<p>Two stallions fight at a wild horse conservation center in South Dakota. It's an equine echo of an ongoing struggle across the western United States, where mustangs compete for space with ranching and energy development.</p>

Two stallions fight at a wild horse conservation center in South Dakota. It's an equine echo of an ongoing struggle across the western United States, where mustangs compete for space with ranching and energy development.

Mustangs

Spirit of the Shrinking West

In the winter of 2005 Nelson Quispe, new from Peru to North America, was hired to herd sheep in Wyoming’s Red Desert. His sheep-rancher boss, Pat O’Toole, gave him a six-year-old mustang to help him cover the long miles over snow whales and sagebrush to open range. The mustang was white all over, with dark spots on his rear, betraying some Appaloosa in his ancestry, but with hooves like dinner plates, suggesting the additional introduction of something more along the lines of a draft horse. He'd been named Dot by the inmates at the Honor Farm near Riverton, where he'd been trained as a wild-born five-year-old. As a result the mustang had both native sense and correctional-facility manners, and you can do a lot worse than that in a horse.

O'Toole told the Peruvian, "If the wind picks up, and the sheep get blown out, just head back to your sheep camp. Whatever you do, don't try to follow them." He said this in both English and Spanish and, just to be sure, in gestures, because the way weather can turn on you in Wyoming, a man needs all the languages at his disposal to explain it. After that, a veteran herder of these ranges, also a Peruvian, gave the young man one short, critical piece of advice in Spanish. Then Quispe rode off with Dot and the sheep into the wide-open world.

He wasn't there very long before the wind turned to speeding metal sheets, and the temperature hit 35° below zero Fahrenheit. Quispe, full of youth's eagerness to prove itself, tried to stay with the flock. Then the sheep blustered off the range, and night fell, and the wind sped all the harder. The young shepherd was lost, frozen solid to his horse and sure he would die. Just then, however, he remembered the key piece of advice the veteran shepherd had given him. So Quispe leaned forward, took off Dot's bridle, and wrapped his arms around the mustang's neck. He closed his eyes and committed his soul to the Holy Mother.

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