by Shannon Windle

It was hot.  And dry. And getting hotter.  It was a typical late morning in Reno – June 2012. I had taken a trip up the dirt road above the electrical station; the ‘meadow’ loomed below.  The road was choppy, rocky, dusty, and dry. The wheels ground over the rocks as my truck descended at a sharp angle back to the valley below. I glanced to the left as something caught my eye.  I looked again and something moved. It was a wild one, just standing there, balancing precariously on the steep hillside below me on the other side of the wash. I stopped to gaze at its beauty and splendor.  It was a grey horse. I guessed he was a stallion because of his thick neck and muscular physique. He was gorgeous.  

I assumed he was napping.  He was alone and not moving.  I watched him and was grateful for my truck’s AC – it was getting hotter.  As I bounced my way down the incline at a snail’s pace, I watch this figure, wondering why he was alone, who he was, and if he was headed to the ‘meadow’?  Then he moved, hobbling on three legs, taking one jerky step forward. It was his right front leg! Something was very wrong with this horse!!!  

The slope he was perched on was steep and rocky.  I stayed there for another few minutes just waiting for him to move again.  And he did, in the same awkward jerking motion as before. But this time he took several steps.  Then rested. Then moved again. I stayed long enough to see that his intent was to move downhill; down where there was water, to the ‘meadow’.  I knew if he was strong enough he’d make it.  

My next sighting of him was the following afternoon – just over 24 hours later.  He had made it down the steep slopes of the Virginia Range foothills and in to the ‘meadow’!!  There he had plenty of water and some good grass to chow down on.  

But he was also not alone!  As I drove close by, three bachelor stallions had also spied him from across the meadow and were cantering towards him.  They stopped about 30 feet from him, pawed the ground, arched their necks, and trotted around in a very pleasant and fancy display of stallioness!!!!  I couldn’t take my eyes away from them!

One of the bachelor stallions was elected to go forward and make the challenge to the grey stranger  – but it was all very friendly. If there was going to be a real fight, there would have been more galloping, charging, and dirt flying.  I could tell they knew this Gentleman; they knew who he was. Was he an old friend? Where had he come from? While the other boys had wanted to spar, I knew this stallion was in terrible pain and could hardly walk.  Fighting wasn’t an option. What was going to happen? Would they not understand and injure him further by pushing him to fight?  

Wow, was I in for a lesson in wild horse behavior!  I felt like I was watching a scene from a movie– young fellow soldiers sparing and practicing the art of fighting when along comes a long lost and revered rival.  Their exchanges were fascinating!

As the young stallion strutted his stuff, the injured Gentleman let out a squeal, put his injured right leg gently forward, and lowered his head almost to the ground.  The young stallion stopped, eyed him for a moment, then let out a squeal of his own and walked up close. He lowered his head, smelled the grey stallion’s leg, pawed the ground, squealed again as if saying “I see you’re hurt – it looks bad – very painful!”  Immediately, the young stallion’s body language changed – he relaxed, and they spoke to each other, smelling each other’s face, taking in each other’s breath, hearing each other’s story. They said so much to each other in those few short seconds. I was spellbound watching them communicate.  The other young bachelors approached slowly, the stallioness, the pomp, the circumstance had all quickly washed away – giving in to compassion and high regard for this obviously respected stranger.  

Each young stallion greeted and spoke to this Nobleman, this revered stud of the range.  He remained at the ‘meadow’ for about a week. Each day his injury improved, he grew stronger, he put more weight on his leg.  During that time, those three bachelors protected him, never leaving his side for long, never leaving him completely alone. And then, just as he had appeared out of nowhere, he disappeared just as quickly.  

Who was that stallion?  I found out later my friend Ellen, the owner of Sundance Digital Studios, had already dubbed him “Ghost” several years before.  Ghost is an enigma amongst the wild mustangs of the Virginia Range. He makes his way across the landscape, often causing havoc and mayhem in his wake.  Unlike most stallions, Ghost is a lone bachelor. He has never had his own band of mares, but he doesn’t think twice about seducing another stallion’s mare and then slipping away over the hill. He imparts his knowledge and skills to other young bachelors and then moves on.  He has been sited in many different areas of the range – usually alone, but occasionally with other stallions. His photograph represents the strength the Virginia Range horses embody, as well as the achievements their supporters continue to gain to keep them on the range – wild and free! 

On a side note, one must always weigh the consequences of intervening in the lives of wild horses.  They are a robust lot with incredibly strong and durable genes. Those who do not survive are often taken early, normally in their first year.  But those who do survive, do so because they have the strong will to survive, they have learned from their family members how to survive, and know what to do if they’re injured.  In this case, intervening in this stallion’s life would have put him at great risk and certainly caused greater harm and damage to whatever was wrong with his leg. So trying to corral him was not realistic, and approaching him would have caused him to try to run – both resulting in more pain, stress, and an unlikely positive outcome.  Monitoring and leaving nature to do her fancy work is the best option for these horses. And in this case, it worked which it almost always does for the wild horses of the Virginia Range! Remember to give them a wide birth, stay at a distance of at least 50 feet, do not feed them, do not try to touch them, keep your children and dogs away from them – let them live wild and free, the way it should be for them.  Show your support and love for them by getting an “Historic Virginia Range Mustangs” license plate to adorn your vehicle, motorcycle, trailer, or fleet of vehicles.

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