Ivan was born in the Nightingale Mountains of Nevada in 2005. His time as wild horse on the range with his herd was short lived however, as less than 5 months after his birth he was rounded up along with the other members of his band. He was separated from his mom, placed with the other foals, and left in a long term holding facility until someone would adopt him. But no one adopted him. After being offered for adoption several times in two years, he was deemed unadoptable and branded a second time and placed into the sale authority program. For those of you who don't know, the sale authority horses are sold for $25 and titles are immediately granted to the buyers, making these horses prime targets for kill buyers and all around bad situations. I realize the need to make room in long term holding, but in my opinion this program stinks. No one asked me though, so I digress...
At auction Ivan was sold to a "horse sanctuary" called Three Strikes Ranch. If this sounds familiar to you, it should. For almost two years Ivan lived along side of at least 211 other horses in filth and crowded conditions, often going without food and water. The owner of the ranch, Jason Meduna, took donations as a non-profit organization, and clearly didn't pass those donation dollars on to the care of the horses, until a helicopter flying overhead reported the poor conditions of the ranch to the humane society in 2009. The Humane Society stepped in, in what would be the worst case of horse neglect and abuse in Nevada History, and confiscated all of the living horses. Unfortunately, help came too late for 74 of the horses who had died from starvation and dehydration.
Video by HSUS
The remaining emaciated, malnourished and dehydrated horses were placed in temporary holding at the Morril County Fair Grounds as rescue organizations from all over the US scrambled to find placement for them. The biggest obstacle, other than their sheer numbers, was that many of these horses, including Ivan, had never even been halter broke. Transporting and placing them into homes was going to be much more difficult because of this. Ivan was shuffled around until his salvation came and was sent to the Grace Foundation in Northern California, where he would begin the road to recovery and adoption.
In 2010 things looked up for Ivan as he was adopted by a trainer in Northern California. She trained him for a national 60 day mustang challenge, though not many records can be found of the competition, he placed 3rd. From what I can tell, he had a good foundation and caring home with his trainer, but unfortunately immediately after the challenge he was sold to a school barn outside of Los Angeles. Can you imagine having a life like Ivan's? How confusing it would be to finally find a home where you were cared for and had gentle handling, only to be sold and ridden by beginners shortly thereafter? As you can imagine, things for Ivan spiraled out of control.
Without going into too much detail, Ivan started out ok here. He was confused and deemed a more "challenging" school horse. He steadily deteriorated and started bucking kids off, until a particularly bad accident occurred and he was written off as dangerous. He was once again abandoned and nearly put on feed lot truck when his savior found him and felt he deserved a chance at a better life. When Kerin (the woman who I got Ivan from) brought him to the barn where I keep Marley near Ojai, he had been rounded up us a foal, starved and malnourished, trained, sold, flipped over at least once, beaten into a trailer (he is TERRIFIED of trailers, it took her hours to get him to our barn) and was fearful and "unrideable". When the barn manager who was working with him left, Kerin was desperate for someone to work with him. Her heart is so so big, but she is a beginner and can be as fearful as Ivan is at times when he isn't at his best. I was given the opportunity to meet and work with little Ivan (the horse formerly known as Cowboy, by the way) and while I didn't know his entire story at the time, I knew he needed an experienced rider and gentle handling.
We hit it off and all was going really well. He had the occasional buck, but the biggest thing about him is that he would spook. A LOT. Everyone said "oh he is a mustang", but no... Marley isn't terrified of life, and he is a Mustang, so I wasn't sure it was simply a learned behavior to get out of work... It seemed so much more like a defense mechanism. I also saw sides of him that made me worry, he would go from fine to aggressive in an instant when pushed, and there were days where he would have his ears pinned, all the time and looked generally unhappy. I never knew which Ivan I was going to get on any given day, and I felt like there might be something more to what I had known about him. These things didn't seem normal, they seemed like defense mechanisms from some deeply rooted issues.
Here is where things got crazy. I skeptically contacted an animal communicator here in Ojai and she spoke with both Ivan and Marley. She didn't know they were mustangs, she knew nothing about me or either of them, all she knew was that Ivan had just recently joined our family. While I am not going to share word for word our conversation, Laura absolutely blew my mind. Whether you believe it or not is fine, I'm not sure if I even did, but she knew things about Marley that I don't even think anyone at the barn would know. Things about riding lessons I had been giving Mike, and some other funny, sweet things that Marley requested. The most interesting thing was that Marley (who was at this point living directly next to Ivan in a stall with a run until they could be turned out together) wanted to only talk about Ivan and had to be coaxed to talk about anything else... He was so worried, that this horse was hurting. He told her that Ivan was afraid to flip and that he was fearful and his body hurt and was therefore dangerous. He was happy we had gotten him, and he says we saved him (yes we, as in Marley, Mike and I) he just wanted me to be careful and he wanted Ivan to feel good in his body before we did anything else. (Mind you, I knew very little of Ivan's history before this conversation...) When she spoke with Ivan he opened up about having problems, that he gets tunnel vision and feels scared. Parts of his body didn't feel right, and he always had chills. While he knew we were friends, he didn't know how to feel normal. She kept telling me he was afraid of being on his back and being flipped over. I had no idea this had ever even happened to him.
In the end, I was in tears. I immediately got to work trying to find out if what she had told me was true. And I will be damned if not every last thing she told me that had happened to him, actually did. I contacted Kerin and his old trainer, the rescues who had been at three strikes ranch, and the BLM. I immediately stopped riding Ivan and had him seen by the vet for a full physical. He got a chiropractic adjustment and I can't believe how many audible "POPs" there were! We are going on walks and spending a lot of time bonding and exploring. Almost overnight, Marley and Ivan bonded and now frantically call for one another anytime the other is out if sight. They have moved back out in the paddocks together with absolutely zero aggression or fighting. I couldn't be more elated about this, I hate keeping them in stalls. I take them on walks together and Ivan moves as close to Marley as he can, Marley has turned into Ivan's safety blanket. And honestly, I'm ok with that. I bought some essential oils to use with Ivan, they certainly can't hurt. He has so much amazing potential. He is the cutest little mover, soft, has good conformation, and is very athletic. It breaks my heart and makes me SO MAD that Ivan is how he is because humans have failed him, time and time again.
So this is Ivan's story. At least the beginning of it. My hopes are that the rest of the chapters are happy and beautiful for him. We aren't in a hurry, we don't have any training deadline, and the only thing that matters now for Ivan is that he no longer has to be afraid.