Hello, I’m Erin Phillips, a life-long animal lover and owner! My love for wild horses began with the “Cloud, Wild Stallion of the Rockies” documentaries I watched with my family when I was five years old. I remember the thrill of watching wild horses race across their range in freedom, then the sadness when the whole herd faced a government roundup (being removed from the wild). Wild horse bands (families) were separated from each other, and stallions would desperately fight to return to their mares and foals.
Several years after I first learned about wild horses, I began researching more and was amazed to read about the challenges they face, on and off the range. Learning about thousands of mustangs and burros either sitting in a holding pen for their entire lives or facing a horrific end in slaughterhouses across the border inspired me to start a wild horse and burro rescue/sanctuary, Mustang Mission. It is my goal to rescue, train, and re-home mustangs and burros that have not been fortunate to be adopted by a kind, loving home. That is why I’m here today.
Late last year, after the terrible roundup of the famed Onaqui Herd, I decided to rescue one of the older geldings that would be likely to end up in a bad situation after adoption/purchase. After careful consideration – I knew that it was risky to rescue an older gelding as a first mustang – I chose an 11-year-old bay (#7903) with minimal white with the help of Jen Rogers (Red Bird’s Trust). He was Sales Eligible (he could be sold without limitations) which put him in great danger. The main decision-making factor for me was when Jen told me, “From knowing them from the field, I would lean toward #7903 if it were my choice – he’s a cool horse and level headed.” After hearing that, I definitely wasn’t backing down!
A photograph of Alamo kicking up dust in the wild taken by Kisa Kavass
I counted down the days until December 14 – the last day of the auction for the Onaqui wild horses. I decided not to bid until the last five minutes of the auction so that there would be as little bidding up by other people as possible. Those last five minutes were so tough as I waited to see what would happen – while raising my bid in little segments. Suddenly, it was over and mustang #7903 was mine! I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief – I felt so grateful.
Now, I set to work building pens and setting up for my wild horse. I had over two months to prepare, so I had plenty of time until he would arrive.
February 25 came around, sure enough, and that morning #7903 was picked up from an adoption location in Southern Florida. Two incredible people wanted to donate their time and resources to help out and trailered him 409 miles to our property in Georgia. Thankfully, traveling was smooth and #7903 arrived safe and sound. I was thrilled!
Unfortunately, his tag was removed while at the adoption facility in Florida (I was allowed to have it, though), so I decided to announce his name right away – Alamo! His name is significant in many reasons – it is Spanish (mustangs are descendants of Spanish horses), it is patriotic (mustangs are an American Icon), and he had fought a battle similar to the Alamo – a battle for freedom; which he lost.
Day #1 went smoothly and I was able to touch him with a whip (using it as an extension of my arm) several times. Day two was very eventful – to say the least! I woke up that morning to find out that Alamo had jumped out of his pen and was grazing calmly with my miniature horse, Cloud. I scrambled to get dressed so I could head out to try to fix the situation. My siblings immediately jumped on board to help me out.
My sister and I were the first out, and while we were walking out of the door, Alamo decided to walk down a path into our woods – Cloud following close behind. I ran to get some Alfalfa Hay in the barn, which he loves, and I was joined by my brothers as I followed Alamo and Cloud into the woods. The two horses disappeared from our view but we followed Alamo’s enormous hoof prints to where they were. Thankfully, our woods are pretty dense at the back part of our property, and it was easy to put light pressure on Alamo, encouraging him to move back towards his pen. Soon, he walked up to me and I was able to give him some hay and touch him on his head several times.
After giving Alamo a break, I was able to get him to follow me up the trail. There were many times that it would take us several tries because he would go in a different direction than where we wanted him to go. He ended up on a different trail which leads to a large gate at the back of our goat pen, so my mom thought of a wonderful idea to see if we could encourage him to go in there. He trotted in willingly, and we were very much relieved, but that we weren’t quite halfway through being done for the day yet!
After I made sure he was settled and safe in the goat pen, we went to work on his pen – heightening the panels and putting posts in the ground to give them more support. We tried several times to make him go in the paneled pen from the goat pen (creating a chute), but he didn’t want to. We left him for a few hours to eat lunch and recover from such an adventure-filled morning. After lunch, my brother and I went outside and he just walked right up to us and let us touch his head. He started realizing just how much he loved to be scratched. In the holding pen where he was just kept in Utah, he had been standing in over a foot of mud, so he was very muddy.
Shortly after, he followed me into his newly arranged pen after that and we were so happy! Alamo showed us just what an incredible mustang he is. He has a good head on his shoulders and definitely thinks through situations. If that had happened with a different mustang, it would’ve been much worse. I can’t thank God enough for working everything out that day! At the time, it was concerning and difficult, but now looking back on that day, I’m grateful to have been able to learn from that adventure.
Since that day, Alamo’s gentling/journey has gone smoothly. He was haltered for the first time on day #4, learned how to lead like a pro a week later, and began to excel at liberty training. Now, most of our training is based at liberty (training without any physical attachments) and he has almost reached the point of allowing a rider on his back.
Alamo can still have extreme reactions to things he is scared of, but he has come a long way. He is most concerned about sudden pressure on his face when he spooks (which is why we have gone back to only training at liberty). As he learns to conquer his fears better, we will slowly introduce pressure and release using a halter and lead again. I’m looking forward to continuing on this journey with him and can’t wait to share his most recent adventure from this past week with you next time!
Until then, please continue to stand with wild horses.
-Erin & Alamo
WBF wants to thank Erin for sharing her lovely rescue story of Alamo with us. You can see more of Alamo’s first few days in these two videos provided by Erin!