hours. I was exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and I wanted to cry.

But this was a tipping point for him in our relationship. If I didn’t catch him this time, I’d always have to chase him.

I also needed him to know that I would finish what I started. I believe that’s how we show a horse that we’re trustworthy. We stay consistent.

When we make an initial request, we show that we’re willing to follow through until the horse complies. During this time, we must be willing to reward each little try he offers. This means staying present with him and showing him we’re paying attention. In the end, he learns we’re worthy of his trust.

So, after hours in the hot sun, I was trying to show Mirlo that I would be worthy of his trust. That little black mustang just stopped and waited.

Then I knew he was ready for me to approach.

The poor little guy was shaking all over with fear, but he stood his ground.

I slowly walked up to him and gently placed my hand on his quivering shoulder. He was poised to flee, but, again, he chose to stay.

I gently put the rope around his neck and gave him a soft touch on his shoulder. Then I removed the rope and walked out of the pasture.

I wanted Mirlo to know that it could be pleasant to be caught by a human being. That being caught didn’t always mean he was going to be abused. So, when he did what I asked, I removed all pressure and gave him his freedom.

Once outside the pasture, I looked back at him. His expression amazed me. He looked confused, yet relieved, as though he couldn’t believe that was all I’d wanted.  

That was the first time I touched the horse who was to become my Sensei.

There would be ups and downs to come in our journey together. But from the start, he knew he’d met someone who wouldn’t walk away from him.

I never have, and I never will. 

How to Catch a Mustang

January 24, 2015

You know a lot about my rescue horse, Banjo. Now I’d like to share more about my other rescue horse, Sensei.   

I first met Sensei, a small, black mustang, at Colorado Horse Rescue, when I was working there as a trainer. He was named Mirlo at the time.

Mirlo had spent the first six years of his life running wild in Wyoming; then he was rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management. He and several other mustangs were adopted then taken to a ranch for “training.” The horses at that ranch were abused and starved. Some died.

Thankfully, animal control stepped in and took the remaining mustangs. Mirlo ended up at Colorado Horse Rescue.

Mirlo’s experience with humans had left him mistrustful and bitter. He was a bully in the pasture and impossible to catch.

One day, when I went to out into the pasture to collect a mare, Mirlo wouldn’t let me get anywhere near her, driving her away from me. After an hour of futility, I decided to shift my focus to catching Mirlo, first. Then I’d be able to catch the mare.

It was a hot, dry Colorado day when I set out to catch this ornery little horse.

When trying to catch a difficult horse, I use the pasture like a round pen, driving the horse around the pen using voice and body language.

If the horse turns to face me, or makes any move in my direction, I take off the pressure. I either stop driving him forward or sometimes even retreat, depending on the circumstance.

But if the horse is moving away, eating, or otherwise distracted, I put on pressure, asking him to move forward. This worked well with Mirlo. He’s very sensitive to energy and easily moves away from pressure.

The second I shifted my focus to Mirlo, he took off, putting as much distance between the two of us as possible. He seemed to laugh at me as he galloped off, as though saying, “She’ll never catch me!”

He didn’t know I had a strategy.

As Mirlo moved away, I followed doggedly behind him, keeping the pressure on. This went on for at least an hour as he galloped from one side of the pasture to the other.

Mirlo finally stopped to take a look at the crazy person following him through the heat and dust. I was grateful for the chance to stop, too—I was as hot and sweaty as he was. We eyed each other through the sun’s glare.

He sized me up, wondering if I’d stay with him. I knew at that moment the day wouldn’t end until I had a hand on this little black horse, no matter how long it took.

To be continued…









Holiday Gratitude

December 08, 2014

Sensei, my latest rescue horse, enjoying the snow.
During the holiday season, I like to pause and count my many blessings. My rescued horses are on the top of my gratitude list. Banjo, my rescued draft-cross gelding, and Sensei, my latest rescue horse, bring me so much joy.

Feeling grateful for my horses leads to feeling thankful for the organizations that rescued them. If it weren’t for a horse rescue, Banjo would have ended up at a slaughterhouse—and so would most of the other horses I’ve owned over the last 10 years.

So, this holiday season, I say “thank you” to animal-welfare organizations, especially horse rescues. I’m so thankful to all the people who care enough about the fate of unwanted horses in the world to do something about it. I’m also so thankful for all the donors who help keep these rescue centers open.

Having been fortunate enough to work for Colorado Horse Rescue, I know the long hours and hard work it takes to care for the horses.

The unwanted horse population in this country is huge and still growing. The Unwanted Horse Coalition, which functions under the auspices of the American Horse Council, was created to reduce the number of unwanted horses and to improve their welfare.

According to the UHC, “Unfortunately, the number of unwanted horses exceeds the resources currently available to accommodate them.”

Do you want to help? Here are few easy ways.


1. Check out A Home for Every Horse. If you’re looking for a new trail horse, visit this free listing of horses available at rescues and shelters nationwide. This altruistic organization has stepped up to help bring awareness to the growing issue of unwanted horses.

2. Donate. Instead of buying a gift, donate to a horse rescue or animal shelter. You can make donations in the name of the gift recipient. Many organizations even have sponsorship programs that come with photos and stories of the animal you’re sponsoring.

3. Volunteer. Most rescue organizations are short on staff as well as financial resources. After the holidays are over give a few hours a week to a local horse rescue. You won’t regret it.


The holidays are a time of celebrating life. Most of us have so much to be grateful for this holiday season. Let’s spread the love to the unwanted animals in our community.

What better way to celebrate the joy of the season than giving the gift of a second chance at life.


Happy Holidays! 

A Fall Horse Vacation

November 07, 2014

My trusty steed and I at stunning Panorama Point. Here in Tennessee, the leaves are still falling, but fall is fading away. Before it’s gone, I want to share the beautiful fall trail-riding vacation I took in Colorado last October.

Banjo, my ex-rescue horse, and Sensei, my latest rescue, are happily settled at their lovely boarding facility. So I went on a trip to the Rocky Mountains for a trail-riding weekend.

Some might ask why I’d trail ride on someone else’s horse when I have two of my own. It’s a valid question—I have several reasons.  

One, it takes a lot of time and work to pack up and trailer horses to a faraway destination. My schedule didn’t allow for that kind of a trip.

Two, I rode at an elevation of around 9,080 feet, a huge altitude adjustment for horses living in Tennessee. To safely ride at that elevation, horses need time to acclimate. 

Three, I love taking care of my horses, but it sure is nice to hop off after a long trail ride and hand the reins over to a smiling wrangler. Next stop, the hot tub.

My fall vacation trip was to the award winning Vista Verde Ranch in Clark, Colorado. This quintessential mountain spread is nestled in a picturesque valley about 25 miles North of Steamboat Springs.

After a lovely drive through the Yampa valley, my friend, Kim, and I arrived at the ranch.

The view leaving the lovely Vista Verde Valley for a mountain trail ride.
The main lodge and cabins are surrounded by stunning mountains covered with pine trees and, in the fall, dotted with bright-yellow aspen groves. The valley grasslands serve as pasture to the 100 horses that live on the ranch.

To say it’s beautiful would be a colossal understatement. It’s truly magical.

After check-in, we quickly unpacked, then joined the other guests for “happy hour.” On the ranch, this meant walking in the pastures to meet the horses, which were fit and friendly.  

Wrangler Nate spent a good deal of time talking with all the guests. During this time, he asked each person about their riding experience. He made note so he could match horse to rider. I loved this personal touch.

The ranch has a horse for everyone. For the beginner, there are mellow horses. One horse, actually named Mellow, took great care of Kim on her first ride in years. For more experienced riders, there are handsome ranch horses with excellent training.

At Vista Verde, you ride the same horse for the duration of your visit. This allows you to develop a bond with the horse. And the horse experiences fewer different riders—and riding styles—throughout the season.

Our first trail ride was a jaunt around the facility. This gave inexperienced riders a chance to get comfortable on flat ground close to the barn. The fall foliage ranged from bright yellow to dusky red and even olive green.  

The rides later that day and throughout the weekend were epic. Did I say that? Yes, I did.

The ranch sits on 540 acres in the middle of the Routt National Courtesy of Vista Verde Ranch.
Credit: Courtesy of Vista Verde Ranch.
Riders enjoying the spectacular fall foliage.
Forest. Talk about getting away from it all. Trails traverse every kind of Colorado terrain you can imagine. There are low-lying, colorful grasslands, dense pine forests, rocky single tracks, switchbacks, and steep ascents through aspen groves.

On our ride, there were also creek crossings and a few scary cliff edges to keep us deep in the saddle.

My trusty mount was surefooted and trail-savvy. Each day, we explored the trails with a small group of riders and a friendly wrangler. We were able to bushwhack, trot, canter, gallop, and ride side-by-side.

Each meal brought together an eclectic group of guests who filled the dining area with talk and laughter. The food and amenities were high quality.

So, if you’d like to give your horse some time off and yourself a memorable riding vacation, I highly recommend Vista Verde Ranch. The friendly, knowledgeable staff will make you feel right at home, and the trail riding is top-notch.

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