|We have been very successful at helping mustangs that have "stalled" in their training. We find those horses are often very smart and sometimes seem to have their "owners' number". We particularly welcome the opportunity to help these horses and their owners. Mustangs often take longer to desensitize and are always less trusting of people than domesticated horses.|
"Wild Horse" is a misnomer; there have been no true wild horses on the American continent for 10,000 years. For some unknown reason they disappeared about that time with no known help from humankind. The Spaniards brought the first modern horses to America - mostly Andalusians and Spanish Barbs. Horses aided the Spanish immeasurably in subduing the indigenous people and sacking whatever wealth they might have had. Some of those horses escaped, and as more of the west was settled horses escaped from ranches and unsuccessful ranchers simply turned the horses loose they couldn't take with them when they "starved out". All of those horses became feral horses. Often successful ranchers would turn out good stud horses to improve the quality of the herds from which they later gathered working horses.
Mustangs are simply mixed breed horses, nothing more, and nothing less. Because there were few predators the herds grew and now in many places overgraze their range. Historically ranchers in the west gathered the horses, kept the best and sent the rest to the canners for dog food. There is no question there were terrible abuses.
In 1971 at the urging of "Wild Horse Annie" The Wildhorse and Burro Act was passed, recognizing that feral horses should have a place in the western ecosystem. Most of the horses are on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Since they are responsible for seeing that the range is not overgrazed and are not permitted to send the horses to slaughter, the BLM has two choices, contrive to have them adopted, or store them until they die in feedlots or sanctuaries.
|Jim Rea with Robin Dunn's mustang filly|
Some of those horses are magnificent, some are OK, and some are what the old cowboys called Dinks. About ninety percent, so we are told by the BLM, are adopted by well meaning, enthusiastic but inexperienced people who have never owned a horse or any other wild animal for that matter. In most cases they have no experience in caring for or training horses. These horses are truly wild in the sense that, if they are not wary and do not revert to the ways of traditional prey animals they get eaten. A 160lb English professor urged on by his wife who insisted on "saving" the Mustang is simply no match for a 1,000 Lb. prey animal whose escape instincts have been honed by 58 million years of not letting predators get near him, much less climb on his back. The result is, in many cases, those people quickly lose their enthusiasm and the horses become living lawn ornaments, usually overfed and under exercised.
Our theory is, that a horse is a horse, if you communicate with them in their own language and they understand what you are asking them to do, once they get over their initial fear of humans they will become useful horses in the same proportion that domestic horses will. Not every horse born in a warm barn has the ability to be useful. I will however have the opportunity to control the horse'
s environment to the extent that I can prevent them from being abused.
Jim Rea & Robin Dunn with a mustang filly Robin adopted at the Wild Horse Workshop. Until an hour and a half before this picture was taken no human had ever touched this filly.
- Frank Bell Photo
The WHIP (Wild Horse Inmate Program) program at Canon City's correctional facility is an interesting one. Selected inmates are permitted to gentle horses. In this context to gentle a horse means to make the horse gentle, as opposed to breaking a horse, which in its traditional meaning, means to break a horse's spirit. Over the course of three months or so the horses learn to lead, load in a trailer, walk, trot, and lope in a collected manner and become started in the skills required of a working horse. The gentled mustang horses I have seen working the ungentled mustangs at the prison are every bit as good as many finished domestic ranch horses. It is very sought after work for inmates and if they don't "toe the mark" they are sent back to doing whatever they were doing before. I am told it is good for the inmates and appears to be good for the horses.