Monday, January 16, 2017

The American Mustang in My Life: Norman Brock Stringfellow

Ever since I was a kid I wanted a Mustang. I never dreamed I would actually have one, owning a Mustang isn't like owning a domesticated horse. A domesticated horse, such as a Quarter Horse, Paint, Tennessee Walker, or any number of other breeds, have one thing in common: they have been handled by humans since the day they were born. Their parents were born in captivity, their ancestors too, and that can make a huge difference in the social and emotional make up of a creature.  Think about this way; would you go out and find a wolf pup to raise in your house? Taking on a non-domesticated animal has certain challenges. I wanted to be up to accepting them without compromising the animal's experience. I didn't "own" a Mustang until I was 55 years old. I don't own him now, I have adopted him. There is a difference.

His name is Norman Brock Stringfellow today, but when he was born he was dubbed #10612979, a bay colt born to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) captured mare probably under the age of 6. If she had been older than 6 she wouldn't have been kept once she was rounded up. She would have been treated, allowed to foal, and then returned to the herd she came from. Norman's number was shortened to #2979 when he was tagged at the facility where he was born. He was born in captivity on May 11, 2010, at the Herd Management Area holding facility called Broken Arrow in Fallon, NV. He was one of many bay colts; nothing really all that special, and certainly nothing stood out about him as the next few years passed. He was chosen or picked to be trained at a northern Nevada prisoner camp, a place where wild burros and horses are taken to be gentled and adopted out, but Norman wasn't adopted out. Somehow he had been dubbed a "hump back" and was either left untrained, or wasn't given the full training as others were. He was passed up on adoption day, and then returned to another holding facility, and onto yet a third, the Pauls Valley holding facility in central Oklahoma.

Once at the Pauls Valley BLM area #2979 was taken to two more places to be seen and examined by would be adopters. Though he would stand taller than most American Mustangs at 15.2H, and he had both back "socks" of white, as well as a star, stripe, and white snip on his dark bay face, he was not chosen at either. Perhaps it was the hump back that kept him from being picked, or perhaps the BLM had grouped him with more flashy horses and not enough adopters had shown up to pick him on either occasion. I like to think that God had other plans for Norman, and that he was saved for the day I would happen to ramble onto the premises this past October 11, 2016. I think Norman knew something was up before I knew, but however it happened, it did in fact happen, and before the adoption-ending noon bell rang, Norman was being loaded onto a trailer and being carried off to be trained by a professional TIP, or Training Incentive Program trainer.  He was adopted by ME and he was no longer a wild horse. He was on his way to being...well, domesticated.

I wasn't going to the BLM that day to adopt anything. I wasn't expecting to adopt, I wasn't thinking about adopting.  I was there to look at horses for my daughter Laura who had wanted to adopt one soon enough; she wanted to train one to become her mounted shooting partner. She and I took the day off, the 2nd Tuesday of the month, as that is when adoptions take place at the BLM in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma.  I went to help Laura. I wasn't going to find the love of my life; it just sort of happened.

When we pulled up to the gates we saw a few others standing around, waiting for the adoptions to take place. We had never been through the process, so we were hanging back and watching. We weren't participating, we were just viewing to see what would happen, how it would happen, if it happened, and why it happened. There was a woman there with her young blond daughter, the girl was about 11 years old. We watched as she galloped back and forth calling to the horses. She was home schooled, and her mother wanted to show her the animals up close, as sort of a field trip. There was a man with his wife as well, she was smallish, and seemed a bit timid around all of the barricaded animals; she looked as if she feared at any moment one of them would jump the 6 foot fencing and attack her. Nothing of the sort would ever actually happen, but she stood close to her husband just in case.   Her husband, a wealthy car-dealer from another state, was eager to find the exact horse that would make him happy. He wore an arm sling, a trophy of the effects of finding a horse that wasn't exactly the right horse.  He and his wife had decided to bring a horse back to the BLM facility in fact, one that didn't work out for him.  The man was open, fun, and smiling at all of the horses, going from one to the other, hoping to make eye contact and know instantly that he had found his match!

There was another set of people there too. There was a man, his wife, and her young adult daughter, who looked to be around 18 or so. The couple were quiet, and moved about, watching the daughter, and listening to the eager man wearing the sling. It became obvious by counting the trucks and cars in the parking lot, that these two couples had come together in a truck with a very large trailer. The fact that the quiet man had the keys in his hand, led me to know that he was the owner of the truck and trailer. This meant one thing to me, he had to be a trainer, the other man was the buyer. The man with the sling bought or adopted horses, and the quiet man trained them. I figured this out about the same time that Norman decided to put his large imposing head over the fence and onto the top of my head without warning!  "He likes you!"  said the quiet man; that point was obvious to everyone now, as the horse continued to press himself closer to me, and through the rails of the fence.  If he had arms he would have reached through the fence and grabbed me, probably holding me against his chest, it was quite interesting how Norman would not allow other horses to come near me. Using his body, his tail, his voice, and his feet, he kept all of the others away, and stayed as close to me as he possibly could. To the quiet man, who was now smiling, and sticking out his hand for an introduction, this meant that #2979 had found his match, whether or not I was obliged to return the sentiment.

"Hi, I'm Tim Brock", said the quiet man now standing in front of the larger than life horse who was refusing to release me from his gaze. I introduced myself, and listened as Tim explained that for the past few minutes he was considering taking #2979 as a TIP horse either for Jeff, the man with the sling, or just because, as he felt that the horse had more potential than others. He hadn't made up his mind, but he was thinking about it. Lauren, his step daughter, who is also a TIP trainer, had a few others in mind, and the boring big bay gelding wasn't one of the ones she wanted.  Jeff didn't want him either, he was too big, and there was that hump or high wither that didn't interest him. Laura, my own daughter, laughed at me and said, "You know, you already have your adoption application in the BLM  system, so you could take him."  I smiled. I didn't do more than that, but I did smile.  It was then that Tim explained to me how the TIP program worked. Seems he was being paid by the Mustang Heritage Foundation to train qualified horses at the BLM; ones who would then be adopted. If I wanted Norman, or as he was named #2979, all I had to do was say so. Tim would take him to Missouri where he lived and operated, train him for two or three months, and bring him back  all ready to go!  It would only cost me $125 to adopt, and whatever to bring him home, but since he'd be back to pick up others, it shouldn't be much.

Was I hearing this correctly?  I was being asked if I wanted to adopt this massive 1100 pound horse, the one standing a good hand taller than the tallest horse I would ever want? The horse that for some odd reason found me more attractive than the others at the gates that day, and the one that wasn't even all that...different. He was in fact rather ordinary if you had to be honest about it.  The Mustang I had always dreamed of owning would be smaller, around 14.2 hands maybe, and he'd be bright colored, maybe sorrel, maybe roan, he could possibly be a bay, but with a broad blaze and four white socks. This horse was staring at me, and in that moment I realized that he was absolutely perfect. There wasn't a single thing wrong with him; even his hump backed wither seemed to be saying "at least your saddle won't ever fall off".  I told Tim yes, I would adopt the horse, and yes, he could take him to Missouri to train. The only thing left to do was to let the BLM guys know, because they're the ones who actually take the money!

There's more to the story of course, and I'll save that for another blog post, but suffice it to say that on that day, October 11, 2016, #2979, a big beautiful bay American Mustang gelding became my new best friend; and naming him after the city of Norman, Oklahoma was easy! It was that or Boomer. His middle name is Brock for his trainer Tim, and of course he bears my surname.  When Gary, the BLM hand,  cut the nylon tag with the number on it from Norman's neck he handed the tag to Tim, who then handed it to me, symbolizing that Norman was no longer wild or captive.  Norman was now adopted, I think I cried in my soul.  He deserved to be loved, and on this day he demanded it.  Thank you God.

Most photos by Karin O'very (Tim's wife)

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