With a bit of a stiff hip and his left eye half closed, the beautiful old stallion definitely looks like he has been in a battle. We are glad that he chose retirement, before he hurt himself worse (wisdom), as we have seen that too. We all loved seeing the little family of three within the bigger band of Shadowfax and Diego. But just like Shadowfax seems to accept his retirement willingly, we, as their protection organization, we accept that this is the way of the wild.
Shadowfax was born on he Salt River before 2004, at which time he was already an adult. It is too bad that we do not know how much older (no pictures dating further than that) but his teeth indicate he is well over 20. His reign was long and successful. Before there was Sapphire, there was Ms. Shadowfax. They had many successful offspring together, all of whom are greys (two greys make only greys, who then also make only greys). With Sapphire, Shadowfax made more greys, but also beautiful bays with blazes, who all inherited his stocky strong conformation too.
We have monitored Shadowfax not only through his terrible case of strangles, but we have seen him get through some very meager years and some terrible bouts of colic. When little Gem went septic as a foal, (with a broken left phalanx) and could no longer get up, it is hard to forget what Shadowfax did. When we could not find her anywhere, he took us right to where she laid, and he watched as we carried her to safety, almost, as if to say please take care of her.
He has known nothing but freedom and family his whole life and he fiercely stood for both. The burden of a lead stallion is 24/7 constant vigilance, watching for danger, making decisions; their jobs are definitely not easy and they rarely take a break. When you come too close to a band of wild horses, you can bet that the horse who is watching you closely is the lead stallion. When you see a horse positioning his own body in front of his foals, in order to protect them, you can bet that is the lead stallion. If you see a lowered neck and snaking of foals and mares, you can bet that is the lead stallion, keeping his band together, and safe.
Lead stallions are amazing. It saddens us that when wild horses are rounded up, it is the lead stallions that break their necks against the paneling, trying to get to their families, and when they get to auctions, they are usually the ones who do not get rescued. Here at the Salt River, they get to live out a peaceful retirement. Here at the Salt River, while Shadowfax no longer reigns, their freedom still does.
What will happen to him next? Many old lead stallions live a very long and peaceful retirement. Maybe he will trail his band for a while and maybe he will take the role of teaching a group of young bachelors the ways if the wild. His body condition is not going to get any better as he ages and eventually, he too will die of old age. We do not want to be blamed for his condition, we are not going to rescue him; he deserves to live out his life in the wild. However if we ever witness him no longer able to get up, we will provide him a dignified and humane ending, like we have for several old patriarchs and matriarchs of the Salt River.
With that we want to thank all of you for your support, and we want to thank the AZDA under which we can manage these wild horses humanely. We believe that humane management is all about balance. That balance can be found, right in the middle of nature and humanity.
If you agree, please give us a 5 star review here on our Facebook page. Cheers to a life lived in freedom and a long peaceful retirement for old Shadowfax.
Pictures by SRWHMG Karen Carney, taken 5.30.20