Merry Christmas everyone!
It’s been kind of a rough year. That might explain why I have yet to post a fun write up in my blog this year. Every time I have sat at the computer and tried to write something, the words just won’t come out. I think it’s because of my grandpa.
Grampa was my rock. He was also the only person in my family who was interested in my “hobby”. Every time I came to visit, Grampa would want to know how the colt with the hurt foot (Flint) was getting on or if that crabby old horse (Gladiator) had won a mare yet. Not having someone to spin my tales to in person has taken the wind of out my sails a little.
But if ever there was a time to not be mopey, it would be today. So let’s talk about Heaven, shall we?
No, this blog is not about the afterlife. Though I suppose I am willing to talk about that too. But we’ll just stick with the horse today.
I first met Heaven in 2011 on the summer solstice. He cut a pretty pathetic figure – thin, limping, scarred, with a left knee the size of a grapefruit. A band stallion chased him away. As the injured stallion hobbled off into the sunset, alone and seemingly unloved, a little piece of my shriveled heart which ached for him. I wished him all the best in the next life and figured it would be the last I saw of him.
Then the 2011 roundup happened. It’s impossible not to feel for a crippled horse like that when you see twin helicopters zooming overhead, driving horses 20-30 miles to the trap. Another observer mentioned to the areas wild horse specialist, Jay d’Ewart, that he had seen a horse who was all beat up and too weak to stand. Jay explained that he generally didn’t take action to go shoot such horses unless they were in extremely poor condition. The downed horse matched the bays’ description. It was sad but that is the way of nature – sometimes she can be terribly cruel. I figured it was a terrible shame but that was that.
Except it wasn’t. I returned to White Mountain in late May the next year, and I’ll be darned if that beat up bay stallion didn’t show up looking fat and sassy. After staring at him for a while, wondering how the heck he was alive, I finally had to ask him aloud, “How the heck are you not in heaven right now?”
He didn’t answer my question. Rude! But the name did end up sticking.
Heaven spent all of 2012 with Ender. Ender seemed perfectly content meandering slowly alongside his lame friend. It was actually kind of romantic, from this human’s perspective.
Of course, nothing can ever stay the same in wild horse society. When I returned this summer, I spotted Ender hanging out with two perfectly healthy bachelors. I alternated between worrying that Heaven didn’t make it through winter and assuming that Heaven was alive and feeling indignant on his behalf. How could Ender would just up and leave him like that?
I tried to hate the game and not the playa, but … c’mon Ender! Heaven needed you. Or so I thought.
A little later I stumbled across another bachelor. There was a brief amount of scrambling because this was the first blue roan I’d ever seen in White Mountain. I headed over to him and found a friend down below. Heaven! I may have cheered a little aloud, but thankfully, Heaven was used to my outbursts by then. Not only did Heaven get by just fine without Ender, but he also found a new piece of tail, who probably treated him way better than Heaven ever did.*
*This boys and girls, is what I call anthropomorphizing. That is wrong. And you should not do that.
Later that evening, the light was thinking about maybe getting good (but still was pretty bad) when I finally spotted one of my favorite stallions, Gladiator.
Gladiator was down in the very bottom of a draw on my least favorite hill. Naturally.
(If you don’t have a least favorite hill in you wild horse herd, please visit to White Mountain because there are plenty to choose from)
I hoofed it down, somehow managing to only stumble twice while also avoiding damage to my lens. Steep hills and clumsy individuals who are not known for watching where they step are not a great combination. I finally made it down to see Gladiator bringing up the lead for Heaven and Renegade. Heaven was talking faster than I’d ever seen him. Gladiator looked none too happy either.
Gladiator strolled right past, coming a little too close for comfort, and pinned his ears in my general direction. Since I value my life, I got the heck out of there. Safety first, people! My goal is to be an observer in these horses’ lives. If the horses are noticing me and reacting to my presence, then I will back up until the no longer notice me or I will leave. This is the only time I have had a wild horse show aggression towards me, though.
I’ve spent too much time with Gladiator to think he’d see me as a threat to himself. Did he think I was a threat to Heaven? Surely Gladiator was merely protecting White Mountain’s very own Tiny Tim.
Remember where I said a few paragraphs ago that it’s wrong to assign human emotions to horses? It’s still wrong. And so was I.
While I was creating enough distance between myself and the horses to make Gladiator comfortable, Heaven was stumbling towards Gladiator. And it wasn’t your typical “Hey bro, lets smell each other, squeal, and have a brief measuring contest before becoming best buds” sort of visit that is common among bachelors. Nope. He was pawing. And rearing. And playing for keeps. I didn’t even know Heaven could rear.
It didn’t make any sense. Gladiator could easily take Heaven. Except… for a moment Heaven wasn’t just that crippled horse. Everyone seemed to forget that Heaven’s weaknesses. He made himself so big and so aggressive that Gladiator backed off from the posturing.
Heaven, meanwhile, snaked Renegade up the equally steep ridge on the other side. As I huffed and puffed my way back to Maggie the Mustang Mobile, I could hear and vaguely see them still squealing and going at it.
The next day I found them closer to the road and it was more of the same. Gladiator seemed determined to stay with Heaven & Renegade while Heaven seemed equally determined to get rid of him. Heaven has adapted some interesting tactics to that end. Unable to pivot quickly, Heaven would back up to Gladiator and then go at it with his hind legs.
I didn’t blame Gladiator for seeking a new band of bachelors to hang out with. His buddies are all gone. Fuego and Eight teamed up to win (and later lose), a young roan mare and her foal. Sky randomly became a satellite in a northern band. Who the heck even knew where Reimann was? The dude needed bros.
But Heaven said no. And Gladiator listened.
It was a little eye opening. I had all these assumptions and expectations about Heaven. First I assumed he was going to die. Then I assumed he had a friend who took off and ‘abandoned’ him. I had assumed Heaven really wasn’t strong enough to maintain any sort of position in the pecking order.
But Heaven was none of the things I thought. He’s just a horse. A horse who acts and thinks like all the other horses in White Mountain. Heaven’s never going to win a mare or be able to gallop around for the fun of it. He probably will have a much shorter lifespan then the healthy horses around him. He will lose friends regularly and spend a fair amount of time alone.
Heaven still has a life and he lives it his way. He seems content with his lot. I sit around fretting over him or feeling pity for his situation. Meanwhile, Heaven himself has no concept for either of those attitudes. He just keeps going through the ups and the downs; the winters and the springs. And if he can do that, then maybe I can too.
8 thoughts on “All This and Heaven Too”
Thanks for bringing these horses into our lives Rachel. I love your blog.
I agree with Paula — and your grandpa would have loved this…
Dear Rachel, I think you empathize with the wild horses because we too pursue life on our own terms. Your Grandfather got it. My dad did, my mom never has. My husband tries, my son will periodically go on adventures with me. Your Heaven reminds me of a young buck I saw a couple of years ago with radial nerve damage to his foreleg. A run in with another ill-tempered buck. I dismissed him as a goner, but he surprised me by appearing last December, still limping, but still with us. He could use the leg, but it was more like a crutch. But at least he was using it and not dragging it any longer. Imagine my surprise THIS year when he showed, sporting an 8-pt. rack, still limping (but moving much better), ‘fat and sassy’ and sporting a new, but healed injury (1/2 tail). His tail now looks like a Reindeer tail or ‘bunny tail’…no doubt a run in with loose dogs. But he is still hanging in there and even better, he still remembers his name, ‘Gimpy’. Animals don’t stew about problems like humans, they do something about it or they die. 😉
Is that a scar on Heaven’s right haunch? Or mud?
Awesome! Go gimpy go! That is a scar on Heaven’s right haunch. He’s pretty much one giant scar. The one on his left side intrigues me the most because it is a long jagged line – something another horse wouldn’t be able to give him. I’ve often wondered if his scars and his injured front leg are connected, or if perhaps he was attacked at one point by a predator of some kind, looking for an easy meal in winter or some such. It will remain a mystery.
Wonderful story, Rachel.
It has everything in it. And you’ve taught me something, too.
The fretting, the analyzing, the pitying I do about horses, and all the other beasts who I think “need my help” because I THINK they do.
Your humor in this story is why I love you so much! LOL.
Thank you for this bittersweet post. The best Christmas present ever!
And I’m sorry about your grandpa. You were lucky to have him share in your mustang love.
Thank you! Grampa passed back in April so it’s been a while, but y’know how it is with the holidays and such.
Wonderful story Rachel… you really have a great way of communicating your experiences. And I am sorry you lost your Grandpa… I know how that is, and not all that much time has passed. It does leave a hole in your life that no one else can fill, because no one else is them… What a blessing to have had such a great advocate in your life! Thanks for sharing…
Thank you for this Rachel!! I enjoyed reading and looking at your beautiful photographs…it warmed my heart. I loved it….