Official National Newsletter of the Wild Horse and Burro Program
United States Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management
National Wild Horse and Burro Program
In This Issue
Maverick and Tomahawk
The Adventures of Earl and Jake
Going Back to Basics
Adopting a Wild Burro
Mustang Luke's Story
Sally Spencer, National Marketing Director
Janet Neal, National Editor and Graphic Artist
If you would like to submit articles for the National Wild Horse and Burro News, please e-mail articles and photos (at least 300 dpi) to Janet_Neal@blm.gov or mail to Janet Neal, Bureau of Land Management, P.O. Box 12000, Reno, NV 89520, Phone 775-861-6614.
Maverick and Tomahawk
By Jean Turnmire, Mustang Adopter
I own 5 Mustangs. I have 3 at my farm in Indiana and two run free on South Dakota’s Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.
I ride all styles and disciplines with the oldest two, Maverick 22 years old and Tomahawk (Tommie) 12 years old.
These wild horses are ambassadors for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We participate at mustang adoptions, Equitana, HoosieHorse Fair and the Hoosier Horse Park. I have also participated doing a side by side English/Western Pas de Deux with Maverick and Tommie that is lots of fun and shows the great versatility of our mustangs. They do sliding stops and rein backs to extended trot and hand gallop and side pass at the trot across the diagonal. Audiences love it. I'd love to see a large Mustang drill team formed.
I regularly fox hunt with both horses all over the Midwest, trail ride extensively, and have shown Maverick at the SW Regional Mustang and Burro Show at the Kentucky Horse Park. We’ve been to hundreds of local shows in both English and Western disciplines.
Tomahawk was High Point English Champion-amateur Adult at the 2006 Western States Wild Horse and Burro Expo
held in Reno, Nevada. He also took 5th overall High Point horse of 125 shown. He competed at the Expo in English, Western and Gaming, as well as winning 2 of the 3 trail classes. Both horses were Champion and Reserve at the Illinois Mustang and Burro Show in King City in 2005.
I love my Mustangs...sold all my Thoroughbreds, Appies, and Quarter Horses. Mustangs are for me. They are America's Native Warmbloods!
We even have competed in Competitive trail against mostly Arabs and done very well. Mustangs can do it all!
The Adventures of Earl & Jake
By Judy Ballenger, Wild Horse Adopter
Saturday, June 23rd, 2007 is the day our lives changed; mine and my husband Ron. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was in town holding a mustang adoption event. Seriously, I just wanted to have a look-see. I'd never seen real mustangs before. To say I was excited is a gross understatement. Since a lady never divulges her age, let’s just say I certainly wasn’t acting MY age.
We went wandering and I found Earl. A well built bay, two-year old colt with a star, stripe and snip on his face and four white socks, from Nevada. He was very handsome and nosey, too. He came towards the panel of the pen and stretched his neck out to get a better sniff of me. I informed him he better like me because he was going home with me; and so he did. The colt Ron chose was a 2-year old sorrel with a small star and 2 white socks. He came from an area in Utah. Ron named him Jake.
We gave Earl and Jake a day to settle in and then began the gentling process. It went better than we ever dreamed. Within an hour we were able to touch our respective colts!
Earl figured out that humans were alright pretty quickly and loved to be rubbed and scratched. I was even able to run my hand down his front legs and rub most of his body. Jake was a little more stand-offish. But, Ron could touch his face and actually lead him around the pen with a loose lead rope. Earl followed him!
We quickly discovered that Earl was the clown of the two. He liked to rub against me, nibble at whatever he could get into his mouth and would even accept treats from my hand. By the next day, I was able to run my hands all over him, down his back legs and play with his tail. I could put my arm over his back and lean on him a little bit. I could push his flank with one hand while pulling on the lead rope with the other to get him to turn in small circles.
Jake was more reserved and not as trusting as Earl. Whatever Ron got from him was well earned. He also got bored easily and needed activity to constantly change. He led much better than Earl, but was undecided about being touched and rubbed. We purchased a couple of larger round balls for the boys to play with in their respective pens. Earl loved his. Jake couldn’t care less about his.
The gentling process continued over the next couple of weeks. The boys were beginning to lead well and seemed happy to see us every day when we arrived to play with them. We kept them in separate pens to help in the gentling process. They were both sent to professional trainers for a little more work.
I've spent so much time with Earl, he follows me around like a big dog now, nudging me for treats or just being a general pain in the butt and I mean that literally! He's grabbed (nipped) my butt several times. He has his fads, one being an obsession with my shoes. He tries to nibble them and has undone the laces more times than I care to count. Our days were spent grooming, picking up his feet, working around him with tack, bridling and saddling him. I would settle into a lawn chair with a book while he wandered around with all the equipment on and bugged me while I tried to read. He’s slobbered on several books borrowed from the library. The barn was being built and he was quite interested in watching that progress and not at all bothered by the racket.
It turns out that my dear Earl is an extraordinary escape artist. He got loose the first time around the beginning of September. He managed to open his gate and went wandering. We were worried about being able to catch him to put him back. Not a problem with Earl. We went out with a bucket of grain and Earl was promptly in custody again. Earl obviously thinks with his stomach. Once everything settled down, Earl again took it upon himself to open the gate and give Jake a tour of the garden. A trip to the hardware store fixed that little problem! The gate is now chained.
The following week, I had them going together, circling in the round pen until Jake decided to make a dash for it in the opposite direction. Of course he had to meet up with Earl, which he did; ran right into him. I started laughing and they both stopped and just looked at me. Stared is more like it. I had time to get a great picture of them giving me what I call “The Look“.
By this time, Jake was allowing me to brush his legs. He also let me run my hands down his front legs, all the way to the pasterns and hooves. He was doing so well, I tried brushing his tail but that certainly didn’t work. He jumped that time - about 5 feet sideways and gave me such a look you'd think I was going to do something terrible to him. I went back to brushing his mane and forelock so we'd end on a good note.
Ron decided he would try riding Jake and it took both of us to get a saddle on him. Ron led Jake around the pen and talked to him a lot. The plan was to work him a bit in the round pen to get the kinks out and then try getting on him. With that in mind, Ron turned him loose. That's when the rodeo started. Jake came unglued and would have put any pro rodeo bucking horse to shame!
I brought Earl back into the pen and tied him on the other side away from Jake so he wouldn't bother him and went to pat Jake and talk to him. He was quiet now and didn't mind me around him at all. I put my foot in the stirrup to see how he'd react. No problem. I added my weight. Again no problem. I stood up in the stirrup; so far so good. So I bounced up and down a bit. Still all good. I repeated this on his right side (his bad side) and again, after some initial alarm on his part he was OK. I went back around to the left side and went through the routine again, foot in stirrup, stand up in stirrup, and bounce. Everything was good, so I swung my leg over and sat down in the saddle. Still good and I can claim to be the first to sit on Jake. I got off and he was fine with me dismounting. Told him what a good boy he was and left him alone.
Ron went back in after a few minutes and untied him, walked him around and tested him to see how well he'd stand for mounting. He seemed to be OK, not great, but OK. Ron did the same thing I did to mount up and Jake accepted it all. Ron had me come in and lead them around for a bit while he tested Jake's responsiveness to the bit. Then he had me walk away and rode him by himself for about 30 minutes. There were a few tense moments when for some reason Jake would jump (shy) and Ron would talk to calm him down. Jake listened well and was really responsive to the bit, much to Ron's pleasure. All in all, Ron was satisfied with the way the session ended. Jake’s never offered to buck since.
I’ve done a lot of strange things with these boys. Jake still has many of my weird notions to get through. Earl has come to expect the unexpected from me to get him used to different things moving around him, above him and behind him.
Repetition is a wonderful thing with horses and I decided to work on desensitizing them some more. They both know all about the tarps (one blue and one orange). They’ve walked across the blue one, eaten off it and had to deal with the orange one tied to the pen and blowing in the wind and the rain during storms. I put the blue cape on Earl one day. He looked like "Super Earl" with the blue cape flapping around him. There was a bit of snorting when I first put the cape on, but he got used to it pretty quickly. Jake took one look at Earl and took off. I think he thought Earl was the devil with a blue cape. Earl went after Jake - Hey buddy wait for me! I figured they'd been through enough for one day. I untacked them, groomed them, fed them treats and left them alone.
Then THE day finally arrived. I was going to ride Earl! The BIG DAY. He was a doll except he was frozen in place and scared to move. I got him saddled and bridled while Ron was working with Jake, who was coming along very well by then. When Ron finished up with Jake it was our turn in the round pen. I worked Earl loose first and he was so lazy I decided to skip the usual back and forth stuff and caught him up and hollered for Ron to come and hold him. I went through the bouncing in the stirrup again on both sides to refresh his memory. He just stood there - I think he was bored! So I took a deep breath and swung my leg over and settled in. Nothing happened!
I stuck my foot out and Ron moved away and turned Earl's head toward my foot. Earl had a sniff and wiggled his lips on my toe and that was it, he didn't bother with a nibble. Ron led him forward for several steps and still no reaction on Earl's part. I asked him to halt, which he obeyed instantly. I started wiggling and bouncing around in the saddle. Earl just flicked an ear back now and then, but other than that he just stood there letting me make a fool of myself on top of him. Ron let Earl have the whole 10 feet of lead rope so I could see how he'd respond to rein cues. Not bad, but no way near "power steering" which couldn't be expected anyway. It was fairly obvious that wearing side reins while working had done some good. He would actually give with his head back and forth while walking and standing still. I was really, really impressed by that. We did this for about 15 minutes along with halting and Ron handed me the lead rope and turned us loose. Nothing happened!
I couldn't convince Earl to step out on his own. I finally ended up using some rather exaggerated leg cues to get Earl to move without Ron in front of him. Then I just concentrated on getting him across the pen to where Ron would stand. When we'd get there Earl would halt as asked and Ron and I both gave him lots of praise and pats and scratches.
Our next ride wasn’t until November, when Earl graduated to solely outside the pen and into a large (3 acre) field with another horse under saddle. He was such a good boy in the field that we went for broke and headed out on the road. We went for a little ride up the road, then circled a field and headed back towards the house. We continued past the house and over a small creek, with culverts, caution signs and all. Earl didn't bat an eyelash but walked right past. I was so proud of my boy! We called it quits after 30 minutes and headed back up the hill where a lonely Jake was anxiously waiting for his buddy to return.
We hadn’t tried to ride Jake outside of the pen yet. He was coming along slowly and getting less spooky about things every day. He was taking baby steps though. He’s gotten comfortable with me and we’re working on building a good relationship. Jake is such a quick-on-his-feet, talented little horse. He'll be something else if we ever earn his full trust like we have with Earl. He's very well balanced and agile, and so darn smart. Once we convince him to work with us whatever he learns is not forgotten. We have to be very careful that we don't show him any bad ways to do something because he'll always remember it.
We have our routine for visits. Earl comes for hugs, scratches and treats while Jake plays Mr. Snotty-I-don’t-need-any-loving. Then Jake comes over and body checks Earl with his shoulder and takes Earl’s place for hugs and pats. Earl checks Jake back and moves back in. This will go on and on unless I get between them and play referee.
It’s been a little more than six months since I talked Ron into taking me to see the mustangs. Our lives have been turned upside down and inside out, but in a good way, and revolve around our boys. These two wild colts have taught us that we still have much to learn in the ways of horses, despite being accomplished horse people in our chosen disciplines. We’ve learned to communicate with them on their level and have been richly rewarded in so many ways. We’ve learned that body language is very important. We wonder why we didn’t figure this out earlier in life with countless other horses. The boys have learned that humans aren’t such odd creatures to be feared after all.
I have to add my personal opinion here. I’ve done some really weird things with these boys, namely Earl (Jake’s turn is coming) and not once have I felt I was in danger. Although they’re considered wild animals and possess that inherit instinct of “flight or fight”, both have always chosen flight over fight. Not once has either horse intentionally tried to kick, strike out or bite. They start out afraid, but with patience, their curiosity wins out every time. Allowing them the freedom to move away has rewarded us many times over in their training. These young mustangs love us dearly. The big secret? It’s just a few simple ingredients: A lawn chair, a shade tree, a good book, a packed lunch with lots of water, and patience. Those end-of-summer days when it was just me and my horse will always be held precious in my heart.
Earl and Jake have been a part of our lives for such a short time, yet I cannot fathom being without them. While my friends share pictures of their grandkids, I share pictures of my boys. Seldom does a day go by without someone asking how the boys are. I now walk up that hill and there are two boys who are happy to see me and more importantly, want to see me.
By Lindsey D. Bramson, Mustang Adopter
Raven was the very first horse of my own. When he first came off the trailer, 3 years ago, I was very concerned that he would never grow big enough to ride. As a three-year old he was about 13 hands and maybe 750 pounds. With nutrition and exercise my mustang-pony grew to a whopping 15.3 hands and 1,150 pound mustang. No one that saw him in the beginning would have guessed!
The Quarter Horse trainers I was around knew I was adopting a mustang and they did everything they could to convince me he would be too wild to do anything with him; that I would never be able to touch him, let alone ride him. In ninety days I was on his back. In ninety more days we were riding in the Parker County Rodeo Grand Entry, riding down roads, and being tied to the front porch of small town restaurants. My best friend says I was born a century to late.
I do everything with him from showmanship, to western pleasure, barrels, poles, play days, working cattle, and trails. He always gives more than I could ever expect. I can turn him out in a five acre pasture, whistle for him on the darkest night and he will come running.
He taught me more than any other animal could have possibly taught me; trust, feel, touch, how to remain calm in spooky situations, how to speak in his language, how to play with him, how to make him happy, and most importantly patience. He has convinced me that no animal is innately mean, and that everything that ever goes wrong during any ride is ultimately the riders fault.
He remains the essence of everything good a horse can be. From day one, Raven has never kicked, bitten, or bucked. This is something very few owners of domestic horses can say. His good-nature overwhelms me at times. What can I say; after all, he is the essence of America.
By Sandy Klein, Oregon Mustang Adopter and Owner
Nochecita (“Cita”) is a 12 year old Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mustang from a herd management area in the Battle Mountain, NV area. She was gathered from the public rangelands in NV due to drought and lack of forage. I bought her from her original adopter after she was a titled 2 year old mustang.
I've had Cita for over 10 years, mainly riding dressage. We brought home reserve champion in First Level Dressage and champion in Quadrille at the 2007 Oregon Dressage Society League Championship show. Recently, I found out she had a hidden talent! Cita is a talented and up and coming abstract watercolor artist. Since I am an artist, Cita and I have combined our talents.
Here is her most recent piece. The eye, nostril and jaw line are the only part not done by her. I added those after she did the painting. She even painted the ears. Cita thoroughly enjoys grabbing the paintbrush in her mouth, stepping right up to the watercolor paper and creating a masterpiece, especially in front of an audience! She only has a little assistance in mixing colors, but the rest is pretty much up to her!
Cita’s plan is to continue to do exhibitions, showing off her talents. In addition to her paintings, she also assists with vacuuming and doing the laundry. Cita plans on donating a portion of her proceeds from the sale of her paintings to a local therapeutic riding center in Central Oregon, “Healing Reins”. She also plans to donate to the local Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition. This particular painting will be available as numbered prints.
Cita and I will continue to do all we can to promote wild mustangs to the public every chance we get.
Going Back to Basics
Adopting a Wild Burro
By Ann Bond, Durango, CO
Several experiences came together a couple of years ago, resulting in my adopting a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild burro. It all started during a cross-country horseback trip in Mexico, when the most entertaining parts of the journey turned out to be the burros that served as our pack animals. The little beasts were never tied – they just followed along – in front, in back, pestering the horses at times. Even with the huge loads teetering on their tiny backs, they could climb anything and often lay down fully loaded for a nap at lunchtime. In fact, they acted more like dogs than horses – sniffing at everything along the trail and marking interesting items with their scent.
After I returned to the San Juan Public Lands Center where I work for both the BLM and Forest Service in Southwest Colorado, I learned the BLM’s Canon City
facility would soon be receiving some wild burros from Nevada. I had raised and showed horses as a child, but had little experience with burros. I’ve also always been involved in pet rescue efforts and believe strongly in adopting homeless creatures rather than selfishly creating new ones from breeding programs.
Adopting a wild burro came up in conversation around the campfire one evening with my friend, Maryanne Griffin, who was also on the Mexico trip. She owns a ranch south of Durango. Over a beer, we joked that we should adopt a couple of burros. We reasoned that, as we age, it gets harder and harder to carry a backpack on multi-day trips into the backcountry. What better than a couple of pack animals to do it for us? We decided to look into it. One snowy day in February, two years ago, we found ourselves driving over Wolf Creek Pass in a white-out snowstorm on our way to pick out a couple of burros.
The selection process itself was a great experience. Fran Ackley, who oversees the Canon City facility, gave us a tour. The facility includes historic barns and old-growth cottonwoods inside the grounds of the minimum-security prison. We saw inmates feeding and training the wild horses. It took several hours to pick out our burros – the jacks were lively and curious, and the jennies were sweet and shy. We finally settled on jacks, mostly because Fran couldn’t guarantee us that the jennies weren’t all pregnant. We finally picked out two yearling jacks who seemed to be hanging out together. We paid to have them gelded at the facility and delivered to us later.
Our boys, who came to be named Arlo and Sancho, are a hoot! They love to chase dogs, cats and chickens but have never hurt anything or anybody. They love carrots. They come when called like dogs. In fact, they call us with their braying. My Sancho lets me sit on his back, and he adores being brushed. He loves having his big old ears rubbed – closes his eyes, drops his head low, and seems paralyzed with happiness. They are curious, funny, and cute – and play together constantly. They’re also quite photogenic and accomplished as models. They’ve been featured in newspapers, magazines, and posed for amateur and professional photographers. They love the attention.
Training was easy for the most part – the best method has been to show them what we want and then wait for them to decide to do it. They were completely wild when they arrived. The first task was to get them to allow us to just get near. We did that by sitting on a flake of hay in the corral and beckoning to them. Their curiosity, and their appetite, didn’t hold out for long. After that, everything else fell into place. Halter training was easy. We’ve taught them to lead, remain tied, to back up on command, and to accept a pack saddle. They allow their feet to be picked up for trimming. They will, sometimes, load into a trailer. Next up is teaching them to pull a little wagon we bought from a friend so they can star in hometown parades. However, our ultimate goal is to use them as pack animals in the Weminuche Wilderness. Our dream is to pack the entire length of the Continental Divide in the San Juan Mountains.
I highly recommend learning more about these unusual creatures – you’ll be surprised at their background and hidden talents. Do you know the fables about the origin of the Jerusalem Cross found on the back of all burros? Did you know that donkeys originated in North Africa? Did you know they’ve been the beasts of burden of humanity since 4,000 years before the birth of Christ? Do you know how many times they’re mentioned in the Hebrew Bible? Do you know they’re stronger than a horse? Did you know they make great guard animals? Do you know how differently they have to be trained than a horse?
More information on donkey facts and legends can be found on the following websites:
Mustang Luke’s Story
By Rebecca Zinke, Mustang Adopter
When I first decided to adopt a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mustang, I was living a fairly predictable life as a local hunter/jumper trainer with a small string of lesson ponies taking kids to horse shows on the weekends and doing rides on horses owned by working professionals through the week. Life was good but routine boarding was getting mundane and I was stuck in a mental rut. When Hurricane Katrina struck, I was inspired by the crisis of abandoned pets in New Orleans. I made the journey to the stricken gulf coast to volunteer my efforts for a week. Upon returning from that experience, I was overwhelmed with a feeling that my contribution was pathetically small, only a token offering. I vowed to make a change in my life, a permanent change, to offer the skills that I had to make a difference somewhere in the world that could be felt and was needed.
Ever since I read Marguerite Henry’s book “Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West”
and learned that you could adopt one, I had wanted a BLM mustang. I spent many afternoons as a kid drawing plans for my mustang pen and shelter like the adoption brochure
stated was a requirement. I grew up enough to realize that the reality of me being a city kid did not ever include having a mustang pen in the backyard. I filed that dream away in the “someday” category.
As a professional in the horse industry, the problem of what to do with an unwanted horse is forefront on my table on a regular basis. To train a mustang for a period of months to make him sound simply didn’t seem economically smart, so no one seems to want them. I realized I could give back in that facet. I could take an un-gentled wild horse and train him. In that way, I would make a difference to that one mustang, take that one wild horse out of the adoption system and in some small way contribute to the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program.
At about the same time I had made the decision to adopt a mustang, an internet adoption
had just ended and the site said the next adoption was to take place in a few weeks. While looking over the available horses from the previous adoption, a few caught my eye. Most of the horses were nice prospects I thought while looking over the photos. I noticed that some of the mustangs were even being offered already halter-gentled. I decided to make that childhood dream a reality. While daydreaming I thought, wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a red roan mustang from one of the ranches that halter-trains them and make it a hunter pony? It would have to be a gelding and it would have to be coming on 3 years old so it would be small enough to not grow past 14.2 hands in the pony status world.
Soon the BLM site was updated and the next round of available wild horses were featured. As I scrolled down I saw a red roan being offered as a halter-trained Mantle Ranch mustang. The description said the horse was a coming 3 year old gelding at 13.2 hands. I couldn’t believe it. Well now I have to do it I thought. It must be fate. I sent away my application to adopt, got approved within 48 hours, received my bidder ID and placed a bid.
It was already pretty down to the wire when someone else placed a bid on the red roan. We entered a bit of a bidding war all afternoon and into the evening. The next morning I had been outbid again. Bidding was to end of the day, my time at noon. So, I crossed my fingers, placed my final bid, and closed the site. It was either meant to be or it wasn’t. Expecting to lose the bid, I decided to accept the outcome.
Amazingly, the other person did not bid again and I was the final high bid on the red roan. Elation quickly crashed down into reality when the full understanding of what I had done hit me. I was the proud new owner of a wild horse. Oh well, he’s halter trained. It’ll be fine, I thought.
I e-mailed Steve Mantle at his ranch wanting to hear all about how well trained my new wild horse was. What I got back was certainly a reality check.
Steve indicated he was coming along well but progress was really slow. He was extremely scared and had a hard time trusting people as most mustangs do. He could be haltered in the round pen and started leading some after driving exercises. That got his feet moving and helped him to yield his hindquarters. Steve said he would really like to be a friend but is still scared and when something unusual happened he would go into the typical fight and flight notion of a horse. It would simply take time, consistency, and patience.
I hadn’t signed up for this. I was expecting a halter trained baby, albeit a little shy, maybe a little shaky on having its feet handled, but able to lead at least and able to be resold after titling. I started to get a little anxious but decided there was no backing out now.
Any and all previous thoughts of resale were abandoned when I went to pick him up. I had my mustang! He was named Luke and walked into my life to change it forever.
Luke was small and skinny. He had an awkwardly big head with a downhill body build and a tangled mane to his knees. I had to work with him after hours, long after everyone had gone home. If he saw another human he would flee in the opposite direction as fast as his feet could move and they could move fast.
I went to just sit with him for 5 to 10 minutes 6 to 8 times a day. He let me touch his nostrils the second day but periodically would have to leave. With the frequent visits he started to look forward to seeing me and with the complete isolation from other horses he decided pretty fast I was a decent replacement companion. Once he decided I was OK, I figured it was time to start working.
I taught him some basic ground manners and slowly, as he investigated his new environment, he began to replace fear with curiosity. It took him 10 days to venture out into the barn aisle and another 3 to try walking all the way to the end. Slowly, a few feet further each night, I got him leading all over the closed barn.
He was leading so well within one month after I adopted him, I felt it was time to expand his world by leading him across the threshold to the great outdoors. My goal was to lead him to an outdoor round pen that was across an empty gravel parking lot from the barn. We got there for sure but in a different manner in which I intended. Just as we cleared the doorway and had nothing in front of us but the great expanse of the parking lot, one of the grooms walked out from behind a car. Luke caught sight of him and took off in a gallop. I knew there was no way, in his panic, that I would catch him again if he got away from me so I, stupidly perhaps, hung on. Thank goodness for a 12’ lead. I lost my feet and he dragged me on my belly across the gravel. He was in full gallop by then with no signs of stopping and I knew my only hope was to get my legs in front of me to maybe wheel him around. Somehow, I succeeded in getting my feet in position. By this time he had cleared the parking lot and was now on grass. I dug my heels in and yanked as hard as I could. He slammed on the brakes, spun around to face me and stopped. He stood there blowing and wide eyed as I picked myself up, pretending not to be hurt, walked back to his head, patted him for stopping and clucked to walk on. My heart was racing after that and it was too far to risk going back to the barn, the round pen was closer. I was pretty banged up and had no further stomach for another gravel slip n’slide ride. Thankfully, he walked on amazingly quiet and we made it to the round pen.
I had learned my lesson. I didn’t get to decide when Luke was ready to do things, he decided. But, it was my job to convince him that it was OK and I was still the boss. Unless he got over his fear, nothing I tried to teach him was going to stick. I had tremendous respect for his physical ability and would not give up on this horse.
Luke forced me to grow as a horse trainer and as a human being. Thanks to the internet, I was able to seek advice from colleagues across the country and from different disciplines. I learned new methods and ways of thinking. I discovered alternative ideas that I had never considered before. Most of all, I learned that the only thing that stood in my way with this little mustang was that he had a mindset of his own. We slowed way down. We went at his pace. We forgot about “training” and started focusing on Luke just becoming comfortable in his own skin. I needed confidence from him and he needed confidence from me.
He learned to yield his haunches, shoulders and neck to a one rein stop and lunge both directions. He learned a perfect “whoa”, to stand tied, and to trust strange people. He learned to accept clipping and fly spray, having his feet trimmed and getting a bath. He learned to ground drive all over the property. But amidst it all was the underlying theme of building confidence, to have no fear, to trust me, and for me to be worthy of his trust.
Six months after I picked him up from the BLM I sat on his back for the first time. You would have thought it was the 80th
He walked off gentled. He has never bucked. He has never had a bad day. He has never ended on a bad note. He has never needed to be roughed up, forced or even worked to a sweat. He always tries so very, very hard to be good and figure out the task. Just show him, let him digest it, and he will do it to the best of his ability. Quietly, Luke learned to replace fear with curious interest and to replace his panic with positive expectations. He is a far cry from the skinny little scared to death wild horse that dragged me across a gravel parking lot in a panic. Sometimes even I have a hard time remembering him like that.
Now days, as far as Luke is concerned, life is full of positive experiences. People are bringers of good things and work is something to look forward to. He is riding in the ring beside show hunters and lesson ponies as quiet and relaxed and confident as can be with no fear or nervousness or anything other than perfect gentleman behavior. He can take time off and walk right back into the program ready to work with no nonsense and no funny business, no “forgetting himself” or starting over. The horse who was scared to death of humans now gravitates toward people even though he never receives treats by hand. He has a fan club of students and other horse owners who are constantly amazed at his charm and history and are regularly entertained with his seasonal color change. He's a huge ham. Absolutely no one can walk by him without stopping to regard him. In a barn with 96 head and a constant flow of public, Luke is the one everyone stops and admires and asks about. They pass up $30,000 warm bloods and show horses to ogle over the barely 14 hand mustang roan pony.
Even the farm crew, with all the livestock they deal with daily, have a soft spot for him. I taught a lesson on Luke for the first time recently and the senior member of our work force left his lunch hour to watch. When Luke jumped for the first time with a student aboard, one of my farm hands that speaks little English raised his arms to cheer! He calls Luke 'Moostang' and 'My Friend'.
I will certainly get another BLM mustang. I would love to have a lesson program full of mustangs. I think people in this area just don't know how nice mustangs can be because they don't have any examples in their world. Hopefully, Luke and I can change some of that starting this summer on the Chicago hunter circuit. Big plans, I know, but it never hurts to have big dreams. So far he hasn’t let me down.
By Erik Sutton, Mustang Adopter
We have 4 mustangs, all titled now. We adopted Nocona (black 5 year old gelding) and Brego (buckskin 4 year old gelding) in September 2005.
We adopted Katara (roan 1-1/2 year old filly) and Sokuna (black 1-1/2 year old filly) in August 2006.
They all have distinctive and different personalities that require handling them each differently. That is probably the single biggest lesson learned about them so far. Brego acts like a spoiled teenager and requires a heavy-handed discipline to keep him inline. Nocona on the other hand is mature and thoughtful and will actually challenge us if you use physical discipline. He requires patience and horse-psychology. Sokuna is a happy, high-energy mustang and requires constant attention when working with her. Opposite her is Katara, who is almost brooding and Eeyore-like making her a bit stubborn at times.
Brego is fully tackable and he takes to new things very quickly. He seems ticklish though and doesn’t enjoy touching as well as Nocona. He is a little scarier in the saddle, as we are just now testing him for that. I have sat on his back (shortly was dumped on my butt), and Londi, my wife, has ridden him cautiously bareback in the corral. He lets me work his hooves although tends to pull his feet away
sooner than I’d like due to his high-energy and lack of patience. He has gotten loose from us before, but never extremely spirited, nor hard to catch. Brego is a challenge sometimes, but is eager to please and learns extremely fast.
Nocona is almost fully tackable, but doesn’t like the saddle at all. He is very cautious and thoughtful when it comes to new things, but once he gets over something, he is awesome. I can touch him anywhere and ride him bareback. He lifts his hooves for me allowing me to do whatever I need without fuss. Nocona is also trustworthy enough to let roam around the yard un-tethered. We are using a snaffle bit with French link and they have taken to them easily, almost enjoying having them in their mouths. As soon as spring arrives, we will be able to step up the riding training.
They are all quite fuzzy now in their winter coats, but are happy. Often they buck around and get excited when we feed them. They get grass hay and alfalfa (2:1), and occasional sweet mix grain. They have all been healthy except for Sokuna who had a bout of colic late in October. I think she ate too many maple leaves when autumn set in. She is just fine now after a mineral oil treatment and watered down hay.
Eventually we hope to get more acreage and adopt some more the mustangs. They are a rewarding and challenging experience.
By Tiffany Graham and Don Winters
My name is Elizabeth and I own this wonderful little mustang colt now. He is a great horse; loving, caring, and very willing to please.
Here is Eclipse’s story as told by my friends.
My name is Tiffany Graham and I am going to tell you about a special little mustang named Eclipse. He came from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in February of 2005. He was a yearling and was brought down to Apache Junction, Arizona from Nevada with a large group of other mustangs in hopes of finding a good home. At the time, thirteen year old Beth Cesolini (Eclipse’ future owner), was unaware that her family and friends were secretly plotting to adopt a mustang for her birthday! Beth had always dreamed of having her very own horse--she never would have guessed what kind of adventure was awaiting her!
Our friends and co-conspirators went to the wild horse and burro adoption site where every color of horse you can imagine awaited patiently to be adopted. Three of us walked up and down the many different stalls looking for the perfect horse for Beth. After 'ohhhhhhing' and 'ahhhhhing' at all of the many different choices, we finally came across one that caught our attention. He was a yearling with a black coat and two white socks. He had a beautiful blaze going down his face and a thick mane and tail. It had been a very rainy February. The little colt had a long winter coat covered in mud from head to toe. He sure looked “a sight”, but still, he was perfect! Now with our minds made up, we put a bid on him. To our delight, no one else had noticed this little “mud ball” and before the hour was over he had a new home. After arriving home with our new guest, we all knew we had work to do. Beth's birthday party was exactly one week away.
My name is Don Winters and Tiffany asked me to help write a story about how Eclipse came along to be the young gentleman he is today. Eclipse spent his first week in my round corral. The corral was constructed of 4-pipe panels, 6 feet tall. The round pen was about 50 feet in diameter. I was not at home when Eclipse first arrived after being adopted. I understand that they backed the trailer up to the corral and disassembled one panel so that it would swing out. They attached a lead rope to Eclipse’ halter and opened the rear trailer door.
Besides being prepared for adoption by the BLM and transported to the adoption this was perhaps Eclipse’s first contact with humans. Understandably, his first instinct was to escape. I understand that he dragged Beth’s dad around the arena for a period of time. Our neighbor, Tiffany, and I were tasked with gentling this new wild mustang. Tiffany and I both have quite a bit of experience with riding and training young horses – but neither of us had ever worked with a wild horse. We decided to approach Eclipse’ training the same way we would with a domestic horse and see what happened. We were in for a big surprise, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
On the first day of Eclipse’ formal training, or introduction to the proper interaction with the human species, we were certainly not able to approach him. We began making movements towards his space to re-direct him around the round pen. Once he started circling, we stepped across the center of the arena so that we were (to him) magically ahead of his motion. This caused him to turn around and go the other way around the arena. We repeated these steps letting him circle at his speed and then stepping across, taking a short-cut, to get ahead of him. In the horse’s mind, this indicates to him that we are both faster than he is and that we can move him away from the herd by simply using our presence; things that their natural leaders would do.
After a period of time, this is strictly up to the horse, the horse will realize that no matter how fast he runs, the person who is directing him can always out-run him. Nothing bad has happened, he has not been injured, nor has not been intentionally scared. He began to associate these direction changes with the fact that this person is – wow – super fast – so he must be leadership material. Eclipse started to come more to the inside of the arena. His ears began to flick towards the human; his head began to come down showing that he was not as excited about the new “intruder” in his world. He would slow down and began to react more gently to the direction changes we presented to him. Once Eclipse started showing signs of acknowledging our presence, we took the pressure off, backing away from his space. He needed a little bit of time to know that paying attention was a good thing and to relax and digest the situation. Gradually, Eclipse learned that facing us would cause us to let up the pressure. We were able to get closer to this mustang before he felt his space was invaded or that we were a “threat” to him. Eclipse came around very quickly to this horse psychology lesson. By the end of our first session we could approach him and scratch his neck without him feeling threatened.
The second day’s session began in the same manner. Only this time it took a very short time before Eclipse acknowledged our presence and allowed us to walk up to him. On this day we clipped a long (about 25 feet) lead rope to his halter. With the lead rope, we asked Eclipse for changes of direction via “feel” rather than just pressuring his space. These are the first steps in acquainting a horse with things that he will encounter later in life, such as steering with reins. We asked him to turn in either direction by standing to the side and un-tracking his front feet with a steady pull. His first reaction was to try to “escape” from this new sensation by rearing and trying to head away from us. We calmly asked for a single step to the right or left until he realized that the halter pressure would release if he simply took a quiet step towards us. Eventually Eclipse was able to turn left, right, and take a step forward using light pressure. During this session we also took every opportunity to approach him, scratching his neck and venturing to other parts of his body; cheeks, sides, and withers. I do not think that we did much more than those areas on the second day – still apprehensive of handling a mustang perhaps.
The third day again began with a short partnering up session in the round pen; followed by more advanced lessons on the lead rope. We decided to let our hands venture to other parts of his body to see what would happen. This is where we were in for our biggest surprise. Once we could stroke his neck, he was OK with us touching him ANYWHERE. This is odd, because even many domestic horses have “issues” when their ears are touched, flanks, or hind legs. Eclipse was introduced to “our world”. He would allow us to put our fingers in his ears, to lift all four feet, to scratch and brush him anywhere. It’s almost like he was enjoying these sensations that he had never felt before.
On the fourth day we did a short round pen lesson, more lead rope work, and we introduced him to another item that is scary to many domestic horses; water and clippers. Eclipse had a long and shaggy coat, caked with mud. His mane was bushy and hanging on both sides. His tail was a rat’s nest of tangles. We introduced him to the water hose, spraying short spurts on his legs and then his body. Just like touching, Eclipse did not seem to mind this very much at all. Our attempts to wash the mud clots off of his belly were fruitless. We decided that we would try something else, the clippers. Once again he surprised us. I have never used clippers for so long and on so many body parts of a horse as we did with Eclipse. This mustang received a full body clipping on his fourth day with hardly any reaction at all. Now I began calling him “the wild man” in a teasing manner. It seemed unreal that this wild horse had changed from a fearful yearling mustang to a fully clipped young man who was pleasant to be around in only four days.
Beth’s birthday party was only two days away. We led Eclipse outside of the round pen, introducing him to the horse trailer again, but this time in a pleasant manner.
On Beth’s 13th birthday, we draped a flower garland around his neck, put him in his new halter, and presented him to Beth. He was a perfect gentleman and allowed Beth to hug him and lead him around like he’d been part of our herd forever. Beth was thrilled. This little mustang colt turned out to be the best horse we’ve ever trained. He came around so quickly we were amazed. Adopting a mustang is a challenge, but one well worth it.