By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Angeline and Samson are best friends.
Both 16 years old, they’ve grown up together, first meeting at the age of 6. They are travel companions, too. From coast to coast, even internationally, wherever you find one, you’ll find the other.
Plucked from the Green Mountain Herd Management Area southeast of Sweetwater Station, Samson is one of Wyoming’s famous wild mustangs. And although he had a troubled beginning, the gelding has won numerous national and world titles in the Extreme Cowboy Association and was recently inducted into the EXCA Hall of Fame.
His handler and friend, Angeline Saliceti, told Cowboy State Daily that Samson is a shining ambassador for the Mustang Heritage Foundation, which helps find forever homes for thousands of wild horses and burros each year.
“Samson will always be my heart horse, my $125 World Champion,” Saliceti wrote in a Facebook post about the EXCA Hall of Fame selection. “I hope to continue to show the World what an amazing athlete and partner my little black mustang is.”
‘A Tough Nut to Crack’
Saliceti said that Samson’s success as a show horse belies his feisty disposition as a youngling. After being cut from the Green Mountain herd, he spent time in holding pens in Wyoming before being shipped to the Hutchinson Correctional Facility in Kansas as part of a prison work program.
“He was a tough nut to crack,” said Saliceti, whose family lives near Topeka. “He liked to be worked, and if he wasn’t, he got grumpy and he just wasn’t really a great horse.”
He was so grumpy, in fact, that the first two people who adopted him landed in the hospital.
“The first lady that got him took him home and had him for a couple of weeks and didn’t do anything with him, and then tried to ride him – and he sent her to the hospital,” said Saliceti. “She broke her back and I believe her neck as well.”
The training program took Samson back, adopting him out a second time.
“Same story, pretty much,” said Saliceti. “He broke a couple of ribs and a couple other bones, and he sent him back.”
After that, Samson was off the adoption list for good. The program determined that he would be relegated to a life as a training horse, pulling carriages and bucking off unsuspecting trainees.
That was, until the Salicetis came along.
He Was the One
When the Salicetis pulled up to the mustang holding area, Samson was not their choice.
But apparently, they were his.
“He was in one of the individual pens, and every time we walked past, he kept following me around the corner,” said Saliceti, who was just 6 years old at the time. But when her mom inquired about adopting Samson, she was shut down quickly.
“The manager of the program said absolutely not, he is not up for adoption, he’s trouble,” said Saliceti. “Don’t even think about it.”
But a few months later, her mother returned to the facility and talked the manager into letting them adopt Samson – who quickly proved he had earned his reputation.
“The second time I rode him, I rode him outside, and he ran me into a cedar tree and completely wiped me out,” said Saliceti.
But the 6-year-old girl wasn’t deterred. Soon she and Samson had built up trust between them, and within six months they the competition circuit.
“I started extreme cowboy racing with him, which is what we still do, and then just local 4-H shows with my horse club,” said Saliceti. “We did everything together.”
Mustang Heritage Foundation Ambassador
In 2016 at age 11, Saliceti and Samson won the EXCA World Finals in their age class, and a year later were chosen to be ambassadors for the Mustang Heritage Foundation.
Ann Souders, program coordinator for the foundation, said she’s never seen a pair quite like Saliceti and Samson, whom she first met seven years ago at the EXCA world finals.
“And oh my gosh, I saw this whippersnapper young girl with long black hair, and this absolutely drop dead gorgeous black mustang,” Souders told Cowboy State Daily. They had “such a presence and such authority when they were out there, they just made my heart skip a beat or two.”
Souders said the Foundation’s message centers on the kinds of life that mustangs can have once they’re taken out of the range, which is more than evident in the relationship between Saliceti and Samson.
‘Freedom Has Many Faces’
“I want there to always be wild horses,” said Souders. “Oh my gosh, I do. But I want them to be safe and healthy, and that’s not quite the case anymore.”
She said she’s witnessed the lack of vegetation and water on herd management areas that are out of balance with too many horses on not enough acres.
“When I’m out there and I get to see what they’re like and I see the herds and their interaction, I see the good and the bad,” she said. “It really helps inspire me to do what I do – to educate, to help inform people.”
Souders said that the horses she works with all come from Wyoming’s Salt Wells and Divide Basin herds. And although she began this journey as an advocate for “freedom” for America’s wild horse herds, her idea of that freedom has changed.
“Freedom has many faces,” Souders said. “I grew up as a young girl wanting them to be free but having no idea the cost that they live to be free out there. Because I can tell you right now, I got three mustangs at my house, and come 6 o’clock their freedom comes out of a bucket at my house.”
Benefits of Adoption
Souders admits that when she first became enamored with wild horses, she was a vocal advocate against adoption. But a visit with Wyoming horse expert Ken McNabb set her on the path she now walks, raising awareness, providing education and increasing the placement of wild horses and burros into private care.
Souders said Saliceti and Samson have been shining examples of the benefits of adopting wild mustangs.
“They came down this year for Samson to meet everybody (at the foundation) and to kind of help show what mustangs are like, and show how they’re capable of doing other things,” she said.
In 2017, Saliceti and Samson were invited to compete at the international EXCA championships in France, which Saliceti said was, in part, to spread the word about wild mustangs.
“I was there not only to represent EXCA and everything that they do, but also the Mustangs,” she said. “And everything that Samson has accomplished and everything that mustangs can accomplish.”
Saliceti said that when it comes to her own small herd of horses, she prefers her mustangs over any others.
“I would honestly trust my mustangs more than I would trust my quarter horses at this point,” she said. “They have so much heart.”
For Souders, the relationship between Saliceti and Samson, the scrappy black mustang from central Wyoming, hits her in the heart.
“This 60-year-old grammy right here is living her young life on a mustang to Angeline,” she said. “Angeline and Samson are helping change the world, exactly in the way we want it to be changed.”