Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 32 - Before the Beginning

It was a crazy day with overlapping schedules and tons of school work, so there was unfortunately no training for Marley today.  I brought him his grain a little later than usual (I prepare and feed his grain to him every day to monitor what he eats while the barn we board at feeds him his grass daily) and sat with him while he ate.  It was actually really nice to spend some quiet time with Marley, and when he finished eating he came over to where I was sitting and played with the hood on my jacket.  I sat there with him as it got dark, and Marley stood next to me with his head lowered to my level.  I wondered what he was thinking as he sniffed my hair and nudged me, probably in search of carrots.

I often think about Marley's old life and how he came to be here, so far from where he was born and going through so many changes on a daily basis.  For the past 32 days I have searched the internet, spoke with photographers, and sorted through countless hours of you-tube video to find Marley in his life before he was randomly assigned as my horse for the Extreme Mustang Makeover.

Marley was born in the Calico Mountain region of Nevada which encompasses over 157,000 acres of rocky, mountainous terrain.  He was presumably born in the spring of 2007 and spent the first 3 years of his life enduring cold winters and dry summers roaming free through the high-desert landscape.  This unforgiving terrain generally yields hardy, resilient horses as a result.

Marley's first year would have been spent with his dam (mother), running and playing with other foals that may have been born around the same time, taking in and learning all there is to know about his surroundings and herd dynamics.  Sometime before 2 years of age, Marley's life would have gone through it's first dramatic change.  He would have left his band, either being driven out by the band stallion or even leaving on his own to join up with other young colts to form a small band of their own.  These small groups of young stallions are called "bachelor stallions", and most likely, Marley spent his last year in the wild living a pretty carefree existence with a group like this.

These photos of Calico Mountain Bands can be found at the linked photo credit for more beautiful photographs from the area and information about Nevada HMAs.  
Photo by Nancy Kerson

Photo by Nancy Kerson

Photo by Nancy Kerson
Photo by Nancy Kerson

Around January 20th, 2010, Marley's life would change again.  According to a Reno newspaper, 1,922 wild horses were gathered from the Calico Mountain Complex over the span of about a month, leaving the existing herd at about 600 head.  Marley, along with the other horses gathered in this area, were processed in a temporary holding area where they were freeze branded and numbered before being transported to the next facility in Fallon, NV.

These photos were taken by Mark Terrell at the Fallon holding facility where Marley was transported after the round-up.  Mark generously searched through countless photos to help me find Marley here at Fallon, NV. 

The stallion area at Fallon, NV.  This guy on the left looks like he could be closely related to Marley, I have learned that this coloring is not as common as you would think.

Little muddy Marley?

This is where Marley spent the next 6 months of his life before being transported to another holding facility, this one in Canon City, CO.  It is about this time that he was gelded, and for some reason his color was changed on his paperwork from Sorrel to Appaloosa.  Maybe in Nevada he had less spots?

Sometime around January 10th, 2011, I was emailed about a competition called Extreme Mustang Makeover.  I did some research and read about the Mustang Heritage Foundation who had implemented this program to help increase the adoption rates of these horses in holding areas.  It absolutely broke my heart that so many of these wild horses were stuck in limbo, between a life they once knew and the potential to live out a fulfilling, happy life with someone who would give them the care and home they deserved.  Mike and I agreed that we could take on this challenge, and in February I received an Email that I had been selected as a trainer for the event.

 Mustangs in holding at the Canon City facility in Colorado
Photo by Pam Nickoles Photography
Stallions at Canon City, CO.  Please keep in mind that most of these horses are probably still waiting to be adopted!
Photo by Pam Nickoles Photography
I would guess that this is when Marley was chosen as well.  Of all of the horses in Canon City (and believe me, there are a lot of them) the fourth horse to run down the chute and into my trailer on March 11th, 2011 was a shaggy, dread-locked little horse I would come to know as Marley.  His life was undergoing a major change, yet again, and he just stood there, wide-eyed and a little curious as we gazed at him through the trailer bars.

The story of Marley before the beginning of this project ends here, as most of you have read about him since day one.  If you haven't, I encourage you to go back to the first posts in February and March, as it really was an incredible time in our learning and getting to know each other.  I've never really had an opinion about Mustangs and their train-ability or whether they were well suited for certain disciplines, mostly because I've never worked with one, but Marley has certainly changed that.  As I sat in his stall with him well after sunset this evening, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness at the thought that in two months I would have to say goodbye to him.  The connection I've made with Marley is unlike any I've ever experienced with a horse, probably because I was the first human he trusted, and there is a deep sense of humility and absolute privilege that comes with that.  I look forward to the coming weeks of our journey and have a lot of training plans ahead, but tonight I wanted to honor him for the incredible life he has lead, and for his true heritage as a wild horse.
Photo by Forever Yours Photography


  1. Great pictures! Marley has gone through a lot, and he is still very very young. He is so blessed to have of gone to you for his new trainer. Keep up the good work. Even though you will have to go your separate ways in two months, remember that he is such a wonderful horse that he will go to a good home, and how can you not love Marley?

  2. Quite a few of the trainers at the Mustang Makeovers in the midwest ended up keeping their mustangs, Why don't you think about buying him yourself? You are doing a great job with him.

  3. I have been to Canon City several times since last November--I'm sure I saw Marley--I just hate seeing them in those pens. I'm so glad Marley has you to teach him about his next life. You're doing a beautiful job.

  4. Beautiful writing and sharing around Marley and so many other mustangs. They are such a valuable asset to our country, and yes, like you, I have sat with Gabriele's "Coppersmith #900' and thought quite the same when that day of departure comes. It has thus far been an incredible journey, and I own two of my own horses, but there is something different, unique about the mustang. They truly are a legacy I pray our country will begin to embrace like never before to secure thier place in society and not become a legend of history alone. Cherished times for you, and the countless others who have poured thier hearts int these wonderful horses.
    melody perez
    painter of the wild ones