Three Strikes Leads to a Home Run
by John Minium and Karen Parker
Mariah and Rioja have found their loving forever home at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary (http://www.wildmustangs.com) in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Both mustangs carry the big ‘U’ freeze brand ‘three strikes’ on their necks as a memory of their harrowing life before rescue.
Mariah’s Three Strikes Freeze Brand
Could they have read the news headlines almost five years ago, they would have seen:
19 April 2009: Alliance, Nebraska -– At least 60 horses are dead and more than 100 others are seriously emaciated at a mustang facility in Morrill County, Nebraska.
Mariah and Rioja experienced and lived through the horror of the headlines to become beautiful horses today. Dayton O. Hade, founder of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, penned this story of their lives.
Born years and miles apart in dusty deserts of Wyoming and Nevada, during a turning point in wild horse history, the two mustang mares, Mariah, a blood bay, and Rioja, a red roan with scars on both sides from a previous encounter with a mountain lion, found themselves in the same place at the same time.
Mariah, a blood bay
Rioja, a red roan
In the equine world shared experiences often create strong and lasting friendships.
In 1971, Congress passed the FREE ROAMING WILD HORSE AND BURRO PROTECTION ACT. In 2004 the BURNS AMENDMENT changed the act to allow the Federal Government to dispose of unwanted and unadoptable wild horses.
White freeze brands on the necks of captured BLM mustangs give a timeline of the life of the horse, indicating the approximate age of the animal and when and where it was captured. After 2004 a large U was added to the brand to designate that a particular animal was unwanted and was termed a “three striker”. Mariah and Rioja were both branded with the U and were shipped, along with three hundred other mustangs to a private ranch in Nebraska, ironically called THE THREE STRIKES RANCH.
Rioja, enjoying her much deserved retirement at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary
Two years later, in what has been termed “the worst animal abuse case in Nebraska history”, some eighty mustangs had lost their lives. Newspaper and TV reporters flocked in and the mustangs were seized and moved to the local fairgrounds once more awaiting their fate. Thin and starving yet still alive, Mariah and Rioja ended up in Minnesota. With the loving care of two veterinarians and animal rescue unit, the two mustangs survived. Perhaps it was because they had each other and friendship brings all beings hope. After months of rehab, the two friends were ready for a forever home.
During the summer of 2012, seven year old Mariah and twelve year old Rioja were loaded into the vet’s trailer to begin another journey together, this time back to a life of freedom at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota. Shared experiences keep them bonded together despite freedom to run on thousands of acres. We see them often and never cease to wonder if the U brand is just body art or a reminder that no living being should be considered unwanted.
Mariah enjoying her freedom on a cold winter day
Today Mariah and Rioja contentedly spend time with our Tourist Pasture band of rescue horses. Both have found new friends. Mariah finds comfort with Sierra, a mustang of cheery and smart disposition. Mariah’s shyness stands in complete opposition to Sierra’s wanting attention from two legged creatures. Mariah’s attachment to Sierra has become a way for her to grow trust. I can count on Sierra to greet me in hopes of sweet feed and attention, but over the last few months as Mariah became closer to Sierra, her fear and the safety zone she has maintained when people are around have decreased. Today, January 21, 2014, was Mariah’s day slowly to saunter over to Sierra and me. Her safety zone had collapsed and her fear of humans, though not gone, did not stop her from sharing sweet feed with Sierra and some attention from me. It’s immensely gratifying to have this beautiful mare as a friend after all the terrible moments she has experienced.
Sierra (left) is happy to share hay with her friend Mariah
Rioja, less shy than Mariah, frequently can be found with Nina. Nina is a good choice for a buddy, because Nina knows the ways of the band. Rioja enjoys the band of horses in our Tourist Pasture and by attaching herself to Nina, she can be found at the center of the social hierarchy. She’s not one to pay much attention to humans nor is she very shy of them. Indeed, her contentment of living an unencumbered mustang’s life is a joy to see.
Nina (left) and her friend Rioja share a mutual scratch
We see the freeze brand U and think of Mariah and Rioja as Utterly irresistible rescued mustangs, both of which have gone from three strikes to home runs. Consider sponsoring this inseparable pair: http://www.wildmustangs.com/#!mustang-of-the-month-mariah-rioja/c1az7