How a mustang headed for slaughter bonded with a wounded veteran—and may help many more
BY Elizabeth Janoski
From the magazine
Cristin Keimig was searching for a mustang, but the first of the horses milling about in a Texas kill pen that caught her eye was a 20-year-old quarter horse mare. The undernourished mare—who would eventually be named Stella—was carrying a foal, and a little thirteen-year-old mustang mare was by her side, having bonded closely to Stella for protection from larger horses that didn’t allow her to eat.
“We’ll take her too,” Cristin said quickly. Her journey with mustangs had begun bysending both mares to quarantine for thirty days.
Near the end of the quarantine period, when Cristin visited Stella and the little mare she named Bindi, a white gelding caught her eye. Cristin was told that the gelding had been through quarantine. The owner refused to take him when it was realized he was not a quarter horse but a twelve-year-old mustang who had been captured two years previously in the Modoc (California) National Forest.
During the intervening two years, the horse had acquired a BLM freeze brand, three different ranch brands, and an attitude that endeared him to no one. He was now out of opportunities and headed for slaughter. Cristin studied the gelding for a long moment, deeply moved.
She knew someone else with an attitude.
“We’ll bring him home too,” she said. And she named the gelding Yeti.
Gelded very late at ten years old, Yeti continued to exhibit stallion behaviors and was difficult, to say the least. Upon arrival at the small Missouri farm Cristin and her husband had established, Yeti immediately headed to the far end of the pasture and stayed there, except to come in for a feed.
Though no longer in competition for food, Bindi continued to stay close to Stella. Wildhorses “are always going to stay mentally frozen where they were when they werecaptured because they’ve been taken away from their natal bands and had no chanceto mature,” Cristin tells The Plaid Horse.
Bindi was a blessing to Stella. The aged mare had been starved prior to being rescued, and her premature foal did not survive. While Stella didn’t have a foal, there was a daughter figure at her flank. Cristin and her family were heartbroken over the loss of Stella’s foal. Still, soon, there was a joy to be found in the relationship developing between the mistrustful Yeti and Cristin’s son, Jordan, an infantry Marine veteran who had been badly injured and awarded a disability discharge.
Jordan continued to fight back against his injuries, but he experienced a major setback when helping his parents clear a brush pile left by the previous owners of their farm. Jordan suffered 2nd degree burn injuries on his face, neck, and one arm, totaling 25%of his body when an old gas can, buried unseen in the debris, exploded. After being released from the Burn ICU, Jordan’s days were filled with nothing but pain and physical therapy.
Until he began to visit Yeti’s paddock.
“Yeti is still the hyper-observant wild stallion even though he is gelded,” Cristin says. “He immediately noticed that Jordan had a burn compression bandage on his arm.” Cristin was amazed to see Yeti approach with what looked like curious concern. Jordan remained calm, believing Yeti was no threat to him. He began to spend two to three hours a day hanging around the paddock, getting Yeti accustomed to his presence and his voice. Yeti slowly began to trust again as the days passed, and he opened to Jordan. They have bonded to the point where Yeti rushes to the fence when he hears Jordan’s truck coming. Jordan can easily groom and handle him, and they are working through the major issues Yeti has with being saddled.
For Cristin, being able to ride Yeti was never the end goal, though she hopes he might be willing to carry a pack. More importantly, she says, “There is a lot of parallel healing happening between Yeti and Jordan. Yeti is a warrior too. He understands what Jordan has been through. Jordan saw beyond Yeti’s exterior, and Yeti felt Jordan’s need for connection and healing. The bond was instant and lasting. Yeti is now registered in Jordan’s name. He is officially Jordan’s horse, but that was established long before they ever met.”
Cristin is familiar with the politics behind the management of wild horses and with the debate over bailing horses from kill pens. “You do become part of the problem when you take from kill pens because it inflates the prices and pads the kill buyer’s pockets, ”she says. However, she did pull Stella, Bindi, and Yeti, and she has contributed to bailing when the fundraiser was someone she could trust. “There are so many like Bindi out there,” she says. “I have to go with my heart, with what I can sleep with at night, and with what I can afford.”
Cristin is hoping that her horses will help to heal other veterans. As an RN with 28 years of experience in quality improvement/outcomes-based performance improvement programs, Cristin wants to establish an equine program for veterans with PTSD in her area. Meanwhile, she has welcomed two other veterans to The Red Farmhouse to spend time with Stella and Bindi.
“They will be coming out just to enjoy this space for now,” she says, adding that she hopes a program will grow into more with their guidance. Equine-assisted therapy programs (EAP) for post-traumatic stress disorder have become an increasingly recognized treatment for veterans who often resist traditional therapeutic programs.
You can learn more about EAP therapy programs across the United States at https://pathintl.org/find-a-program/.
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