Friday, June 22, 2012

Between Two Worlds

Luke is back in lock-down. He now only has a 24 x 24 enclosure since we gave his old place to Rowdy. He did have a 24 x 24 enclosure plus a 12 x 12 indoor stall, so he lost 144 square feet of living space. Mariah is standing along the barnyard fence to keep Luke company. Little by little his band of mares are rejoining the main herd.

Luke is one of those lost souls that is caught between two worlds but doesn't fit in to either one. He is not really a stallion but then again, he is not really a gelding. He is not really a wild horse but then again he is not really a domestic horse. It may be genetic, maybe he hears the Wild Ones whisper in his ear telling him to live by the old ways like those magnificent herd stallions which fight to the death to claim the herd as their own while running wild and free across the prairie without intervention from human beings.  Try as we may to share the joy and sorrow from our little corner of the equine rescue world, it is impossible to document all the day to day events of life here at the Triple O. Our supporters are aware that we spend all of our time, energy and money into our mission to make the world a better horse at a time. We make the horses priority number one and get extremely distressed when a  horse is living in less than ideal circumstances. Just being a horse, living among their own kind, spending their time on their own schedule is our idea of a perfect horse life....Luke has not had that luxury. After many trials and tribulations, we tried again to allow Luke the freedom of living in the main pasture with the main herd which consist of 18 horses. Here's a link to Luke's story!/notes/triple-o-ranch-equine-sanctuary/the-story-of-luke-a-blm-mustang/219570844743589. Luke's freedom lasted for only 15 days until the decision was made to put him back into lock down. We had big hopes that he would be able to live among the main herd. He's older and more mature now, so we had hoped that things would work out but that was not the case. The blame can not be placed solely on Luke's behavior. Even when he is minding his own business, the mares seek him out. Luke, in many ways, is like a rock  matter where he goes, he is recognized, he draws the attention of the girls....they follow him around like groupies backstage, trailing him no matter how fast he goes, they are right behind him and gaining on him with every urgent step.

Initially, Luke fought with Samson and attempted to steal his mares. This went on for hours until both of them were exhausted. Finally, Samson took his favorite mares and left the main herd behind to choose for themselves who they would have for a leader. One by one, most of them rejoined Samson. Luke was able to steal Jewel, Cinda, Cherokee and Bella. At that point it looked like things would settle down. By the next day, Luke was fighting with Phoenix and trying to steal Glory from him. Luke was successful in taking Glory into his new herd. Before long he started stalking Mariah, who wanted nothing to due with him. He's very persistent, so he pursued her day and night until he was able to force her into submission. It was pure chaos here at the ranch for the entire 15 days that Luke was in the main pasture. This video shows Luke's behavior while trying to dominate the herd!/permalink.php?story_fbid=385116008211210&id=158998754134132&notif_t=share_comment 

Watching the previously calm herd live in chaos has been hard for us to do. Risking the well being of the entire herd for the benefit of one horse is something that we find difficult to justify. In our minds, this really was Luke's last chance to live in the main pasture, so we gritted our teeth and held our breath. Day after day, we'd take inventory of our situation, seeing some slight improvements but still worried about the outcome of this experiment. Every horse in the main pasture was paying a price for Luke's freedom. While some kick and bite marks are normal for horses living in a herd, these horses were getting an excessive amount of kick and bite marks as well as some cuts and scrapes. Luke, himself was taking a beating as well. Physical exhaustion was not a deterrent to stop his stallion like behavior. He was like a soldier in a war zone.....on guard 24/7/365, standing at attention and focused on every move made by his potential enemies. He had to stop and check every manure pile. He had to smell it and stomp it and then he would leave his own scent, marking his territory with either manure or urine. Even during the calm before the storm, Luke found conflict every where he went. Some of the geldings wanted to graze with Luke and his band, but being so territorial, Luke would have to chase them away. Even some of the mares that originally paid no attention to him would seek Luke out and play the flirt-squeal-chase-run game with him, which infuriated Luke's mares and caused more fighting. This type of chaos went on across 132 acres day and night. It was terrifying to hear them fight and run in the darkness. We could not see what was happening and were helpless knowing that serious injuries were likely and we wouldn't be able to intervene.

The proverbial "last-straw" was when the fighting escalated. The equine war took on characteristics of guerrilla warfare. Luke and another horse would engage in a fuss which usually escalated into a fight which lead to them giving up fighting an running from Luke. Luke doesn't chase someone in the traditional "domestic" horse way, which is ears pinned back and taking a few running steps toward them and then quitting. Luke pins his ears back, lowers his head and attacks. The others began to run from him. He'd chase them from the west pasture, to the south meadow, to the middle pasture and then on to the far east pasture. Because Luke doesn't give up, the chase would last for what seemed forever. The last straw came when the horses being chased began running into the woods. This behavior is dangerous enough in open areas, but running full blast on narrow trails through the woods compounds the dangers exponentially. We've never even seen all this land and have no idea how many dangers lurk in the darkness of the forest. Without doubt there are deep holes from dead trees and long forgotten wire from fence lines we've never discovered. These high speed chases didn't last for just a few minutes, they went on for hours/ Watching them disappear into the dark regions of deep forest made us so apprehensive and waiting and worrying for them to reappear into the open seemed like forever. On the fifteenth day of Luke's freedom he and Cheyenne became embroiled into a challenge which did not subside. He chased and chased her.....they disappeared into the forest and did not come back out for quite some time. We went to find them and as we headed to the edge of the woods, Cheyenne came flying out of the forest with Luke still in hot pursuit. I yelled at him and he stopped in his tracks. I approached him and he was drenched in sweat, foamy and steam rising from his body. He had large round sweat circles around both eyes and fresh blood oozing from his front lower leg. It was just a scrape and fortunately not a serious injury. We decided that the price of Luke's freedom was too high and that a serious injury or death was imminent unless we intervened. MyHoney came out with a halter and lead rope and lead Luke back to the barnyard. He was so wound up and out of control. You could feel the heat radiating from his body and see the sweat literally dripping from him. He look physically and emotionally exhausted but still not ready to give up. I ran ahead of them to get the heavy duty enclosure opened up for him to enter back into lock up. I hated the idea of him loosing his freedom again but couldn't allow the equine version of Russian Roulette to continue. It was just a matter of time until someone would be seriously injured and the price of freedom was getting just too high.

As soon as Luke realized he was trapped, he went ballistic. The sounds of his cries were deafening and heartbreaking all at the same time. He challenged the fencing over and over. Luke reared up and got his front legs over the 6 ft enclosure time and time again but much to his dismay, the panel did not bend to allow him to escape. Knowing if he were to get his leg caught in the rails and lose his balance he could easily break a leg, it was hard to watch him in his desperate attempt to break free from captivity. The first day or two since he returned to lock down, some of his mares stayed close by the barnyard fence line. Little by little they began wandering further and further away to rejoin the main herd. The further away they moved the more distressed he became. He spend half his time with his front legs over the top rail and the other half of the time trying to figure out how to get a better run at the rails to get over the top. He'd back up 5-10 steps and take a run at the fence. He even stood with his head down, looking behind him and using his back legs to kick at the bottom rails. He pawed the ground and stomped his feet but all to no avail. Today is his third day back in lock down and he's finally calming down somewhat. He still cries out to the main herd. He still watches their every move with extreme concentration, without batting an eye, but finally is starting to spend more time with all four hooves on the ground. He's spending more time eating hay and drinking water, which he barely did at all the first few days. We felt we had no other choice, it is our job to be the caretakers of this herd and to ensure their safety. With Luke in the main herd, every single horse here was in harm's way. The constant fighting was even putting the other horses in danger. They'd run along behind the Blind Horse Habitat and spook the blind horses which was likely to cause injuries among the blind ones as well. Luke is very people oriented, so it's doubtful that he could go back to living wild among other mustangs.. He's too wild with domestic horses to be safe in a herd.  Luke is one of those lost souls stuck in between two different worlds. He's not a wild mustang but he isn't a domestic horse either......the dilemma continues.
One of Luke's many attempts to escape from lock-down :(