Manes & Trails

Ocho as a baby in 2009. Sentinel photo/Karen Carlson
Ocho as a baby in 2009. Sentinel photo/Karen Carlson
Rope and Spurs

This is the second in a two-part series.

I first met the people and horses of Coyote Canyon Caballos d’Anza (CCCDA) about four years ago. I have always had an interest in wild horses, and since owning one that interest has grown. I watch for all information about what is happening with them mostly via email and saw a note about the last of the wild horses and burros being removed from the Anza Borrego desert as recently as 2003. Some reports that there were a few stragglers caught up in 2007 and removed were difficult to verify.

Well golly, I didn’t even know there were equine living freely in our very own desert state park so I wanted to know more. I dug around for information on the web and found that horses and burros indeed inhabited the desert of Southern California and were believed to be big competition for food for the big horn sheep in the area. The horses were reported to be starving and no water was available at the time so they were removed from their longtime home.

I was aghast to hear the news — partly because I never saw the horses in the desert, partly because I think the wild horses should be left alone, and partly because this was all so new to me. Right in the very state park that Cricket and I visit often were horses that I was unaware of. I never dreamed they would have been so close! I knew they were numerous in Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, but San Diego? WOW!

After more research I found CCCDA and a name I knew came up. Kay Levie, I knew that name but couldn’t remember why. I read about the effort to get some of the horses back to this area. The only way that was going to happen was if someone adopted them from the BLM, but how would they know if the horses were indeed from here? I saw a contact name and emailed her. Kay got back to me right away.

I must have had great timing because she said there were four stallions found and brought back to the Santa Ysabel area and the mares were being identified. I asked her how the identification was done and found out that initially through the brand markings on each horse, then DNA testing was used to be certain. The brand markings on each horse tell where the horse is from and its approximate age at the time of capture. Cricket has such a brand on her neck. DNA is used to identify certain genetic markers to be certain they are of the same or similar gene pool.

Kay and the others were hopeful they would find the horses they needed, those that belonged here, in order to bring them home again. They also prayed that the gene pool would be diverse enough to begin re-establishing a sound herd on the homeland they once knew. A few had been identified and others were awaiting results.

CCCDA decided to wait until they had a decent band of mares for transport back to California, not wanting to stress the horses too much, or pay transportation costs over and over for a few horses at a time. Kay invited me down to meet the horses when they arrived, so I waited.

A few weeks went by, then the email came. The mares were to arrive, so plans were made to meet them. They came in on a Thursday and I was at the ranch on Saturday. All of the mares were covered in sticky mud, their manes and tails matted. Even the younger mares of a year or so were muddy and Kay had them separated from the older mares for their safety.

They were stunning nonetheless. I snapped pictures and asked questions during my visit. Kay told me she suspected many, if not all, of the mares were pregnant. Not the breeding they had in mind, but some stallion in the area they had just come from.

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The mares when they arrived in San Diego. Sentinel photo/Karen Carlson

Over the months fundraisers were held. We had a great time gathering to support the horses. Hay was needed, fencing materials were a must, and babies may be coming! As time passed, indeed the mares’ bellies grew and foals were no longer an if but a when. During one of the larger fundraisers the wind howled violently as it does often in the desert, but we all huddled together and moved vehicles to help block the wind and carried on with our meals and auction. Ah, spring in the desert…..

Soon the foals began arriving and Kay decided she would give them numeric names, and those wishing to sponsor a foal could do the actual naming. Emails came with photos attached, “Here is Uno,” and “Introducing Dos,” and as they arrived each was given a Spanish numeral misnomer and renamed as sponsors stepped forward to assist in covering the costs of feeding and keeping the horses.

My little guy, “Dos,” was aptly renamed “Alvaro,” at least to me. It seems like just yesterday — yet here we are in 2012 and Kay is sending emails about “Ocho and Patty,” Ocho being one of the fillies born some three years ago and Patty came March 17, 2012.

Ocho’s mom (dam) also still resides with the herd, and so the horses live on.

The horses (mare and foals) have been moved to reside in Ramona. Oh yes, and Kay — I figured it out — she’s an amazing photographer and used to shoot the Ramona Rodeo and other events in Ramona, so I saw her all the time — and now have the good fortune of calling her a friend and admiring her for helping our wild horses! Kay is in Borrego working and living and continuing her amazing feats and travels.

More on present-day horses next time…..

To support the CCCDA and original horses from our area, contact Robert and Kathleen Hayden, P.O. Box 236, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070, phone 760-782-3340, email cccda@znet.com., and visit the Coyote Canyon Heritage Herd Facebook page.

   
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