Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Story of George and Alan, Day 3

This blog is starting with Day 3, because that is what today is; however the prelude, Days 1 and 2 are worth recapping, so let's catch up.


I am now the proud adopter of two BLM wild burros because I applied to be on CBS' Survivor and was not chosen. The burros are a gift to myself as a consolation prize.

When I moved to the 7MSN Ranch two years ago, I starting thinking about getting more animals – certainly, there was room, and it's a well-established fact that I prefer the company of animals to most people. So when my established herd dropped to eight in number (with the deaths of Dusty, the elderly yellow lab, and Waylon, the elderly goat), coincident with the rejection of my Survivor application, the time just seemed right.

Why burros? I have two rideable horses and there is only one of me. When I ride off on Hank or Lyle and leave the other behind, the horse left at home needs companionship. A hardy, easy-keeping burro seemed like the best choice to serve that purpose...aside from which a burro's cute and cuddly factor is off the charts, and they are also renowned herd guardians. Perhaps my burro would learn to keep the coyotes and mountain lions and whatever other predators lurk at bay. And since burros seem to thrive better in pairs than alone, then a pair it would be for me.

I did my homework on the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro adoption program, and in mid-September 2007, I contacted the folks at the Canon City, Colorado, facility, which was the closest, yet still 400 miles away. After a few conversations with a very nice lady named Lona, I decided to let the BLM select two burros for me based on my criteria (two healthy males, as young as possible, who got along with each other). Lona e-mailed me their pictures and of course it was love at first sight. Their names would be George and Alan. I filled out the adoption papers and asked that they be gelded. Once they recovered, I would go pick them up.

I set up a burro corral in the big corral adjacent to the barn. George and Alan would have shelter and a small area where they would be confined and separated from Hank and Lyle until I was sure they were disease-free.

Have I mentioned that the Canon City BLM facility is located at the Colorado Correctional Facilty, a.k.a. prison? The BLM co-locates a number of its wild horse and burro programs at prisons across the U.S. The animals get trained and the inmates learn a skill that might serve them well upon release – a classic win-win.

I got the call from Lona on October 12 that George and Alan had been gelded, and plans for a road trip to Colorodo the following week were hastily made.

Day 1

Smooch and I left the 7MSN around 7 a.m. with Google directions in hand and the expectation that it would take about 7.5 hours to get to Canon City, pulling the horse trailer. The sky was clear, the sun was shining, and a hurricane-strength wind was howling out of the northwest. We drove into that blasted wind the entire way with a death grip on the steering wheel and the truck engine working hard to maintain a speed of 65 mph.

My only prior knowledge of Raton Pass, on the NM/Colorado border, was that it closed any time a flake of snow fell. Now I understand why. Pulling the horse trailer up the pass, into a headwind, in traffic... I twitch at the memory. But we made it up and down the other side, only to confront the rebuilding of the interstate through Trinidad, then the maniacal drivers of Pueblo. Finally, we reached Canon City around 3:30, found our campground, hiked along the Arkansas River, went out to dinner, and got a good night's rest in the tackroom of the trailer.

Day 2

The plan was to meet the BLM lady, Lona, at the visitor's entrance of the East Canon Correctional Facility at 9 a.m. Smooch and I arrived at 8 and walked many laps around the parking lot, killing time. I couldn't help but think I was channeling my inner prisoner, walking the yard. Around 8:30, this good-looking cowboy pulls up in his truck. I see by the writing on his jacket that he's an employee, not a prisoner. I explain I'm here to pick up my burros, and he explains no dogs are allowed beyond the gate, and now we have a problem. "But she'll be in her crate in the truck and no one will even know she's there." "If it were me, I'd let you in but the guard saw the dog." "But it sure would take alot of time to take her to Lona's office and leave her there, then go back and get her once I got the burros loaded and I really need to get home before dark and it's such a long drive..." "Let me go talk to the guard." Good-looking cowboy drives off. Fifteen minutes passes. Good-looking cowboy comes back and says "follow me."

I never found out what he said to whom; all I know is that the guard waved me through the gate. So I follow the good-looking cowboy in his pickup past various named correctional facilities. All had guard towers, some were surrounded by coils of razor wire stacked 10' high, and others seemed less ominous. But all of these facilities had the Rockies as a backdrop, and I kept thinking if you're going to get into serious trouble, do it in Colorado so you'll end up here.

I'm led down a winding gravel road, and I see pipe corrals filled with wild mustangs stretched out below. At the bottom of the hill, good-looking cowboy stops his truck and chats with a guy who is atop a horse and teaching it to back up. All would seem quite normal were it not for the fact that the rider is wearing prisoner garb with his cowboy boots. But the energy about the place was good; all the prisoners who were working with their horses seemed very calm and patient, and the horses seemed anything but wild. Good-looking cowboy comes over to my window and points to the trailer loading chutes. He offers to back up the trailer for me but I allow as how I can probably do it as long as I've got plenty of time. So I manuever the trailer around and start backing it up toward the chute. And in just two tries, I had succeeded...except I had backed up to the wrong chute. In the interest of expediency, I handed off the keys to the good-looking cowboy. So he's busy backing up the trailer to the correct chute and I'm busy taking pictures - this was a momentous occasion and I wanted a record for posterity. Good-looking cowboy gets out of my truck and about has a coronary when he sees the camera. "First you bring in a dog, now you bring in a camera...weren't you paying attention to Lona when she read you the list of don'ts?" I claimed ignorance - honestly, Lona never said a peep about prison protocol, how was I supposed to know? Good-looking cowboy was more incredulous than angry and now we had a running joke about what other contraband I might have hauled in. Seriously though, he made sure I kept the truck locked, and the trailer tack room locked, and he kept looking in the bed of the truck. At first I thought he was just being nosy, but then I realized he was looking for hitchhikers.

Now it was time to load up George and Alan. I hadn't even seen them yet, then the next thing I know, there's a stampede of prisoners chasing these two little burros down an alley, waving crops and whips and giant fly-swatter-like things and hootin' and hollerin'. And George and Alan hopped right in the trailer. The prisoners closed the trailer doors and I thanked all of them for taking good care of my boys.

A BLM paper-pusher was there to take my money and hand over the medical records and all the other assorted paperwork that comes with two government-issue burros. I peek in the trailer window and there were George and Alan, standing there looking at me as calmly as can be. I have a good feeling about the trip home. Good-looking cowboy escorts me back out to the main gate and away we go. The whole process took less than a half hour. While I'm sure I wasn't the first female to show up by herself to pick up adoptees from the prison, they sure were in a hurry to get me out of there.

First stop, Pueblo, just 35 miles down the road. I would gas up and check on the boys before hitting the interstate. Between the two of them, they can't weigh more than 750 pounds total, so there wasn't much difference between hauling the trailer with them loaded and with it empty. We made it over Raton pass without too much difficulty; there was much less traffic than the previous day and mercifully, we had a tail wind. I stopped at a rest area on the other side of Raton. George came right up to me at the trailer window and let me pet his nose. They seemed relaxed and comfortable, so I had enough confidence in their calmness to crack open the trailer doors at our next stop to offer them a pail of water.

We survived the worst part of the journey - 60 miles on Interstate 40 into another headwind with a steady stream of semis passing us – and made it home just after 6 p.m. There was just enough daylight left to back up the trailer to the corral and open the doors so George and Alan could check out their new home. I let them choose when to unload themselves. They were in no hurry. Hank and Lyle ate dinner in their stalls and headed back out to pasture before the burros did come out of the trailer around 8. Once convinced that the feed tubs and the water tank weren't predators, they ate and drank calmly and quietly. Neither Smooch's barking, nor Wynonna's vocals, nor the presence of any of the other animals, seemed to phase the burros for long. They easily settled into their surroundings, and I only got up once during the night to check on them. Hank and Lyle had come back to the barn before dawn, but other than doing a lot of looking, there were no histrionics on their part either.

George and Alan watched and participated in the morning feeding routine, and I went about my chores as normal. While Alan is the more cautious and wary of the two, he follows George's lead and is learning that I can be trusted. By noon, George was allowing me to rub him anywhere I choose. I expected it would take weeks to get to this point. I won't rush it though, and will hold off picking up his feet for a few more days.


  1. Linda,
    I'm glad I read this, it's really an interesting story. George and Allen must love it there with you. I've heard of the prison programs with horses and think it's a good idea.Didn't know about the burros though. I can understand your being just a little nervous driving a trailer through those roads, I've been through some passes out there with just a car and didn't much like it, especially the ones with no guard rails, not like they would have helped anyway, but it's nice to at least feel a little secure.

  2. Linda, I've grown so fond of your blog that I am backing up and reading everything from the very beginning.

    I have to say, I love your Animal Math. It's just like mine, which always involves addition. I perfectly understand that if you have two horses and can only ride one at a time the perfect answer is... to add more animals! I like your approach.

    Now I'm off to read more about George and Allen.

  3. Yep, I thought I'd see where YOU started your Blog too and am very GLAD I did to see the boys when they were soOOOOoo young!! SOoooO YOU've had them 4 years in Oct?!! Lucky boys!!