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 The Trek: The Journals

•
Team: North
Michelle Williams
Saturday, September 14
Wild Horses!
I only have a few minutes to write tonight but I had the most incredible experience today. It starts several years ago when I was flying from California to New York, and spent the entire six hours reading "The Man Who Listens to Horses" by Monty Roberts. I've always had a great love for horses, but was always dismayed at the idea of "breaking" them. Of basically using force until their spirits were broken. Well, today we went to the Wyoming Wild Horse and Burro adoption, and the morning began with a demonstration of "Natural Horsemanship". This sounded appealing to me, although it didn't start ringing bells until I was seated on a bleacher, mesmerized with the man and wild Mustang in the round corral in front of me. The man's name was Wayne Bergerling, or "Bergie", and there in front of me I got to witness the natural horsemanship that Monty Roberts described to me years ago as I read on that long plane flight. I’m certainly no expert, but the idea behind this new way to train horses is to respect their place in the natural world, specifically as flight creatures in the fight-or-flight ideology. Bergie used body language and touch rather than whips and force to slowly gain the animal’s trust. In this method, there are seven steps to training a horse, called “games”, starting with the “Friendly Game”. In this game, all the trainer does is gently and lovingly caress the horse, as if the trainer has his “heart in (his) hand”. He speaks to the animal, rubbing rather than petting, using non-threatening body language. It’s one of the first steps to letting the horse know that the trainer is not a predator, one of the first steps towards trust.

The other steps have to be seen to be believed. One of Bergie’s, and Monty’s, sayings is that “the training happens in the release”. He demonstrated what that meant as he worked towards picking up the horse’s feet, one at a time. He used a rope, which he gently worked around each leg and then hooked just below the ankle. He would then use gentle upward force until the horse would lift the leg. This is crucial in the horse’s training, obviously, if the horse if ever going to wear shoes. The horse has to learn to patiently stand with one leg curled underneath him for as long as it takes to nail on each shoe. We are all so used to being around trained horses, and mostly “broken” horses, that it’s easy to forget how wild these animals really are. Particularly a mustang who a month ago was running free on the hills of Wyoming. But back to the “release”. Bergie would gently coax the leg up, at which point the horse would start to wiggle and fight, and Bergie would resist. He had the rope tied around his waist, and he would use all of his strength to keep the leg up, even jumping around as the horse tried to hop and kick away. But the minute the horse acquiesced, the very second the animal stopped fighting and held his foot up on his own, Bergie would release the rope and rub the horse. It was a reward, saying, you’re good- you did it right. It was also saying, on behalf of Bergie, “I am a competent leader. I can be trusted”.

The whole process is so detailed, and requires ultimate patience, but it can actually only take a matter of hours before a horse is giving you his hind legs without any anxiety. That’s what I love about this whole process: it takes into account the emotional state of the animal. If the horse does not do what you want him to do, he is not wrong. He just had not been taught yet. And the only way to teach him (or her) is to work through his emotions, to respect that he is fearful and anxious rather than stubborn or stupid. And to gain the respect and the trust of the animal rather than abusing him into submission. Incredible.

My favorite thing about Bergie was his humility, and his self-deprecation as a means to illustrate how important Natural Horsemanship is. He said he had bad horsemanship for twenty-five years before learning this new technique. He was unabashed in describing the foolish ways he’d tried to get horses to behave, and the bad job he did as a horse shoer. He even explained the emotions the horses must have felt while he was trying to manipulate them. In short, he was my hero. And he was practicing this technique right in front of us, on a wild mustang, with a hands-free microphone strapped around his head, proof positive that what he did worked.

The adoption followed, and we watched as horses and burros, in twos and threes, were brought into the corral. Two spotters were working the crowd, and a BLM guy was the auctioneer. He was the real deal, a certified auctioneer, and his patter was almost a song as he encouraged the audience to bid higher and higher. This was the first time this set of animals had been auctioned; they had only been caught in July. The ones who didn’t get sold here would travel to the East Coast for an auction the following weekend. I have to admit I had conflicting feelings about the auction. These animals, less than two months ago, were wild and free. Now they would be carted around the country until they were sold, and if no one wanted them, they would forever live in holding pens in other parts of Wyoming and Oklahoma. But here’s the thing: this auction saves the wild mustangs. The land can only handle so many horses, and the herds in Wyoming are about twice the sustainable size. The people who catch the horses for the auction are careful to thin the herds in a way that leaves a strong gene pool while also choosing good horses to sell. These horses have less foot and leg disease than domestics, have incredibly stable feet, and, according to Bergie, create an even stronger bond of trust with their owners.

So my problem of deciding how to buy my horse is solved. Now I just have to get a job and a home and some money and build a stable with at least 400 square feet of land and a six-foot fence. And then I’ll come back to Wyoming to the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption and bid for a beautiful wild mustang.

I guess I had more than a few minutes to write...
for Saturday, September 14
North South Both




Biographical
•
Team: North
Michelle Williams
No rest for the wicked-- Michelle Williams spends a day at the office, typing up journal entries for the trekkers

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List of All Journal Entries
•
Thursday, September 19
Michelle Williams
Back on the Green River
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Tuesday, September 17
Michelle Williams
Two Days In A Canoe
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Monday, September 16
Michelle Williams
Jammie Pants and a Wood Cabin
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Saturday, September 14
Michelle Williams
Wild Horses!
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Friday, September 13
Michelle Williams
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Tuesday, September 10
Michelle Williams
Reflections, September 10, 2002
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Sunday, September 8
Michelle Williams
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Saturday, September 7
Michelle Williams
Saturday Night Near Jackson Hole
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Thursday, September 5
Michelle Williams
Yellowstone
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Wednesday, September 4
Michelle Williams
Is it Wednesday?
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Sunday, September 1
Michelle Williams
Fall In Idaho
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Saturday, August 31
Michelle Williams
Saturday Morning, Day 32
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Thursday, August 29
Michelle Williams
Hump Day
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Wednesday, August 28
Michelle Williams
A Ghost Town, A Dug-out Canoe, A Birthday and A Compound Fracture
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Monday, August 26
Michelle Williams
Oh, Happy Day
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Sunday, August 25
Michelle Williams
Sunday, August 25th
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Saturday, August 24
Michelle Williams
A Better Day Already
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Friday, August 23
Michelle Williams
A Challenging Day
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Wednesday, August 21
Michelle Williams
Wednesday, August 21
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Tuesday, August 20
Michelle Williams
Tuesday, August 20
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Monday, August 19
Michelle Williams
Monday, August 19
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Sunday, August 18
Michelle Williams
Easy Like...
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Saturday, August 17
Michelle Williams
More on Saturday, August 17th
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Saturday, August 17
Michelle Williams
Saturday, August 17th
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Thursday, August 15
Michelle Williams
Thursday, August 15th
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Wednesday, August 14
Michelle Williams
My Top Ten List
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Tuesday, August 13
Michelle Williams
Freezing and Fires
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Monday, August 12
Michelle Williams
Explore the River
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Saturday, August 10
Michelle Williams
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Friday, August 9
Michelle Williams
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Thursday, August 8
Michelle Williams
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