The Wild Horses of Abaco
Sometime in the last five hundred years a group of Spanish horses made their way to Abaco Island in the Bahamas. It's not certain whether the horses were from a shipwreck or descendents of logging horses brought in from Cuba to work in the vast forests of long leaf pine abundant on the island. Several decades ago these creatures, most closely related to the Paso Fino of Spain numbered in the hundreds. Today there are sixteen horses living on a citrus farm that sadly, is their demise. If the present situation doesn't change in the very near future, the horses will surely expire and yet one more species will become extinct.
While records are sketchy on the history of this unique herd, there do seem to be some hard facts. As roads were cut through the island, access to the forest and the horses became readily available. Residents recall as recent as twenty-five years ago seeing groups of twenty-five and fifty scattered throughout the forests and beaches not far from Treasure Cay. Some remember seeing hundreds of horses and some even more. One black stallion left a strong impression on many. In the mid 70's a number of these well-bred animals were actually domesticated and used as riding horses. Then a tragedy took place. A young Bahamian girl's foot was caught in the stirrup and she was dragged to death. The reaction was swift and brutal. Within the next year the herd mysteriously dwindled to three horses. Carcasses and bones were littered throughout the forest. Yet no one seems to know or admit to exactly what took place.
From the three, two mares and a stallion, the herd miraculously flourished to thirty-five by the early nineties. Then a guardian angel arrived who took a keen interest in preserving what was left of this rare species fighting for survival. Mimi Rehor arrived in a 32' sloop in 1992 and dedicated her life to saving these hapless creatures. But nature dealt a cruel blow to end the century as hurricane Floyd ravaged the island. The deadfall in the forest was so tangled; the horses had no choice but to seek space to move. They found open space and the endless forage on the citrus farm. Everything appeared to be fine until the mares stopped foaling. Close examination has uncovered the culprit and too much of a good thing. The rich grasses and foliage of the farm along with the chemicals sprayed on the trees have put an end to population growth. As it now stands, unless the horses are forced from the farm, the herd will not survive.
The bright star in the scenario is the fact that Crown Land surrounds the farm. The unexploited land is rich in forage, necessary shade, and abundant fresh water. This land was the saving grace until Floyd and may very well be the very refuge the horses so need. Wild horses normally cover fifteen to thirty miles a day and are constantly on the move. This roaming instinct keeps the horses fit and also does a perfect job of trimming their hooves, which these horses are desperately in need of.
Ten years of documenting, understanding, and caring for these horses hasn't phased the tenacious Mimi. She has a vision and a goal and will not let up until that ball is through the posts. The land adjacent to the farm just to the east would make a perfect preserve. She has attained a grant for the fencing. Now it's about convincing the government that this is a worthwhile endeavor. The wheels turn slowly in the Bahamas as they do within most governments. But the seed is planted and hope springs eternal.
Frank Bell's Involvement
I've had the great fortune of becoming acquainted with the Mimi and the Wild Horses of Abaco. I first laid eyes on eighteen horses in March of 2001. I was taken with their overall appearance. They are very well fed (overfed) attractive mid-sized horses. They do not move well, as their feet are in hideous condition. The mares are almost obese while the stallions are magnificent and fit. In season the stallions typically run the mares, causing severe lameness in the majority of the females. Color-wise, the herd is predominantly bays and paints with an interesting war bonnet on the face of every single paint, highly prized by the American Indians. A couple of red roans round out the lot. Presently there are seven stallions and nine mares. Two have died in the last nine months.
Mimi had no formal training of any sort. As the saying goes, "She was operating by the seat of her pants." But her instincts were good. She was able to get her hands on five or six of the mares, none of the stallions. As we ambled through the herd, I shared with Mimi some of the techniques that I've used with both wild and domestic horses. Pleasure spots like the withers, under the neck and chin, ears, eyes, and the rump can melt even the most resistant of horses. As we worked on several of the mares separately, the dominant stallion laid down not twenty feet away. I eased in and scratched his rump. He most certainly believed it was the doing of one of his harem and delighted in my touch. The horse had never been touched by the human hand, but completely trusted our presence. In any case, Mimi had a wonderful sense of touch and an open mind. By the winter of '02, she had brought the horses a long way.
In early January of 2002 I accompanied Mimi on her weekly survey of the horses. Not much had changed with the exception of the loss of two from the herd of eighteen; not a good sign. I listened as Mimi explained the findings of the professionals who had assessed the situation. They strongly recommended moving the horses as quickly as possible back into the forests in which the horses had flourished for centuries. Satisfied the two bands of horses were holding their own, we walked into the proposed site. We found fresh water in numerous locations along with the forage needed to easily sustain the anticipated expanding herd. The towering pine of the forest provided the much- needed shade from the grueling summer sun. With an access road in need of little clearing, this site seems textbook perfect. Will the government see the light in time?
Mimi religiously checks on the horses twice weekly, Tuesdays and Fridays. Several weeks ago an urgent call from Mimi reached me by messenger. I quickly drove the twenty miles into Marsh Harbor. One of the mares had a bad abscess and could barely move. We assembled help and arrived at dusk to find her lying down surrounded by her group of six. We approached cautiously and talked in soothing tones. I helped the vet ease in, relax the horse with banamine and administer penicillin. While she was down I massaged her ears and eyes and worked my fingers into her mouth all with the intent of helping her relax. But Dr. Bailey's prognosis was not good. She seemed on the verge of colic and I had to agree. Her deep moaning and preference to lay down did not bode well. We, but not a good sign welcomed a wild horse allowing two strangers to approach and work on her. The last time Dr. Bailey had arrived, he had observed from a good distance as Mimi used a blowgun to administer the medicine. We were all amazed the mare had trusted us as she did and left hoping for the best.
Mimi jumped on her scooter armed with drugs and her blowgun the very next day. Dr.Bailey had instructed ten cc's of penicillin. Administering the shot turned into a bit of a circus taking over two hours to accomplish. On top of that, the mare was feeling better, moving more comfortably, and learning to avoid the dart and the human.
After Mimi explained all this to me, I felt the need to help with this critical situation and we drove up the next day. The horses hadn't moved from the general area, so we were able to get right to work. We loaded the syringe and eased into the group of six, stopping to stroke the receptive ones en route to our subject mare. She was still hobbling noticeably and did not want to move any more than necessary, which played right into our hand. Having vaccinated thousands of horses, I worked up front as Mimi worked her magic at the backside. Within seconds the bay mare was delighting in our touch fore and aft. I scratched her chest as Mimi located her pleasure zone inside her upper hind leg. Very quickly Mimi's touch had the mare shaking with pleasure. I seized that moment to numb the V where the shoulder and neck converge. A few seconds of vigorous scratching was followed by the inch and a half syringe. As the last of the white penacillin entered her system, she became a bit uncomfortable and needed to move. But the full 10 cc's were in her and we had accomplished our task without fanfare.
The next day was almost an exact repeat, with one exception. This time the mare didn't even flinch. By now she seemed to sense our intent to help her and almost welcomed us. As we left the herd of six I reflected on our accomplishment. Even domesticated horses are constrained when given shots, haltered at a minimum. With the power of touch and trust we had administered two shots using absolutely no restraints.
The mare healed up and again moves well. But the entire situation is critical. Unless the sixteen horses are relocated into the forest, health problems will continue and the herd will surely dwindle.
For more information
on The Wild Horses of Abaco:
Frank Bell is a horsewhisperer. His company Dances With Horses offers a variety of products including an extensive audio/video library to help horsemen and women reach higher ground with their horses. Frank conducts gentle solutions clinics worldwide. The Dances With Horses offices are located in Lakewood, CO. Phone: 800-871-7635. Frank Bell's website is: www.horsewhisperer.com