Idaho's Wild Horses

Wild Horses and Idaho's 4H Program

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Wild Horse and Burron Program | HMAs | Gathers | Corrals: Boise and Challis | Adoptions

When wild horses are gathered from one of Idaho’s six Herd Management Areas, Idaho’s 4-H youth partner with BLM to provide training for young mustangs throughout a 6-8 week period. When 4-H youth finish working with the young mustangs, the horses are able to lead on a halter and are very comfortable with people. Then, the 4-H youth compete in a mustang-only in-hand trail competition. The competition judges score the youth and their horses on a small obstacle course that involves leading the young mustangs to walk over a large sheet of plastic; stepping over several small logs; trotting under halter; backing through a narrow log path; and loading and unloading from a trailer. After the competition, the young mustangs are available for adoption.

VIDEO: Learn more about the 4-H Weaning Training Program

2015 Grand Champion (Bailey Lerwill and her horse Kate), Reserved Champion (Braiden Klinger and
2015 Eastern Idaho State Fair: Grand Champion (Bailey Lerwill and her horse Kate), Reserved Champion (Braiden Klinger and his horse Indigo), First (Karisa Cutright and her horse Chance) and Second Place (Bonni-Jean Tracy and her horse Clyde) trail course winners pose with their halter trained mustangs.

Engaging Youth with Wild Horses, September 2015

The idea of allowing youth to gentle and train wild horses seems on the face of it, to be a surefire method of getting someone injured. Not so, thought Tina Reay, a leader in the 4-H program in Boise and Steve Leonard, the Wild Horse and Burro Specialist at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Boise District. Rather than matching a child to an adult horse, they decided to use weanlings or yearlings. These young horses would be more receptive to human touch. Reay and Leonard sought applications from interested 4-H members to ensure there was an interest to start this program and that the youth who answered the call were able to provide shelter, food and a safe place for training.

The program took off in Boise and soon eastern Idaho was following in its footsteps.  This year eight youth from eastern Idaho selected their horses in early June. They had approximately 60 days to commence training before they competed at the Madison County Fair August 15, in an intense halter course. The course, which was judged by a locally renowned horse trainer, consisted of several components including; leading, grooming, loading, pivoting, a balloon challenge, side passing and a see-saw bridge, just to name a few.

“This was a challenging course,” said Juley Hankins Smith, Range Management Specialist and Upper Snake Wild Horse and Burro Lead. “I was impressed with how well our youth were able to train their horses.”

This was Bonni-Jean Tracy’s second year working with the BLM/4H wild horse program. She trained her first pony at age eight. “I enjoy the challenge it provides,” said Bonni. And this year her horse Clyde was a bit more challenging to say the least. “He definitely was more stubborn than my horse last year,” said Bonni. “We still had a great time working together but it took a lot more effort to get him comfortable with many of the required tasks.”

These young horsemen and women will compete again in a trail challenge at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot, Idaho, Sunday, September 9, 2015. On the last day of the fair, Saturday, September 12, the yearlings will be auctioned to the highest bidder.  The proceeds go to the 4-H club minus a $25.00 administrative fee recouped by the BLM. “This is just a great program to help us adopt out more wild horses,” said Kevin Lloyd, Challis Wild Horse and Burro Specialist. “These mustangs can make good companions and these kids have done a great job in showing the diversity and talent these horses have.”

Wild Horse Weanlings to be Trained by 4H Clubs for the Fifth Year in a Row, February 2015

4H members and their horse

Several 4-H clubs from southwestern Idaho took ten weanling mustangs home for seven weeks for training. On April 13, these youth will compete in an “in-hand trail” class at the Boise District Wild Horse Corrals. The trail class will have the youth and their weanlings walking over a bridge, stepping over polls, opening a mail box and walking through a plastic blue tarp waterfall. The weanlings and their 4-H trainers that qualify at this competition will be shown at the Idaho Horse Expo April 19-21 in Nampa, Idaho. An adoption of the weanlings at the Expo is scheduled for April 21. Weanlings not shown at the Expo will be up for adoption at a later date. This is the fifth year local 4-H youth have trained yearling and weanling wild horses for the Boise District.

 4H Member with Mustang Weanling
Saddle Tramps 4H member Rachael Malad smiles along with the club's weanling Mustang. Saddle Tramps members are gentling and training the weanling as part of the 4-H/BLM program. Photo by Alayne Blickle

Check out more photos and success stories below!

4-H Youth Wins Grand National Champion with BLM Mustang 4-H Training Presentation, 2014  

On November 4, 2014 Lainey Reay, a member of the Lone Star Riders 4-H horse club in Gem/Boise County, Idaho, won first place at the 4-H Nationals in Louisville Kentucky. She won with her oral presentation about the successful BLM Mustang training program, a partnership that has been forged between BLM and the University of Idaho 4-H program and several local 4-H horse clubs in southwestern Idaho. Reay researched and created an illustrated presentation that she had given and won at the district and state levels. Not only did she qualify for nationals at the Idaho state finals in August, but also received a perfect score of 100. In Kentucky, Lainey competed against winners from over 20 other states before judges and a captive audience. Reay’s mother Tina said, “In addition to receiving a bronze trophy, Lainey received a $500 scholarship and a memory of a lifetime!” A number of 4-H club members from across the country asked for additional information about the BLM program. On November 14, Reay will be giving her winning presentation in Boise before 100 staff of the University of Idaho’s state 4-H Extension Program, representing all 44 counties in Idaho. “This presentation will wow everyone, and it should boost the BLM 4-H wild horse program across the state of Idaho,” said Melissa McDaniel, 4-H program coordinator for Gem and Boise counties.

Grand Champion Lainey
Lainey, the National Champion!

Jessica Dunn works with young mustang
Jessica Dunn, a 4-H member, works to gentle a young mustang.

Lainey and her mom
Lainey proudly displays her awards with her mom, Tina.

Jordan working with a wild mustang
Jordan Bateman, a 4-H member, works with a young mustang

Idaho 4-H Groups Team Up to Gentle Wild Horses 2013

It’s an uncommonly cold, rainy day in August when 17 year old Audrey Denton arrives at the BLM Wild Horse corrals located on the rolling rangeland plains south of Boise. As she bundles up in a rain parka, Audrey approaches the large corrals to the sounds of hooves stomping and nervous snorts. Twelve wild horses, ages 3-6 months, are staring back at her from their huddled group in the corral. A mixture of gray, sorrel, bay, pinto and roan, their colors blend together as they tightly squeeze into a cluster of fur and twitching tails. Audrey can see flashes of white as the horses dart their eyes about with apprehension; they are obviously afraid of people as they quickly collect at the far end of the corral when she nears the gate. 

Audrey is one of 14 Idaho 4-H members who signed up to work with the young wild horses called “weanlings,” gathered from the Challis Herd Management Area. The members will work with the horses for one month before they will be available for adoption in Boise on September 11-13. The project is the result of a collaborative effort between the University of Idaho, 4-H, and the Bureau of Land Management. Audrey and her other club members are from Gem, Ada, Elmore, Canyon, and Bonner counties, and as they arrive to pick up the weanlings, a sense of excitement stirs even though dark rain pelts down on the sagebrush-covered hills around them. The members, ages 12-18, excitedly gather with their parents and 4-H leaders near the corrals to discuss which weanling they’ll be working with.

4-H member choosing a horse
Steve Leonard helps a 4-H Member draw a number
so she can choose the horse she will work with.

Wild Horse Weanlings
Two of the wild horses in the BLM corrals.

Steve Leonard, BLM Wild Horse and Burro Specialist, helps the 4-H members select the weanlings and begin the process of taking them to the members’ homes. The horses are confused and afraid; coaxing them down the corral alleys and into the trailers is not easy and requires careful strategy from Steve and other BLM employees. As the members help load the horses into trailers, they talk excitedly about working with the weanlings. Each 4-H group will have three weeks to familiarize the weanlings to people, get them to wear halters, and allow a person to lead them on a rope before they compete in an In-Hand Trail Challenge at the Western Idaho Fair. This collaboration between the University of Idaho, the BLM, and Idaho 4-H is allowing 4-H horse members to gain valuable training and horsemanship experience while providing beneficial training for the horses, which will in turn increase their chances of adoption. 

By fair time, the members will compete in the In Hand Trail Challenge by leading the horses, wearing halters, through a course in an arena. But it’s difficult to envision these wild horses even allowing a person to approach them; it’s obvious they see humans as a threat. As Audrey waves goodbye from the passenger seat of a truck, trailer and horse in tow, it’s hard to imagine such a young girl taming such a wild, unpredictable animal.

“These kids get to experience training a horse from the start; getting the horses comfortable with being loaded into trailers, to stand calmly while their feet are picked up, to tolerate being vaccinated, exposing them to dogs, cars, sprinklers and obstacles, this truly is an amazing process,” says Leonard. “You’ll see how gentle these horses have become in just three weeks time,” he adds.

Three weeks later, the 4-H members have gathered outside the uncovered Preifert arena at the Western Idaho Fair in Garden City, Idaho, to compete in the In Hand Trail Challenge. It’s hot, dusty, and humid, but the members don’t seem bothered by the late August weather. The mustang weanlings, each one wearing a halter, are relaxed and enjoying the attention from the 4-H group and fair-goers. The 4-H members are ready for the event; there’s an edge of competition in the dank air as they wait for the contest to begin. The horses have no edge about them however; they calmly stand with their trainers, sniffing the air and enjoying the occasional scratch, stroke, or pat. These horses now have the demeanor of large, gentle dogs. One dark bay horse in particular begs to be scratched, sticking his lips into the air in a gesture of relief as human hands soothe his mane and neck. His 4-H trainers have named him “Bubba,” and it’s obvious they have developed a bond with him in the last three weeks as they scratch and pet him. Another horse poses for a photo with a young 4-H member; she kisses his muzzle as the photo snaps. He doesn’t budge and instead lazily blinks his large round eyes as though he is thoroughly enjoying the affection. 

4-H member with horse
A young 4-H member demonstrates how gentle the wild mustang weanlings have become since August 7.
Shelby before In Hand Trail Challenge 
Shelby enters the competition arena with Reba


The competition begins and every participant guides his or her horse through the course with relative ease. The participants must first lead the horse onto a wooden bridge, then get the horse to back over it, just by using a few commands paired with gentle tongue clicks and nudging. The course is riddled with similar challenges: a log triangle which both horse and leader must step though, a gate with long flags hanging from it, trotting, then more logs and obstacles before the course is finished. It’s muggy and uncomfortable, but each 4-H member finishes the course with a confident smile and a pat for their mustang companions.

When the judges are ready to announce the winners, the 4-H members line up inside the square arena with the mustang weanlings. It’s odd to see these horses calmly standing with their handlers when only weeks before, they wouldn’t allow a person within ten yards of them. The judges announce the winners, and the 4-H members graciously accept their awards with the horses gently ambling behind them.

Shelby Miller, 16 years old, quietly strolls forward from the line of contestants and mustangs to accept her first place award for the In Hand Trail Challenge. She’s smiling shyly and leading her mustang, nicknamed “Reba,” who is not frightened by several flashing cameras. Reba is about one year old; she is larger in size than some of the other horses in the competition, but her age made no difference in her performance on the course.     

“I would say it’s been one of the best experiences of my life. I’m really glad that 4-H has done this program. It’s been very interesting to see how Reba’s behavior has changed just from working with her for this short time. It’s hard to let her go because I’ve gotten attached to her, but I know that she really does need to go up for adoption because it will raise awareness and support for both 4-H and the BLM Wild Horse and Burro program,” said Shelby.  

The gentled, vaccinated mustangs were all adopted, along with 35 other mustangs on September 12 and 13.  The proceeds from the 4-H trained horses, above the adoption fee, were given to the 4-H groups for supplies, competition fees, and education.  

“This partnership with the University of Idaho, the BLM, and Idaho 4-H has shown us how important it is to work with Idaho’s youth and to give them opportunities to shine. It’s amazing how these kids can gentle these horses in just three weeks’ time; it shows how, with dedication, kindness, and training, these mustangs can become wonderful companions and accomplished riding horses,” said Tom Dyer, former Idaho BLM State Director. “We hope to continue this wonderful partnership,” he added.