POLK COUNTY -- When you're a bunny, no one minds if your ears flop down instead of stand up. But horses "talk" to each other with their ears.
And when a horse pulls its ears down against its head, that horse is not happy.
There are exceptions.
Eeyore is one happy horse despite his deformation. As his name suggests, Eeyore's ears droop like Winnie-the-Pooh's donkey pal.
But Eeyore grew up in the wild, in the Ochoco Mountains near Prineville. None of the other mustangs there grew up reading Winnie-the-Pooh.
So they took Eeyore's ears as a threatening sign.
They didn't want him in their herd. An outcast, Eeyore became the bad boy of the forest, attacking passing horses and riders.
He found a herd soon enough.
One day, a group of 4Hers re-enacting life on the Oregon trail circled their wagons for a meal. Their lunch was interrupted when Eeyore rounded up a herd of cattle and sent them crashing through the wagon train.
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had had enough of Eeyore.
In July 2000, Debbie Driesner and Brenda Rupea were camping in the Ochocos with other members of the Marion County Mounted Posse. A love of horses had brought the two together four years earlier. They began their friendship by challenging each other to a race.
Rangers came to Driesner and Rupea with Eeyore's story. If no one adopted the horse, they would put it to sleep. Having just lost a horse to disease, Driesner had room for another. She agreed to take in the lop-eared mustang without having seen it.
Driesner knew from the first day that Eeyore was no ordinary horse.
"He's never been afraid of people," Driesner said. Those who see wild horses usually see them fleeing, she said. "But he'd just walk up and sniff you."
Rupea knew Eeyore had to be smart to have survived. "You have to adapt in the wild," she said. "An animal that's deformed doesn't live long."
Driesner and Rupea realized they had adopted a people horse. After seeing them just once, Eeyore let them pet and rub him. "It's very unusual to be handling a wild horse on the first day," Driesner said.
"He's never shown aggression of any sort," she said. "He's just soft and kind."
Having lived with Driesner just outside Dallas for one year, Eeyore's already a rising star. He quickly let his owners ride him, and after training was ready to be shown.
Eeyore took first place in this year's Oregon State Fair Mustang Trail Championship.
Rupea and Driesner have big plans for him. Only three years old, Eeyore will make a great search and rescue horse when he's fully grown, Driesner said.
No place is off limits to horses with the Marion County Sheriff's Posse. "Any place you'd think you couldn't go, we go with our horses," Rupea said.
Beyond the posse, Rupea wants to use Eeyore to raise public awareness of mustangs in Oregon. "Eeyore's our P.R. guy for wild horses," she said.
He might even end up touring the schools. "Eeyore can teach a lesson about the handicapped" with his disability, Driesner said.
"What a message to kids who would pick on anyone different."
The area can expect to see a lot more of the young bay, Driesner noted. "He's got a bright future."