News.bytes News.bytes Extra, issue 233

Mustang M.A.G.I.C.

As a teenager, Carrie Anderson, like many girls her age, found that a horse had a key to her heart.

Today, the San Joaquin Valley resident is showing that wild horses, “America's Living Legends,” can be the keys to changing lifestyles for young people whose behavior might be pointing them toward a life of turmoil.

With a business partner and cadre of volunteers, Anderson runs Mustang M.A.G.I.C. (Molding Adolescents' Growth by Initiating Change), a 6-year-old organization that uses horse training as a way to reach teens that schools and courts often label as “at risk.”

Students in the Mustang M.A.G.I.C program lead their mustangs across a grassy pasture in the San Joaquin Valley:
Students in the Mustang M.A.G.I.C program lead their mustangs across a grassy pasture in the San Joaquin Valley

Anderson and business partner Mickey Evans see their students as young people who need challenge and direction. And they see mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management Adopt-a-Horse-or-Burro Program as the ideal catalyst for change.

Recognizing the potential to “link an important piece of America's past (mustangs) with an important part of America's future (teens)”, Anderson founded Mustang M.A.G.I.C. in 2001. The idea came to her after she adopted, gentled and trained a BLM mustang she calls TexAnna.

“The connection I made with that horse as I tamed and trained her was a moving experience,” she says. “I bonded with that horse. It occurred to me that by pairing teens with mustangs we could develop bonds and feelings of trust that many of these young people had never experienced. I felt that we could instill a sense of responsibility that many had been missing in their lives.

“People mistakenly see mustangs as ‘wild or troubled,' and they sometimes see these teens in the same light,” Anderson continues. “We feel our students, like the mustangs, are not ‘wild, troubled or unmanageable. They need to learn to trust and understand how their attitudes and actions affect their daily lives. That understanding can lead to positive change.”

Today, 12 mustangs are involved in the program, paired with teens referred by schools, courts, foster family agencies and parents.

Working on a horse ranch owned by Anderson and her husband, Bob, the students begin the program by first learning about horse safety, and then about horse care “from the hoof up,” according to Anderson. They are responsible for the animals' daily feeding, watering and first aid needs. They learn to communicate with the animals and with one another. They learn to ride and develop their equestrian skills.

“We add team building and journal writing to the mix, and soon the kids find they are not only learning about horses, they are learning about themselves and the results of positive attitudes and actions,” Anderson says.

Professionals in schools, child care services and the BLM are taking notice. Mustang M.A.G.I.C. has forged school partnerships that include independent study and alternate day school programs. More partnerships are in the works. Young people sentenced by the court to community service hours are spending time at Mustang M.A.G.I.C. and benefiting from the training.

Students often join Anderson and her volunteers at community events including horse shows.

The BLM Adopt-a-Horse-or-Burro program is benefiting as well, as Anderson, Evans and others often attend adoption events, bringing their trained adopted mustangs to show prospective adopters the potential of these animals.

“Mustang M.A.G.I.C. volunteers demonstrated to the BLM that volunteers could take un-adopted animals from a BLM adoption event, gentle them, and then return them for adoption at a subsequent event,” said Tom Pogacnik, manager of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program. “Other volunteers now help us routinely by performing these gentling services.”

“The rewards have been remarkable for us, the animals, and especially for the kids,” Anderson says. “From the first day of learning safety, to their first ride on a formerly wild mustang, they have learned that a calm voice, a gentle hand, a deep breath and a positive attitude are beneficial in any situation. They are lessons that these kids can take through their lives, and mustangs have been a key part of it.”

The program is always looking for volunteers who love to help kids and horses. Information is available at http://mustangmagic.org/.

Mustang M.A.G.I.C. founder Carrie Anderson, foreground, rides "Magic," as partner Mickey Evans follows aboard "Lucky." Anderson and Evans demonstrated the horses' abilities during the recent BLM wild horse and burro adoption event in Oakdale.
Mustang M.A.G.I.C. founder Carrie Anderson, foreground, rides "Magic," as partner Mickey Evans follows aboard "Lucky."

- May, 2006

BLM California News.bytes, issue 233