Montana/Dakotas

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Challenging, Rewarding and…Fun!

photos and story by Christine Tincher, Montana State Office

Neuman working with wild horse
Trainer Lesley Neuman demonstrates gentling techniques at the wild horse and burro adoption in Kalispell. 
former adopter and horse

A past adopter brought her horse to the Kalispell event to show potential adopters how well a wild horse can do with a little time and training. 

A few more families are discovering the joys of wild horses and burros this summer. 

In Kalispell in late June, 16 wild horses and 10 burros found good homes, and in early August, 14 more horses and six burros were placed during an adoption held in Billings.

Adopting a wild horse or a burro can be a rewarding experience. Ask past adopters why they chose to take home a wild horse or burro and you are bound to get a variety of responses. Some say it is for the romance, challenge, or opportunity to care for a small part of their western heritage. For many the answer is simply because they found it to be the best relationship they’ve had with a horse.

A few of these past adopters go out of their way to share their experiences and success stories. Often they will ask Nancy Bjelland, BLM adoption coordinator, if they can bring their wild horse back to an adoption event to show people how well the wild horse does with a little TLC.

But adopting is also a big responsibility. Individuals are agreeing to be caretakers of an animal that has had very little interaction with people. To help adopters be better prepared, the BLM offers horse training demonstrations whenever possible.

Attending the Montana adoptions, well known horse trainer Lesley Neuman offers both novice and experienced horsemen her tried and true gentling techniques. As she steps in the corral with a wild horse for the first time, Neuman shares insights from her published works, The First Touch - Gentling Your Mustang.

Recognizing that each horse has its own traits and personality, Neuman sets about getting acquainted with the animal through a series of calm, practiced motions. She patiently demonstrates techniques to the audience that “build trust, not fear” in the horse. 

The response from the animal helps determine the next set of steps. Neuman says that when she gets in the pen with a horse, that’s all there is, just her and the horse - and the horse tells her what to do. She continually watches for cues from the animal to determine when it is feeling a little stressed, or is gaining in curiosity and is more comfortable with the interaction. In the end, the audience is often in awe, as Neuman makes direct contact with her hand and the animal submits to having the halter removed.

Now residing in Oregon, Neuman has been working with wild horses for about 13 years and has conducted gentling demonstrations for the BLM for the past 10 years.

"A mustang is what I call a ‘real horse,’” says Neuman. “It has to be, or it doesn't survive. If a wild horse has bad feet, or if it doesn't know how to be social, it won't make it in the wild. Once they have learned to trust humans, wild horses make wonderfully intelligent, sensitive, and devoted mounts that can do anything domestic horses can, plus they have built-in savvy and natural good manners.”

The BLM holds wild horse and burro adoptions as a means of finding homes for displaced animals. A land management agency, the BLM follows a multiple-use mandate to care for public lands and its resources. With the passage of the wild free-roaming horses and burros act in 1971, the BLM was able to embrace the wild horse and burro as a natural resource. The BLM gathers wild horses and burros from the western range in order to maintain an ecological balance between wild horses and burros, native wildlife and domestic animals grazing on western public lands. The agency works hard to find homes for displaced animals.

To qualify to adopt, individuals must meet facility requirements and have an approved application. The minimum adoption fee, per animal, is $125. After caring for the animal for one year, the adopter is eligible to receive title or ownership from the federal government. For an adoption application, or for more information on the requirements, call toll free at 866-4 MUSTANGS. General information is available at BLM’s website at www.blm.gov.