After many surprising turns and events and with the help of few wonderful people via social media I found myself in a small town called Stockholm Wisconsin US too see three mustangs at Riverside.
Two kiger mustangs Santana and Corazon and sulphur springs mustang Rio Amigo. Couple of friendly cats, chickens, sheep and a pack of collies all living together with the gentle direction of their owner Shirley Rensink. Shirley’s warm welcome and home a way from home atmosphere guaranteed to steal a piece of my heart.
What are mustangs? *
Mustang is another name for wild horse (Spanish word Mesteno, meaning ownerless) they come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes but quite small 56 to 60 inches, (142 to 152 cm) Actually mustangs descended from once-domesticated horses, they are properly defined as feral horses. The original mustangs were Colonial Spanish horses. (Przewalski’s horse in Mongolia remains the only true wild horse in the world today.)
In 1897, the Nevada legislature passed a law allowing any citizen to shoot a wild horse on sight. This resulted in unspeakable cruelty and unlimited killing of Mustangs. Decades of bloody and indiscriminate annihilation of wild horses and burros took place in order to make more grazing land available for domestic livestock was a black chapter in the history of mans abuse of an animal.
In 1959 the first federal law was passed which prohibited the use of motorized vehicles in the capture of wild horses and prohibited the poisoning and pollution of watering holes for the purposes of trapping wild horses. Known as the Wild Horse Annie Act (PL86-234) Wild horses are the responsibility of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is an agency of the US Department of the interior.
Unfortunately, in a consumer-driven North America, the wild horse has no real significant economic value. The sale of horses to slaughterhouses is financially attractive. Horse – meat is considered gourmet meat in Western Europe, Japan, and several other countries. Mustangs eat natural grasses, and have not been subjected to artificial foods, chemicals, and drugs; their meat is considered a special delicacy.
Because there is a much larger pool of captured horses than of prospective adoptive owners, a number of efforts have been made to reduce the number of horses in holding facilities. At present, there are about 34,000 mustangs in holding facilities and long-term grassland pastures. Wild horses roam primarily on public land in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, California, Arizona and New Mexico.
I had never seen mustangs before and there is something in the eyes of an animal, that knows what freedom is.
Mustangs are round up and fenced in different methods to suddenly be homeless. They are waiting in holding facilities to get adopted but there aren’t enough people with the necessary time and skill to train these wild animals. Three that I met were lucky, Shirley adopted the stallion Santana and the mare Corazon wild when their were about 4 years old and Rio Amigo was 11 when she saved him from the previous owner.
Shirley uses positive reinforcement training methods, calm energy with sound and reward. I have never liked the word “horsewhisperer” as it has a bit advertisement echo to it but this was the closest thing to a perfect communication between horse and human that I have witnessed. I watched her work with the horses and was just utterly speechless.
I did a photoshoot one early morning, just Shirley and her mustangs. No plans, no lighting equipment, just my camera. Silence and the presence of mustangs. I watched Shirley work with them, one by one and just let my camera do it’s job.
Shirley shared her favorite picture and moment like this:
My favorite moment and photo is the shoot we did with Corazon. She always takes a back seat to the male horses. And by the time they are done with them, time is over for much work with Corazon. Every now and then, I have a student or visitor that gravitates to Corazon. But mostly, she gets less attention with others.
She is so smart, active and steady of mind. However, I also know she will decide to go for any open gate or opportunity to be free! For us to be out of the fence and have her completely engaged with me was special! Many people have no success with Kiger Mustang mares out of the wild because the mares simply won’t bond with them. When Corazon first came to our home, she was so heartsick and actually sick and thin, that I called the BLM for help. What I was told was that there are mares in the Kiger roundups that actually die because they are depressed from the process of having their freedom and families taken away from them. They refuse to eat and become withdrawn. When she was first here, Corazon would pace day and night. Constantly looking to the bluffs across the river. I always reasoned that they were the closest thing to her open high mountain home that she came from.
However, once we became girlfriends, I believe she is as happy as any captured mustang could be. Corazon, loves the collies and has a game of running along the arena with them. She loves to run and her best running friend is Mystic, our female collie. When all the other dogs are up at the house, Mystic will often be missing. She is out simply laying on the other side of the fence watching Corazon who often is within a few feet of the collie.
That moment I took her halter off and you so beautifully captured my wild mustang mare will be held so close in my heart forever! I go back to the photos and relive the spell we were in that day while time stood still. In all my life, I have dreamed of being this close and this intimate with wild horses… and now, I am living this dream come true.
Shirley working with Rio Amigo https://vimeo.com/140552321
My most memorable moment was sitting alone at the stable side door stairs while the sun was setting and just watching Santana play with his good friend Pinky the cat. Mississippi river on the background, some big bird taking of from a tree above and only sound was my camera shutter as I pressed to take a picture of this moment to remember it by.