U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Adoptions Place Mustangs in Good Homes
By Sarah Beckwith, BLM Public Affairs Specialist, Wind River/Bighorn Basin District
A New Beginning
Under an ominously cloudy sky, a 5 year old gray horse is ridden through a corral, past both curious onlookers, and serious bidders perched on bleacher seats. Scott Fluer breaks the rhythm of his auctioneer’s chant to offer some encouraging insight about this particular wild horse.
“Sky is anxious to please his trainer and needs an experienced rider. At his height, he’s perfect for the over-55 crowd. Don’t let him get away, folks!”
The crowd chuckles, Fluer returns to his speedy chant, and Jeannie Bolt of Ten Sleep raises her hand. Bolt is not yet part of the over-55 crowd but by the end of the day she has adopted Sky anyway, along with a brown saddle-started wild horse named Billy. The horses have been patiently “gentled” over the past few months by inmates of the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton, which uses the gentling of wild horses as a rehabilitation tool.
In 1988, the Honor Farm and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) worked out a cooperative agreement for the training and adoption of wild horses. The Honor Farm has found that this program plays a big part in inmate rehabilitation. Inmates and wild horses make positive strides together by learning to respect and trust each other. Inmates that are released after working in this program have a greater chance of success in the outside world.
In addition to the Honor Farm, the Mantle Wild Horse Adoption and Training Center (Mantle Ranch) in Wheatland also contracts with the BLM to gentle wild horses. As a result, BLM Wyoming and its contractors offer hundreds of wild horses, in various stages of training, for adoption into caring homes each year. And for those who desire a little more challenge, wild horses that are completely untrained may also be adopted from the Honor Farm, the Mantle Ranch and the short-term holding facilities in Rock Springs and Cañon City, Colo.
From Range to Ranch
The BLM manages and protects wild horses and burros under the authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (as amended by Congress in 1976, 1978, 1996, and 2004). This law authorizes the BLM to remove excess wild horses and burros from the range to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands.
It is estimated that there are currently more than 4,500 wild horses roaming public land in Wyoming. The BLM maintains and manages wild horses in herd management areas (HMAs) and establishes an appropriate management level (AML) for each HMA. The AML is the population objective for the HMA that will ensure a thriving ecological balance among all the users and resources of the HMA including wildlife, livestock, wild horses, vegetation, water and soil. Following the planned wild horse gathers throughout the state this fall, Wyoming will be well within the established AMLs.
Gathers were most recently conducted in Wyoming in 2009, including in the McCullough Peaks HMA near Cody and the Fifteenmile HMA near Worland. Many of the horses that were removed from the range during the gathers were taken to the short-term holding facilities and are available there for adoption. Some of the horses were taken to the Honor Farm and the Mantle Ranch for gentling and adoption.
In addition to an adoption of McCullough Peaks horses in April, both the Honor Farm and the Mantle Ranch have hosted adoptions this year. And there are more opportunities to come. Saddle-started and halter-started wild horses will be available for adoption at Wyoming Mustang Days at the Wyoming State Fair on August 21 in Douglas. For the first time ever, past adopters will be able to enter their wild horses in the Mustang Days horse show. The Honor Farm will host its second adoption of the year on August 28. Even if you are not in the market for a horse, it is fascinating to attend an adoption and witness how far these horses have come with their dedicated trainers.
Reaping the Rewards
Providing a home for a wild horse or burro is both a challenging and rewarding experience. Jeannie Bolt and her husband, Bill, now care for two living legends of the American West. Following an early, unsuccessful attempt to escape, Billy and Sky have now settled-in to their comfortable and scenic new home along Otter Creek, south of Ten Sleep.
Jeannie calls Billy and Sky over to say hello. They walk right over and she strokes Billy’s head. “They do whatever we ask them to,” she says. “They hesitate sometimes, but then they do it. I thought I’d have to work and work to gain their trust, but it’s there. They let me hang on their necks!”
Jeannie has always loved horses. Many years ago, a scary incident with a horse left her a little wary. She knew she needed a mellow horse to help her get back in the saddle. To assist with the transition from wild horses to riding horses, Billy and Sky stayed with a family in Ten Sleep for a few weeks, where an energetic young man was able to ride the horses every day to further the training they received at the Honor Farm.
The Bolts can’t say enough about the BLM/Honor Farm program. “The entire day [at the adoption], the Honor Farm inmates were very polite, courteous and nice to talk to,” said Bill.
“I can’t think of a better way to rehabilitate someone than with an animal,” added Jeannie.
Even the auctioneer is sold on wild horses. Scott Fluer, who is also a BLM Wild Horse Specialist in the Lander Field Office, has adopted six wild horses over the years. He and his family use them for trail-riding, hunting excursions and to move cattle. In fact, Fluer says he takes only his wild horses when he goes hunting, even though he also has five domestic horses. “It’s part of their training. They have to learn to rely on me for their food and water,” he says. “And it’s also a bonding experience. It builds trust and respect between us. They know me, they know my voice. There has to be that bond between a horse and his rider.”
The whole family has grown attached to their adopted horses over the years. Fluer’s oldest daughter did a great deal of the training when they adopted a weanling named Cisco nine years ago. He was so well-trained she was able to ride him in horse competitions around the state. “A rancher at one of the competitions couldn’t believe my daughter was riding a mustang,” Fluer says. “He was so impressed with the way the horse moved and responded to her that he said he wished he had six or seven horses like Cisco.”
A younger daughter trail rides with one of the other wild horses. It’s such a gentle horse that the family uses it as a “lesson horse”—a horse they use when teaching friends how to ride. And just the other weekend, Fluer’s young son decided that the perfect thing to do that day would be to ride one of the wild horses to a lake to go fishing.
The experiences of these families speak volumes about the temperament and trainability of wild horses, if given the attention, commitment and patience they need. They have a challenging road to travel: from living free and wild on the range to relying on people for their needs. But it can be a rewarding journey for both horse and human.
Back at Otter Creek, Jeannie peers out of the window of her office. Billy and Sky munch contentedly under a rainbow that has appeared following a late-afternoon shower. “You know how some people like to garden?” she asks. “This is my therapy.”
For more information, please contact Sarah Beckwith at 307-347-5100 or visit BLM Wyoming’s wild horse webpage at:
|Last updated: 08-17-2010|
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