They Love Horses, Don't They?
There was nothing so wild as the free-roaming, untamed horse...until it met an Oregon teenager.
story by Candy Harmon
photos by Candy Harmon & Tara Martinak
Yamhill, Oregon, near Portland saw a unique opportunity when it made introductions between teenagers and horses last summer. In a partnership between the BLM and both the Mustang Heritage Foundation and the Teens and Oregon Mustangs program, 15 youths were paired with their own wild yearlings - horses generally in their second year. It was literally a case of youth meeting youth.
The experience level of each young trainer ranged from some who counted this as the first time they ever saw a wild horse to others who had experience with the domestication and care of wild steeds. But the ultimate goal of the program? To help teens gentle 15 of Oregon's wild horses so by the end of summer 90 days later, these yearlings would be domesticated and auctioned to approved adopters.
But what actually happened was so much more. In the end, it became more than a seasonal project for both horse and trainer. Three months later, two completely different forces united to form pure bonds of trust, friendship, and love.
My (not so) Little Pony
Extreme Mustang Makeover trainer Erica Knight was motivated to organize this program to "get these horses a home, and give these kids an amazing experience." The plan consisted of three major tasks: provide the yearlings with body conditioning, get them used to having a halter, and train them to be able to step through a field course displaying all the skills learned from their teens.
At ten years old, honorary "teen" trainer Isabell said when she first saw her horse, Lil' Bugger, she was a little scared wondering what she'd gotten herself into. "Lil' Bugger would just stand in the corner staring at me. After a couple of days I would stand in the corner so she couldn't. I actually had her out of the stall the first week." Soon afterwards Isabell and her mom jokingly told folks in the stables to watch out! They were bringing a "wild horse" through - albeit one that willingly followed Isabell like her very own pocket pony.
Even though the goal for each trainer was to make their horse available for adoption by the end of the program, several ended up adopting their own horses before the auction ever had a chance to begin. Erin, who trained Alice, entered the program thinking she wouldn't be able to get near Alice for at least a month. "I was able to touch her and put a blanket on her on the first day." Erin entered the program to earn some summer money and find a much needed home for a wild horse. She was able to accomplish both goals. At the end of the summer Erin adopted her horse, Alice.
The only young man to be one of the 15 contestants, Trask, said that he was afraid of horses. He envisioned a vicious wild animal constantly running. But what he found was a horse named Brinly who learned quickly to trust Trask, often trotting over to him whenever she became scared. And though the first time Brinly ran up to Trask was an unnerving experience, he quickly saw what Brinly was actually doing - seeking security where she knew she could get it. With her trainer. Trask soon felt confident in his abilities as well as his relationship with his horse.
Telling their Story
The teen trainers were able to decorate their stalls with mementos they felt helped tell their story of this incredible experience. And even though the youths didn't know what to expect when they began the program, they overcame any fear of the unknown or doubt in their abilities - turning questions into confidence, knowledge, and understanding.
And while each trainer took a different, and personal, hero's journey to reach their goal, they all achieved very similar outcomes. They took pride in what they accomplished. They made new friends with fellow trainers. And they formed an unconditional bond with a wild horse that can never be broken.
The BLM's Corral Facility in Burns, Oregon, has approximately 300 horses in their care year-round. If you would like to know more about these amazing animals and how to adopt one, you can contact the Burns BLM office at (541) 573-4400 to chat with one of our dedicated Wild Horse and Burro staff or visit us online.
How many wild horses are adopted from the Oregon & Washington BLM each year? That answer - along with great photos and maps - can be found in BLM Facts.