By DEBBIE TONG
In 2010 Alex Clements had hit rock bottom depression that she struggled with for many years. Her desperate mother asked if she had anything in the world she would like to pursue, and Alex replied that she had always wanted to go to Montana. She imagined miles of wide-open spaces and somehow being around horses — her passion since she was a little girl. When she was a teenager her interest was in jumping horses and she was quite an accomplished rider.
Deciding to go to Montana was a turning point for Alex, and one of her first times away from home in the Bay Area near San Francisco.
She had the good fortune of meeting a man by the name of Chris Vassar who was a backcountry packer, hunter and guide. He influenced her to become a wrangler and the potential for versatility involved in the job captivated her. She thought it just might be a good fit for her as she loved the idea a job with a variety of duties.
On her next trip to Montana she was talking to some people in a bar who told her about a wrangling school at Swan Mountain Outfitters. Russ was her teacher there. Alex learned what was expected of a working wrangler —that is how to gather a herd of horses efficiently on horseback and how to feed and care for a herd of working horses on a ranch.
A wrangler must learn the hierarchy of a herd of horses and match their personalities to the people riding them. This is no small task. She then snagged a job at the Lazy K Bar Guest Ranch in Big Mountain, Montana and worked there an entire summer
It was working with the horses and the predictable rhythms of long days of wrangling that helped Alex work through her depressive state. She began to feel content and the beauty of Montana and long evenings of the summer were soothing to her spirit.
Alex met her soul mate, a little sorrel Mustang mare through a TIP trainer near Napa, California.
A TIP trainer is a person who, through a program with Wild Horse Preservation agrees to take on a Mustang on their own property, teaching them basic skills within a certain period of time — like learning to load in a trailer and picking up their feet for a farrier.
The little filly was 2 and a half, scrawny and didn’t like being touched — particularly on the left side. She was a stand-offish little horse, and Alex was drawn to her independence and slight disdain of humans. She felt drawn to this proud little horse and the TIP trainer said she would learn quickly what was expected of her. Alex named her Auggie—short for Augusta, Montana, the first place she visited in Montana.
It wasn’t until she had been working Auggie using the principles of Natural Horsemanship that she found Auggie had some difficulty seeing out of her left eye, probably due to an injury as a young filly, as she also had a gash on her head.
Because horses are prey animals they have a strong instinct to survive and will cleverly learn to compensate for their weaknesses as long as they can.
I asked Alex about her relationship with Auggie and she replied immediately.
“Auggie trusts me and she will do anything I ask, from swimming in a lake to navigating obstacle courses. Once she stepped on her lead rope, and instead of panicking like many horses do, she stood calmly waiting for me to untangle her leg. Auggie is intelligent and loyal. Her feet and hooves are strong and resilient. I am so happy that I adopted her and I will do anything to keep her with me.”
Alex has kept her promise to Auggie although sometimes keeping Auggie fed has been a hardship financially. Some boarding stables do not want wild horses mixing with their domestic boarders, though most Mustangs only need a short acclimation period of adjustment. This is a result of their social skills having been developed as herd animals in the wild.
For two years Alex worked teaching children how to ride at Sienna Ranch at Briones in the Bay Area. She recently acquired a grant to go to DVC. Her goal is to help troubled teenagers by becoming a Social Worker and wants to work in a halfway house for young people.
Alex and her best friend, Anna Allen, someday want to buy a little ranch and train Mustangs but that will be sometime in the quite distant future. Alex wants to dedicate her life to training Mustangs and showing the world what intelligent, versatile, wonderful companions these tough horses are.
Unfortunately there are no governmental aid programs to assist people who want to help our country’s dwindling Mustang population,though there is an inmate-mustang training program that has made incredible changes in the inmates perspectives.
The rich history of our wild horses will soon be lost as grazing lands are taken over by cattle ranchers and Mustang families are being torn apart.
There are dedicated people fighting for the Mustang’s freedom but this is an economic issue.
If we value our wild Mustangs and their heritage we need many more people to advocate for them. The many positive qualities of a Mustang can carry you down unexplored paths!