By Sharyn Cornelius
Starting when the gates at Chilly Pepper Miracle Mustang Equine Rescue opened at 11:30 a.m. on August 15, 2015, a steady stream of visitors—many old friends who attend every year, some who had never been there before—came to see all the animals who live there and hear their stories from the people who care for them, Palomino and Matt Armstrong.
Those who follow Palomino’s rescue adventures on Facebook came to see her newest charges, a two-year-old, still-wild mustang mare named Lacey and her tiny premature foal Cowboy, recently re-united with his dam after a trip to Crossroads Veterinary Clinic where the vet drained an infection in his knee and started him on antibiotics. Visitors, young and old alike, sat on hay bales in front of the enclosure, watching, enchanted, as Cowboy nursed then lay down for a nap as Lacey stood guard over him. Though a sign on the fence warned visitors that Lacey was unaccustomed to being around people, she did not seem concerned about the humans observing her and her foal, but she pinned her ears at the calf and the colt in the adjoining pens whenever they approached the fences.
But Lacey and Cowboy were far from the only attractions. Honey Bandit, the dying foal Palomino had rescued from the Bureau of Land Management wild horse holding pens at Litchfield five years ago, looked up from his hay to greet visitors to his corral in front of the house. Now a beautiful, friendly buckskin gelding, Honey Bandit bears internal and neurological scars from nearly starving to death as a young foal. No one at Litchfield could tell Palomino whether he had been separated from his dam after they were rounded up with a helicopter or whether his mother had abandoned him due to the stress, but he had no source for the milk he needed to live and was attacked by all the mares in the pen whenever he approached them. Palomino found him covered in bite wounds and so weak he could barely stand, but under her exceptional care, he survived and then thrived.
In another pen out front visitors were able to meet DaBubbles, the miniature horse who was attacked by a mountain lion, and his new friend Tank, another mini, but one who had been so severely abused he tried to bite or kick any human who approached him before Palomino’s gentle training taught him that not all humans meant him harm. Though Tank didn’t often approach to fence to be petted like DaBubbles did, he eyed those who came to see him with placid interest rather than the fear and loathing we had seen when he first arrived.
Out behind the foal nursery were Cicero and Honey, the two orphan foals from remaining from the eleven the Armstrongs rescued this spring. Cicero was part of the second batch of foals rescued from the stockyards near Yakima, WA after their dams were purchased by kill-buyers and trucked off to slaughter. Honey came from identical circumstances at a stockyard in Oregon. Quite a few of the visitors were shocked to learn that although slaughtering horses is illegal in the U.S., there is no law against transporting them across the border to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. And the fact that a mare has a foal that needs her milk to survive doesn’t make any difference to the kill-buyers, and any foals that are not immediately rescued are put to death at the stockyards.
In addition to the equines, the Armstrongs have recently rescued a beautiful Guernsey calf they named July because he was born on the 2nd of the month. As a male he was of no use to the dairy and would have been killed. They also have a pet goose that allows herself to be picked up and held by visitors and several very friendly rescued cats that roam the yard hoping to be petted.
The Armstrongs had photos of all the foals they have rescued over the years pinned to the wall of their shop and a display of photo albums on a nearby table. To raise money for their cause they were raffling off a beautiful painting of wild mustangs. To learn more about their work Google “Chilly Pepper Miracle Mustang” or search for Laurie Elizabeth Armstrong on Facebook.