Some stories can be hard to believe, Ghost’s is one of them.
We first learned of Ghost several months ago when our team at Engler Canyon Ranch was contacted to see if we could make room for a surrender. Those requests are often the hardest part of this job, as the sheer number in need is more than we can provide for. We aim to do our best we can, as we’re able, and Ghost seemed a fitting candidate. It turned out the person who was contacting us, Caitlyn McCarty, was a good samaritan, horse lover, and unofficial advocate for Ghost. We’re not sure how these two originally crossed paths, but we were told that Ghost had been rescued from a kill lot before she began to work with him. His owner had purchased him but was uninterested after realizing that he was in his 20’s. The owner’s plan had been to quickly resell him at an auction, but Caitlyn offered to work with him in an attempt to keep him safe. During our conversations, we learned that Ghost had been through the kill lots on two separate occasions, AFTER he had adopted or sold to a presumably stable home through the BLM. She knew that he had been captured in a helicopter roundup in Elko, NV., that he was in his 20’s and that he had been in a prison training program, but that was it. His history was a mystery!
We agreed to be a backup placement for Ghost as Caitlyn continued to work with him and prepare for an upcoming move. During this time she was able to get him “gentle-ish”, but it was deemed that his fear and mistrust of people made him a high risk for a traditional home setting. He was stressed and unpredictable if he was asked for certain behaviors and was incredibly fearful of humans. He was deemed unsafe to work with. Poor Ghost just wanted to be a horse! We stood by our commitment and agreed to keep a space for him until their lease ended, with a release date scheduled for August 2018. All of that changed on June 27th, that was the date that his life was saved for the very last time!
Caitlyn sent an unexpected message late that evening. His owner, who had known and agreed to his next chapter at Engler Canyon Ranch, had unexpectedly and for unknown reasons loaded a sedated Ghost onto a trailer. He had seen the Vet. and farrier just hours earlier in preparation for his upcoming release. Caitlyn learned through third parties that he had been delivered to a livestock auction and needed to confirm that we would still take him. Of course! Hour after tense hour, we waited. The next message came, Caitlyn and a friend were at the livestock auction and were bidding for his freedom. As those in the rescue circle may know, mustangs that end up in auction sites are frequently purchased by kill buyers for slaughter in Mexico or Canada. Bidding wars often unfold to drive up the prices and increase profits for the auction owners. A bidding war indeed unfolded, but Ghost had Caitlyn on his side! She outbid the known kill buyer and became Ghost’s new legal owner.
Our joy and relief were overwhelming when she announced he was safe! Ghost had made it through the kill lots. Three times. Alive.
Ghost was quickly loaded and returned to the stable that had become his new home. Those moments had been too close for comfort and that name……three times a ghost, almost…..he needed a new name. As the weeks past, his rescuer and new owner prepared his health records, surrender forms, vaccinations, and transport so that he could start his new life in the best space possible! Our staff stood by marking the days on the calender until his release date arrived. We were ready!
I was taken back when I first met ‘almost-ghost.’ Caitlyn introduced herself and this incredible soul by his brand new name, Dante. His new name couldn’t be more fitting; It’s an Italian form of Durand, meaning “enduring.” Sweet Dante has endured so much!
His release was the first of its kind for me. We had grown accustomed to traumatized mustangs, the smell of fear pheromones, stomping, panic, and attempts to hide. Dante stood confidently, perhaps a little unsure, but he wasn’t afraid. He trusted that Caitlyn would keep him safe. She walked in and led him out with a rope and halter. We laid out some sweet alfalfa, hay, and buckets of water for Dante to enjoy while he observed his new surroundings. Blue’s band took note and gathered to observe their new friend from a distance. I watched as Caitlyn and Dante affectionately interacted, both soaking up their last moments together. It was clear that these two had a genuine connection and a beautiful bond. Dante was home!
Our small group walked Dante towards the creek and the shade of some old cottonwoods. He quickly began eating the swath of green grass and allowed me to take him by the lead. He followed a few more feet down to the creek edge and took a few drinks in the midday sun. Now was the time; He was fed, had grazed, and had drank from the flowing creek. It was time to let him go!
We shared a few moments of pets and introductions with the volunteers who would be keeping an eye on him. We slid our fingers under his halter, slowly unclasped it and returned the freedom that he had lost so many years ago.
Without hesitation, Dante peacefully made his way along the creekside and out of sight. He was spotted shortly after making his way over an arroyo bank towards a rock wall. He seemed intuitively drawn to a section that features ancient pictographs. He curiously inspected the wall, as Blue’s band watched from afar. He made his way north and out of our sight. Dante was our 113 release at Engler Canyon. Mike & Ike, our unadoptable burros make 115!
We couldn’t be prouder to have helped 115 high-risk equines in less than a year. With our herd of former BLM mustangs at the Disappointment Valley Mustang Sanctuary, we’ve placed more than 150! If you would like to support our mission, donations and shares are always appreciated!
Thank you, Caitlyn, for taking such great care of Dante. He’s lucky to have found you!
Photo credits to our honorary SF team member, Alex Mays.