10 Life Lessons from Mustang Camp

Here is a random list of life lessons I learned while hand-feeding wild horses at Mustang Camp a few weeks ago. Two of my older kids have spent extended time here, helping to tame these recently captured horses so that they can be adopted. My youngest daughter and I recently had the privilege of spending four days at Mustang Camp, helping with record keeping and initial hand feeding of a new group of 24 horses that had just arrived. (See a video of their arrival HERE)

You can learn more about this wonderful place HERE and HERE.

  • When you keep working through a whirling dust storm, you will spend the next few days picking little bits of hay and wind-driven-dust out of every imaginable place—your hair, your ears, your cleavage, your socks, deep inside your boots, and more! LESSON: walking through difficult times doesn’t end when the storm is over—there will be lots of remnants of that experience that will still need to be dealt with.


    Mustangs must be fed, no matter what weather occurs.

  • My job was to spend time with the new arrivals, talking with them, singing to them, and feeding them four times a day. I had to learn that although it didn’t feel significant (and I felt guilty about all the hard work others were doing with watering, feeding, and mucking pens), this really was “the most important job” at the Camp! LESSON: spending time with others and building relationships is more significant than you might think!

    spending time

    Sometimes spending time to build relationships looks like wasting time...

  • Although my kids and I are NOT “morning people,” it is not hard to get up early and work hard all day long when the work is interesting and meaningful. (You can see additional photos of Anna’s work assignments HERE) LESSON: when you hate to get out of bed in the morning, it might not mean that you didn’t get enough sleep…it might mean you need to find more meaningful things to fill your days…

    hard at work

    Early mornings and late nights are no problem when the work is fun!

  • It is important to not get distracted by all the horses eagerly chomping food right in front of you. The fearful ones in the back need fed also, which often takes more creativity. LESSON: see the big picture and don’t let timid, quiet ones around you “fall through the cracks.” Sometimes they need more attention than the ones who are bold, up front, or showing off.

    big picture

    Don't forget to look at (and enjoy) the "big picture."

  • Consistency is KING! The only way to tame wild mustangs effectively is by consistently giving positive reinforcement and by training little-step by little-step. (Jakob is excellent at this which is why he keeps being asked to come back to help with new horses.) LESSON: Although I love to be flexible and enjoy the stimulation of new things and places and people, there is still a need for consistency in my life, especially in dealing with others.

    consistency 1

    Jakob is the king of consistency!

zebra training

Zebra training is even more difficult than Mustang taming...but consistency brings results!

  • It is important to keep long-term goals in mind. No, one must not scritch the PolkaDot King on the nose, no matter how much he nuzzles and snuffs and checks out your hands—scritching might scare him and set back his training. LESSON: sometimes reaching long-term goals means giving up short-term pleasures…


    It is SO hard not to scritch the friendly ones...

  • Aggression might be because one is a bully and has a dominant personality. But aggression can also be the result of being ostracized, picked-on, or isolated by others for too long. It was interesting to watch interaction patterns between horses change over time. LESSON: look behind the bullying to see what might be causing aggression.

    groups dynamics

    ...wish I could have gotten a photo of the biting and kicking that sometimes occur!

  • When a foal is born to a young wild mare who has been starving and who won’t let the baby nurse, the baby has poor odds of survival. Unlike with a tame animal, the mother can not be handled or penned to help the baby nurse. Bottle-feeding colostrum (thawed from a supply bought from the vet) and milk-replacer help, but might not be enough. LESSON: sometimes no matter how much love we give and how hard we work, nature still takes its course.

    wee dibbuns

    We loved and took care of Wee Dibbuns for almost two days...

  • Wild mustangs are often incredibly fearful. Overcoming this fear is a main focus of using positive reinforcement to tame them. LESSON(s): When you run from fear, fear grows. When you face your fears over and over and over, fear gradually dies out. And when you face your fears side-by-side with a buddy, everything feels less scary!


    Life is easier when you've got a friend!


A Girl, Sitting Alone

With one of my tutoring groups, we recently spent time writing our own poetry. The students work harder if they see me doing the same assignments I give them. When we are finished, we take turns reading aloud what we have written.

When I wrote this poem, I didn’t have any particular person or situation in mind. By the time I finished the poem, I realized it has a lot in common with my youngest daughter, who is challenged by being the only “anglo” student in a school filled with Navajo students. Some days, she has friends to play with. Other days she gets ignored.

anna n blazeLast weekend, we rescued this puppy after church. The poor guy was starving, wandering the countryside desperately searching for food and water. Anna and two young friends from church guarded the puppy from being driven off by other yard dogs during the morning service. We brought the puppy home, warning Anna that he might not live.

As you see by the picture, Blaze is alive and well, full of energy and whines and licks: Anna’s new best friend!

A Girl, Sitting Alone

Written 03-12-12


A girl, sitting alone,

with tears running down her face,

wishes she had a friend

to spend time with her.


With tears running down her face

the girl looks around,

trying to find a smile

or someone moving toward her.


The girl looks around,

enjoying the bright blue sky,

smiling at the children around her

playing so loudly.


Enjoying the bright blue sky,

sitting quietly by herself,

the girl relaxes

into the warm spring day.


Sitting quietly by herself,

the girl dreams about her dog

who is always her friend,

waiting for her at home.what a lucky dog!


I’m participating in 5 Minute Friday with my post today. To see the “assignment” and to see other posts on this topic, check out THIS BLOG.

A few years ago we were privileged to spend time in Alaska. At one point we splurged on a half-day boat tour out of Seward. After making the non-refundable reservations, I was sad to figure out we were quite unlikely to see any whales on the tour. Only full-day trips went out far enough to encounter whales.seward alaska docks

On the morning of the tour our young daughter was jumping-up-and-down-excited at the prospect of a ride on a big boat AND at the idea of seeing whales “for real.” Oops! I panicked a bit and sent up a quick prayer that God would send His “princess” a whale or two within viewing distance. I was too “chicken” to tell my daughter that she was surely going to ride on a big boat, but that she would NOT be whale-watching.

We drove to town, parked near the docks and walked out to the boat. We bundled up in our jackets and found seats up high in the front—to better see the glorious scenery and (hopefully) glimpse some wildlife.tour boat

We saw puffins flying. I thought that was cool…but my daughter hardly noticed. She was waiting for whales.flying puffin

We saw seals basking on rocks and playing near shore. What fun! My daughter smiled … but she was still waiting for whales.basking seal

We saw a family of orcas jumping and chasing each other in the waves. Wow! I was excited! Look, Sweetie! Whales! My daughter laughed at their antics…but made it clear she was still waiting to see a “real” whale, a BIG whale.leaping orca

Oh dear…I wondered if I should find my lost courage and prepare to let her down gently, tell her the truth about the trip we were on.

And then, and THEN…

We saw it! A big whale out of place, far closer to shore than usual. Even the captain was excited when he made the announcement and pointed out where we should be looking.humpback fluke

A WHALE! A BIG whale! Just like she expected.

My daughter’s face at that moment said it all. She was truly DELIGHTED! (and I said a quick prayer of thanks to a loving Creator-God who moved a whale close to shore just for His princess to enjoy…)delighted princess

Flying…or Grounded?

Fly by the seat of one’s pants: 1. to pilot a plane by feel and instinct rather than by instruments 2. to proceed or work by feel or instinct without formal guidelines or experience.

I use this phrase a lot. This is my favored way of moving through life. Make an extensive list, then chuck out the list and “fly by the seat of my pants.” I like the freedom in this. I enjoy the creativity it allows. I thrive on the possibilities in front of me when I live this way.

I love to "FLY"...

Unfortunately, this method of living makes it hard to stick tightly to schedules and routines. Just ask my kids who were all homeschooled. We were NOT a family who were all sitting at our desks by 8:30 am, ready to proceed from subject to subject on regular intervals indicated by a bell.

Eventually, most things on my lists are covered, finished, checked-off. All the “basics” get done along with a million other serendipitous things as well.

I used to beat myself up for not sticking to a schedule. Occasionally I vowed to change. I would buy a day-planner, fill it in, and compulsively stick to the plans…for a few days or a week at most. Then it was back to spontaneous living once again…sigh…

Eventually, I realized there is nothing wrong with this style of living. After all, I DO get everything done that needs to get done. I usually find a decent balance between responsibilities and fun. I don’t get bent out of shape when the unexpected happens—whether good (a friend stops by) or bad (pipes break and we have no water for a few days).

I realized last night that this is a significant reason why I enjoy homeschooling so much. When we educate our children on our own, we are not tied to a school schedule. We are free to follow whatever opportunities appear.

Nettie is currently working as a wild-mustang-taming intern at “Mustang Camp.” There is an unexpectedly large batch of newly caught wild-horses coming in and the owners are short-handed. Jakob will be headed back into the canyon to stay for a few days as another “hired-hand.” He will be hand-feeding a few of the newcomers, getting them comfortable with being near humans. This is time consuming, but not difficult work.

I can't "fly" to Mustang Camp...I've been grounded

I so much wish that I could go back to Mustang Camp for the month. I enjoy being around horses. I know I would be good at the taming and training. I could even take horse-crazy Anna back with me. What an awesome experience it would be!

But…Anna is now in school. Yes, it is going well for her. Yes, it was a good decision to enroll her this year. Yes, it gives me more freedom to work on other projects during school hours. BUT…I can’t fly by the seat of my pants for now. I can’t just move her and I back to Mustang Camp to follow this opportunity. We have a school schedule to follow instead. She is learning to live with regularity and consistency…but we have lost room for much spontaneity, at least for now.

So I will make more lists. And I will go where opportunities lead me. But creativity and spontaneity will have to happen within the confines of an external school-day schedule this year. Right now I’m mourning the limits on freedom…

I’m not currently “flying.” I’ve been “grounded” for now.


James, the original "fauna-vert"

I am a “fauna-vert.” That’s similar to being an animal lover…but doesn’t this word sound so much fancier?! James made up the word years ago while at an out-of-town skating competition where the hotel had a cat. He commented that he was not an extrovert (recharging by time with people) nor an introvert (recharging by time alone) but a “fauna-vert” (recharging by time with animals). This is a good description for me as well.

(Okay, okay, yes, I am an extrovert and need lots of people time. But time with animals helps recharge me, too.)

Randy has teased me for years about being “Mrs. Noah.” I think he may have meant it as a bit of a negative thing—something about being frustrated with me collecting more and more animals—but I take it as a compliment. Yep, that’s me. I’m an animal lover.

But gradually I realized it’s more than just enjoying animals. More than just being interested and intrigued by them. I NEED time with animals. They calm me and comfort me in ways nothing else can. They add beauty and laughter to my life.

Our dog died not long before we bought our big RV for 9 months of wandering out west. For some odd reason, Randy was adamant that I could have kids in the RV or a dog in the RV but not both. I tried to find someone to take the kids, but no luck… So we went traveling as a family, with no pets along for the ride.

At first it was hard. Nothing to cuddle. Nothing to pet. But then Anna and I discovered other people in the RV parks had pets. Ahhh…dogs to play with, cats to pet, birds to enjoy

the original "fauna-vert"s mom with current companion

So now we are settled into one place again. We are no longer wandering. Randy can no longer prohibit both children and pets living together in one small space. And the gathering of animals has begun again…

We have a new dog. Anna has her own kitten. We are caring for Rob’s hedgehog and occasionally “baby-sitting” Nettie’s guinea pig. We have baby turkeys and guinea hens in a pen out back.

Gradually it’s becoming paradise around here for Mrs. Noah. After all, I AM a “fauna-vert.”