It was a lonely time in 2002 when Lucia's husband, Matthew was sent to Kuwait leaving her and their three children behind. At the time the family had no horses, but having grown up with horses, Lucia knew that to get through this trying time she would need the strong shoulders of a horse to lean on. Matthew needed her support and letters, the children needed her love and shelter. She needed a friend she could count on to carry her over the rough patches of loneliness and worry.
She set out on a quest to find that friend. The first moment she saw Thunderhawk standing knee deep in mud in a small corral she knew he was the one who could carry her. At the time she had no idea how far he would carry her, or how much influence he would have on her life – and the lives of others.
|The Original Wind Dancers|
Thunderhawk was Lucia's introduction to the world of the Spanish Mustang, the rare amongst America's historical horse population; they are descendents of the Marismeno breed. The very horses Columbus brought from Spain on his second voyage. "Today there are about 1500 remaining Spanish Mustangs, they are listed with the Equus Survival Trust as endangered." Lucia explained.
It wasn't long before the proud horse, in whose veins pulsed the ancestral blood of bull fighters in Spain, and buffalo hunters, war horses and the sacred dog of the Native Americans, not only led Lucia and her family through that hard year of separation, but he began to cause a stir in Lucia's heart. "This breed should be preserved for future generations." She told Matthew.
Within in a year she had five Spanish Mustangs. Then nine years ago, gathered around the kitchen table at Christmas with friends, the topic of the decreasing number of quality horses within the breed was discussed. In the fall of 2007 the topic came up again and there seemed to be no good vehicle for preservation or public awareness and according to Equus Survival Trust there were only one to three-hundred breeding mares within the Spanish Mustang horse population.
Robert Brislawn Sr., Gilbert Jones and a small group of men had years earlier founded the Spanish Mustang registry to preserve the Indian pony of old who so gallantly served the Pony Express, vaqueros, and old cowboys – and prevent the horse portrayed in Remington and Russell art from disappearing. They feared the Spanish Mustang was getting out crossed and outsized out of existence and were pivotal in beginning the preservation of these horses. In fact they had not been recognized as a breed until the 1950's. Many of the Spanish Mustangs genetics place them in the same families as today's Andalusians, Lusitanos and Sorraias of the Liberian peninsula. The "Mustang" name is a bit of a misnomer in truth.
While serving as a moderator on a Spanish Horse forum Lucia met Pam Keeley. Pam was a country girl from Kansas and had a great big soft spot in her heart for the Spanish Mustangs because they reminded her of her childhood mustang crosses. Pam was immediately excited to jump on board and reaffirmed Lucia's idea that a conservancy called "Windcross" was in fact a real possibility.
By January 2008 The Windcross Conservancy was fully established as a South Dakota non-profit corporation and a 501(c)3 dedicated to the preservation of America's Heritage Horse, the Foundation Spanish Mustang and poised to continue the work of Robert Brislan and Gilbert Jones.
Within this amazingly short four year period Windcross has grown from Lucia's sixty acres to securing a 440 acre preserve in Buffalo Gap South Dakota. They have welcomed horses from across the country that they feel are some of the best examples of the breed and have them there on the preserve. "We acquire horses in two ways," Lucia explained. "Sometimes we'll be given a life-lease for the preserve herd, and other times we'll do a rotational breeding program where the mares or stallions will stay for one, two or three years and the progeny will stay at the preserve, or go to what we call ambassador homes, and the mares and stallions go back to their owners."
"Our Ambassador Program, is a seedling of public awareness." Lucia explained they place horses in homes for life, or until they retire back at the conservancy, where they will be seen at shows, exhibitions and public appearances. In addition to the United States and Switzerland, Windcross also has ambassador horses in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. To learn more about Ambassador horses and Windcross go to www.windcrossconservancy.org.
|Thunderhawk and his children|
Thunderhawk is now a lesson horse. "And he's a great teacher." Lucia laughed. "He'll stand like a statue until the student gets it right. He'll use his magnificent charm to let the student know when they've nailed it! Overall these horses are excellent with children."
Lesson horses at Windcross are becoming more important as this year the conservancy begins a program to receive interns from several different universities. They are also launching their newest outreach program, "Horse in a Class" which has two levels. One is a teacher's lecture in a box which shows the Spanish Mustang and its contribution to America's history. The second part is to take living history to the classroom, and bring the classroom to Windcross.
2012 saw the beginning of regular summer tours and onsite live on volunteers and interns. Young adults came from all over the world to learn what it takes to understand and work with these horses. Several of the students will be returning next year. The program filled quickly and is already filling for 2013 and 2014.
2013/14 should see the implementation of the ambassador horses for the preserve taking part in a program with PTSD veterans as equine therapy horses. Windcross has been working with a local facility for over a year to get the program working and it looks as though they may finally be moving forward into reality.
2013 Will also once again see Windcross ambassadors in St. Gallen Switzerland taking part in the jubilee Agricultural festival and the parade there, which is one of the largest horse breed showcases in Switzerland. Three horses were sent as ambassadors 2 years ago and remained in Switzerland to represent Spanish Mustangs to Switzerland and Europeans.
The future holds many terrific new and exciting challenges, goals and rewards for Windcross and the Spanish Mustang. With the newest of outreach programs falling into place providing the ability to touch folks young and old and introduce them to the majesty that is the Spanish Mustang, it as if we hear Thunderhawk saying, "Take what I give you and pass it on."
Thank you, Thunderhawk, we will.