What follows is a beautiful tribute to one of the original Sulphur Springs Mares by their caretaker and photographer, Key Levie:
"The Old Mare Has Died
March 14 & 15, 2010
She was the only mare not in foal when the mustangs arrived a little over a year ago. You could tell she was very old so I gave her the name La Vieja, The Old One.
Her days were spent somewhat solitarily, not making friends or taking an interest in the new foals arriving almost on a weekly basis. And yet, she had a dignity about her, but also a sadness. Perhaps she knew her days were short or her spirit had been damaged from the trauma of the round up and the loss of the only home she had ever known, the hills, canyons and sage covered mesas of western Utah. While the other mares with their new babies adjusted to life in their temporary desert sanctuary, the old one seemed to decline into a depression that drained her life away and she wandered off to die alone yesterday.
The days leading up to her death evidenced her decline and I knew yesterday that the end was near. And the babies sensed it too, a new experience encompassing the ebb and flow of life. I watched as Uno, the oldest of the foal crop, approached the mare who was standing dejectedly with ears drooping. The old mare had never let the foals touch her or acknowledged them other than to chase them away from her food with ears pinned and teeth snapping. But this day, Uno was ignored as she tried to make the mare move. Then, giving up on that effort, nibbled on her gently and lovingly. Soon she was joined by Dos, the black colt with the strong Barb characteristics. Working together, they encouraged the mare to move into the shade of the trees by the water trough. The two youngsters then scampered off to find other adventures and the old mare spent the better part of the day standing in the shade.
As I went about my chores, I glanced at the mare now and then. Later in the afternoon, I saw that she was no longer under the trees. Looking around, I finally saw her several hundred feet out in the five acre paddock. She was down and not moving. With foreboding, I made my way over to her followed by all nine babies. As we approached, the mare raised her head and I back off, not wanting to frighten this still wild horse. But the babies stayed there, gently nudging her or just watching. Soon they were joined by some of the other mares and all stood around her quietly. After about an hour I saw the old mare go into her death throes, frightening the babies but they didn’t run away. I know animal lovers are often criticized for attributing anthropomorphic qualities to animals. But what I witnessed was as touching and poignant as any family group around the deathbed of a much loved member of the family.
Today, the guy with the backhoe came and buried the old mare where she lay. They said the babies kept coming over to watch and this evening I see them out there looking at the ground under which she lies and they are more subdued than is usual. There is a quietness over the whole herd, a palpable somberness. I can’t help but feel that we as humans greatly underestimate the depth at which animals feel. There is much we can learn from them if we can just take the time to stand back and observe. I grieve for the old mare but am grateful that her last days were spent in comfortable, beautiful surroundings rather than in a filthy desolate holding pen where no one cared.
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