by VIVIAN FARRELL
My Dad was a single parent. He took me with him everywhere. One of those places was Las Vegas.
There wasn’t a lot for a 15 year old to do in Las Vegas. So when I asked him what I was going to do while we were there, he said something like, “You’re a smart kid. Find something. Just stay out of trouble.” So I went for a walk, looking for something that didn’t look like trouble.
I came across a sort of caravan, flea bitten looking mini bus sort of thing, with a handwritten cardboard sign that said “Wild Horse Tours”. There was an older gentleman standing nearby. I asked him about it and he told me for $5 he takes people out to see the wild horses. Having grown up with horses literally from birth, I was immediately fascinated by the idea, and knew I just had to go. So I eagerly gave him the $5 and climbed aboard.
As soon as he had enough people, we took off. We drove for some time. I started getting a bit nervous. We were in the middle of what seemed like nowhere.
Then our guide pulled over, parked and told us to get out and make ourselves comfortable. On some boulders. We sat there for a good long while. I am not sure how long now, but to a teen it seemed like an eternity. Suddenly, getting up he gruffly said, “I don’t think we’re going to see anything today”. As we got up and started dusting ourselves off, he whirled around and started shouting excitedly, “Wait. Do you feel that? Do you feel that?”
I didn’t discern anything at first, but then I began feeling what the old gentleman did. The ground had begun to move, to shake, ever so subtly. I asked myself, am I imagining this because of what he just said, or . . . ? Then it became stronger and more perceptible. “There”, he shouted, excitedly pointing to what look like dust clouds on the ground way off in the distance. I was transfixed. My breathing became shallow, my spine started tingling and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.
Next we heard the unmistakable sound of hooves, distant but there, as the dust clouds got nearer. It seemed to go on forever. Then suddenly out of those clouds we saw emerging a band of Mustangs.
I took in a sharp intake of breath as I caught sight of them. It was electrifying. Remarkably, as far off as they were, we could not only see them but also hear them, their leader calling and his band responding.
Then for a moment they slowed down, then stopped for the briefest of moments, the lead horse angling his head around, listening intently and sniffing the air. My heart seemed to stop with them. Next the stallion pounded the earth with his front hooves, his magnificent neck arched toward it, and reared up and pawed the air. It was as majestic a sight as you could ever hope to see.
Before I could really take it all in, the stallion and his band took off again quickly beginning to disappear into the vastness and out of sight. Breathlessly watching them I remember saying to myself, “That’s what freedom looks like”. I looked around at our group to see their reaction and many were in tears, including our guide. He wiped his face and eyes with the back of his hand and said, “Dang. They never fail to get to me every time.”
It was an indelible experience. In that splendid capsule of time I witnessed and felt with all my being how it truly must feel to be free, truly free.
I learned something else that day in Nevada. The desire to live freely and unmolested is universal. All creatures share it. And that freedom is yearned for and longed for by every horse, whether domestic or in the wild. This has strongly impacted my beliefs about all horses.
When I started my horse protection organization decades later — to combat horse slaughter to begin with — I became acquainted with the many cruelties carried out against horses. Learning about the plight of America’s wild horses and burros left me stunned and heartbroken, witnessing humans robbing our Mustangs of what is rightfully theirs.
When racehorse Bodexpress dumped his jockey in this year’s Preakness, leaving him on the ground in the starting gate and galloping riderless down the track, I knew exactly what the horse was feeling. Freedom. You could see his elation. The commentators of course didn’t see it that way at all. Predictably, they said the horse was simply completing the race because that’s what racehorses do. They have no clue because racehorses are a means to an end. Their end.
Our Mustangs are also in terrible trouble, perhaps more than ever, and that’s saying something given their tragic history at the hands of man. My hope is that you will take an even stronger stand on their behalf and defend their right to roam, untouched and free.
Image Credit: Grey Mustang Stallion by Randy Harris. More at randyharrisphoto.com.