Down to the Wire – the Pitfalls of housing a Wild Horse.

Many of you know that 3 years ago I rescued from slaughter a beautiful, young, dun-colored wild pregnant mare who I named Samantha because she reminded me of Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) in ‘Bewitched’.

Almost immediately thereafter, Sam had a beautiful ‘Mini-Me’ filly who has since found a forever home on a zillion acres here in California.

Sam remains with me.

Sam has been here three years and she still snorts at me if I move too quickly.  In the prevailing 3 years, I have haltered her (as long as she was cornered in a stall).  I can touch her on her face and all the way back to her barrel (as long as I’m offering a treat).  She herds well.  In fact, she herds so well, I merely have to point to where I want her to go and she proceeds as directed.

But there is no question, she is wild.  Still.

Although this is very frustrating for me who thinks I can make bosom buddies with any animal, I don’t feel that badly about my wild horse gentling skills because Sam spent 4 months at a very well-known ‘wild horse training facility’ and didn’t graduate.  They sent her back to me wearing a very tight halter that said, “Do NOT Remove”.


Sam is very attentive and always does what she is told... as long as I don't touch her.


Sam and I have a truce.  She does what I ask and in return, I don’t push her.

It works pretty well…

Except in situations like what happened on Wednesday.


I had several of the mares out on lawn duty (we don’t own a mower).

As I was in the kitchen, I noticed all the mares had moved to the back lawn.  Yes!  I love it when they trim the back lawn.

Anyway, I saw Sam up by the newest pasture.

That’s when I noticed.

I’m not sure how I realized that she wasn’t standing quite right – or maybe I saw her starting to move away – I don’t remember… I just knew something wasn’t right with her.

As I walked outside to survey the situation, Sam picked up her rear left leg and I saw it.  She was tethered to the nearest tree by an age old plastic coated tie-line we had erected for Dex our Australian Kelpie, long ago.  I had forgotten about that line.  But it was obviously very much THERE and wrapped around her leg.

What I didn’t realize was that the coiled end had some sort of knot in it.  She, somehow, put her foot exactly inside of that loop and then somehow (again) stepped in a way that knotted it as she moved away.  At this point, she was about 10 feet from the tree.  If she struggled against the tree, it tightened.


After I cut her loose from the tree, I grabbed my camera


I immediately told her to ‘HO’ and then said I would be right back to fix it.

Trying not to vomit with fear, I walk-ran to the bolt cutters and ran-walked back.

‘You’re OK Sam, I’m gonna fix it, just easy does it”, I said as I tried to comfort us both…

I figured I could at least cut her from the tree so she wouldn’t pull her leg apart (although she wasn’t trying) and perhaps the plastic coated wire would unravel by itself from the motion.  Since I can never make a tight knot in plastic coated wire, I thought it would just unfold itself easily when she walked away.

The bolt cutters weren’t very sharp which heightened my anxiety.  I kept asking her to ‘keep it together’ while I was coming apart.  Finally, she got frustrated and yanked her leg.  I guess I had made enough of a dent in the wire that she broke herself free with the force of her pull.

Off she went!

It wasn't tight but she was dragging wire behind her.


Sam was dragging about 6 feet of wire behind her.  I didn’t want her to get it caught on anything else so I put her in the barn.  Unfortunately, the barn aisle is presently full of hay.  So, with her snorting at me on one end of the barn, I dragged  8 – 120lbs bales out of the other end as fast as I could, which wasn’t that fast.

Anyway, she was safe in the barn.


I felt like a monkey with a puzzle.

How do I get that off of her?  I walked around and around her.  She continued to turn with me and snort.

I could see that it wasn’t tight on her ankle.  The knot on the inside of her leg was loose but too intertwined to fall off itself.  Darn!

My best idea was to undo a coat hanger and try to hook the knot and pull exactly the right piece to free it.  So, I ran inside the house and unbent a wire hanger exactly as I had always done when I locked myself out of my car.


I brought my new tool down to the barn.

I let her sniff it and I held out a treat.   If she let me touch her with the unbent hanger, she could have the goodie.

She took the trade.

After about 30 minutes of this game, I moved to her back legs.


I needed a hook so I made one of my handy dandy 'break into your car' devices out of a wire hanger


Hmmmmmm.  I needed her in a more confined area.

Problem:  All of my stalls were full with hay.

I thought that I could maybe clear out a space in the last stall.  Which I did.  But the space was too small and she would only put her head in there.


But, with her head in the stall, I could stay safely behind the metal stall gate and try from there.


I thought that perhaps I might get hurt (like I did on Superbowl Sunday) by trying to be this clever.  Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea for me to try to unravel a wire knot on the rear ankle of a wild, snorty mare.

Probably my best idea was to give up and call for help.

Then I noticed my new flag.  The handled flag stick was much more stiff than my coathanger device.  Hmmmm.

I took off the flag and tried one last time hoping to pull the knot free with the flag hook end.


I quit.

I took off the red flag part and tried to hook the wire with the flagless end.


The front desk person at my vet’s office reassured me that they had some type of tranquilizer that they would pour on her grain and she’d be knocked out.

Sounded easy.  OK.  So I made an appointment for Friday.  2 days.


In the meantime, I tried my best to sweet talk Sam into liking the wire hanger on her leg.   Instead, she revved up her best Joan Crawford imitation time and time again…

It was even more tense in there because after the novelty had worn off, Sam was tired of being trapped in the barn.  To say she was becoming surly was an understatement.

Our routine for the next two days was simple.  She would look at me and then walk up to the end gate and look at me again and then look outside.

I wouldn’t let her out.

She would snort and look at me as if I was the stoopidest human out there.  Why wasn’t I getting her drift??!

She did this over and over again.  I swear I saw that, “What is the matter with you?!” look from her every time.


She stayed in.  I gave her a few extra treats.

She still hated me.

NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!!!, she said.



I think it is cute when the HERO swoops in to save the day!  He told me he was sure he could save me the vet visit and make a better hooking tool and get that wire off of her.  All I had to do was ‘distract her’.

OK.  Sure.  Why not.

Maybe he could do this…

So, at 7:30am this morning, Hubby emerged with his game face on.  He was ready to do this thing.

Hubby went to work crafting a better coat hanger device.  He used actual wire cutters (mine was just bent) and electrical tape.  This hook was longer and stronger than mine.

“All I had to do was distract her.”  If I distracted her, this 1000lb mustang mare who lived in the wild for 6 years would not even notice the 6’2″ human crawling up to her with a long, skinny snake in his hand.

As anticipated, she wanted nothing to do with Hubby.

Hubby was crushed.

I told him that he shouldn’t be upset.  This is exactly why so many wild horses end up in feedlots.  They can be difficult and it takes much, much time to gentle them.  Sometimes it never happens.

He felt better.

Hubby made a manly hook... Still no dice.



The vet arrived mid afternoon.

I ran out to see him and his lovely assistant, Lori.

Lori entered the barn and tried to make nice with Sam.

Sam snorted.

As Lori was going through the sweet talking method that we humans hope will work, I mentioned the drug that they could put on grain and make her go nightynight.

They both looked at me and said, “What drug?”

Me (trying not to realize what I was realizing): You know, the drug your desk person said you could put on the food to knock her out.

Them:  ???

Me: (my voice becoming strained):  She said you could put it on her food and knock her out…

Them:  “Not that we know of…”


Them:  “Dunno.  We’re thinking on it.”

In the meantime, we all decided to put some Ace on her grain and go visit Tess to check on her eye/fly issue.  When we returned, we all agreed that Sam was only 90% as snorty as she was before.  So, a full dose of Ace had about a 10% effect on her.

Not good.

Sam eating her drug laced grain


Lori always has great ideas and she didn’t fail us.

She walked around the barn with her wheels turning…  And then came the brilliance!

She suggested that we rearrange the bales in the last stall so that there was more room but not enough for her to jump out.

We did this and it looked like a grassy-padded stall.  Sam walked right in.  Yay!

She had just enough room to turn around.

Sam in her hayfort as Mike joins her


At this point, the vet (Mike) decided that the Ace was working about 40% now and he felt comfortable enough to get in the stall with her.  Lori manned the gate so that he could GET OUT fast if he needed to.

Mike walked in with a loaded needle in his back pocket – they always have those, don’t they?…

Anyway, we all talked softly to her in that horsey lullaby way.  Sam started forgetting what she was worried about.  Mike petted her more steadily.  He petted her neck and shoulder.  He moved to her wither and front let.  She almost liked it.

Brilliant Lori stands by the gate, ready for anything

Then Mike rubbed her neck hard for about 5 minutes, right on the injection area.  And, in the most graceful Ninja move ever, he stuck her effortlessly.  She didn’t even feel it.

Sleepy time… except for Sam, it was barely drowsy time.  She fought it like a true Mustang.  Good Girl – sort of!

She's fighting the drugs as Mike works his way down her back

Soon she was woozy enough to not notice (or not care) that Mike was now facing towards her back end.  He worked on that for a few minutes until he could touch her rear leg.

He called for the bolt cutters.  We handed them to him.  They didn’t work.  We got wire cutters.  They didn’t work.

Mike turns around and shines his headlamp onto her ankle

Finally, Mike asked Lori to get his nippers from the truck.  During all this time of tool wrangling and wire wrestling, Sam just stood there.  Wow.  I was impressed.

Mike gingerly attached the nippers to the wire and pressed.  Nothing.  They didn’t cut the wire but they held onto it.  Than Mike had an idea… he pulled the exact right way to loosen the whole thing and – unwrap it from her ankle!


I hugged them both.

It is OFF!! HOORAY! I hugged them both


I’m not really sure the lesson except that housing wild horses is fine – until they get injured.

I got lucky.  She wasn’t in grave danger.

But… I could only imagine what would have happened if she was really hurt.

I actually have no answer to this conundrum.  No one else wants her because she is wild.  I don’t want for her (or anyone) to go to slaughter.  I actually really like her.  I’ve sent her to the best school for mustangs that would take her.  She was expelled.

I think some horses would rather not be tamed.  Sam is one of them.  She puts up with me.  She may even like me.

But, she would just rather be free…


I told her that I would try to find a mustang sanctuary for her.

I have already contacted several but they are all full.

I will continue to try.

And, I will continue to try to reach her… but I don’t really think that is her wish.

If it was, we’d be there by now.


Beautiful, wild Samantha



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7 comments have been posted...

  1. Bonnie

    What an amazing post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It was almost as if I was there with you. Sam is very forturnate to have you as her “guardian angel” for now and until you can find her a home that will suit her needs to remain a free, wild Mustang. God bless you!

  2. Cindy Craig-Kirk

    Maybe you should contact Clinton Anderson to see if he can get her trained? He says his Downunder Horsemanship method will work on ANY horse. It could be worth a try. He can train you to use your body language and the horse’s own body language to gain her respect. It is training without fear. He says sneaking around a horse makes the horse think there’s something to fear. His method really seems to make sense. Maybe he would use you both on one of his shows and it could help others who have the same problem.

  3. Linda Horn

    Where did you get that wire … surplus from the Space Shuttle? I’m so glad all parties came away unscathed. Have you called DreamCatcher?

  4. Mikey

    Yep, some wild horses just don’t prefer to be trained. I had one like that, I actually had to trap her to get her (long story) brought her home, had her a year. Barely made any progress, despite working with her every day. She kept looking longingly at the outside, and one day she finally got away from me. We caught her again (which got one person hurt) brought her back. She just waited for her chance, and got out my front gate. Despite my best efforts, not a single person has reported her anywhere. I lost her tracks and never found them again. I still expect to find her, but I don’t think she’ll be caught again. Very very smart, knows how to hide, will fight you for her freedom. I wish I could have found a sanctuary for her. She’ll always be “the on that got away” and I know it will forever break my heart. Wild horses…. they aren’t easy.

  5. Nanette

    Your story was riveting AND educational, always a wonderful combination. I am glad things worked out for Sam. I was impressed with your perception of her needs. I agree with you that wild horses(all of them) should remain in the wild. Unfortunately our current administration(damn you Pres for appointing Salazar!!!!) continues the policies of the Bush Admin. by removing our mustangs and burros at breakneck speed and no feeling for the needs of the animals. Sometimes it is so discouraging, but what choice do we have, those of us who love animals, but to keep up the pressure. The government will continue to remove mustangs and burros until there are none, it seems. Private sanctuaries IN THE WEST where they were born seem to be the only answer right now. We need more. M. Pickens is trying to create several, but BLM is ignoring her. Shameful.
    Thank you again for your story, I look forward to another soon!

  6. RiderWriter

    Oh my… I can just feel your frustration. How scary! Poor Sam, I think you’re absolutely right: she likes you as much as she’s ever going to like any human. I didn’t know she flunked out of Mustang School. How ironic that you are working so hard to help other Mustangs right now, but they don’t have room for yours in a sanctuary. :-( I am sure they’ll find her a spot soon, and I know you will really miss her. This reminds me of the story of The Phantom, Misty’s mother. Remember? She tolerated the children and they were even able to ride her, but in the end… they let her go. In the meantime, I’m so glad Sam is safe with you now and unwired!

  7. Arliss

    Love this. (I love your blog!) I’m so glad it worked out OK. And the ending of the post is poignant and beautiful.

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