Wild Horse Adopter Stories Oregon/Washington BLM



Wild Horse Adopter Stories

by Sarah Watson

Sarah Watson and her horse, Chance

I knew Chance was special right from the start. She was friendly, confident, and eager to learn. It was like Chance wanted to be a domestic horse. Chance was a fast learner and I was able to teach her so many things so soon! The first time I ever showed Chance was after I had only had her for about three weeks, at the Benton County 4-H horse pre-fair. We won blue ribbons in both of the classes I showed her in. Chance was wonderful in the show ring and people were amazed that she had been wild only three weeks before. A month later it was time for the Benton County 4-H Horse Fair, and it was even better than pre-fair! Chance and I won medallions in both of the classes that we showed in. That means that we had a score of 90 points or above. This also means that Chance and I had qualified for State Fair. I was so excited. Showing at State Fair is a big deal and taking a horse who had been wild only two months before was even better!

A couple of weeks after County Fair I took Chance to a trail course challenge and showed her in the in-hand 2 and under category. It was the most challenging trail course I had ever taken her through, but she did extremely well. She really trusted me and followed me calmly through all the obstacles. We won first place in our division. I couldn't believe how far Chance had come, or how smart and willing she was. She would do anything for me! Then came State Fair, the biggest competition I had ever shown Chance in, and she was just about perfect. She was calm, well behaved, and did everything I asked without the slightest hesitation. I was so proud of Chance and when they announced the medallion winners they called my name! Chance and I won the State Fair intermediate ground training medallion! I couldn't believe it! Out of all the kids in the state of Oregon that showed in ground training Chance and I won the medallion! Like I said, Chance was special right from the start. She proved to me and many others that mustangs can be much more than just trail horses. If they're trained right they can do anything.


El Rojo Grande
by Aaron Moore

Recently I bought an 11 year old, trained mustang to ride for enjoyment and on the trails for medical therapy and conditioning for my Cystic Fibrosis.

I had a double lung transplant on Thanksgiving Day of 2000. At the time of my transplant, I was in ICU for 6 months as a result of complications with the transplant. I was told that other organs in me wanted to shut down from the trauma related to such a large surgery.

Prior to that, I have had 43 surgeries with 4 of them being life threatening, emergency need surgeries due to my Cystic Fibrosis. I have also participated in many different medical studies for new drugs and treatments for people with C.F.

In July of this past year, I lost my beautiful wife of 12 years to pancreatic cancer. My wife spent the entire year of 2005 in a chair next to me at Providence Hood River Hospital. She was doing chemo therapy while I spent most of that same year doing IV therapy for several different infections of my own. I think we were the only married couple on the planet who were both doing infusion therapy at the same time and in the same place! In July of 2005, my wife JeNiene passed away from her illness.

A nurse, currently working at Providence who is an extremely great friend and a member of Back Country Horseman Washington (BCHW), took me on a horse ride up Buck Creek Trail in the Northwest Lake area. We rode the trail about one hour that day and it was the most important "time out" day that I'd had in about 5 years! I was able to forget EVERYTHING!

The very next day after that ride I made a commitment to myself that I was going to find and buy a horse on my own! Almost everyone that I knew thought I was out of my mind. The nurses at the hospital, including my own doctor, really thought I had lost my mind and that it was the last thing on the planet that I should do!

I looked at a lot of horses and after awhile I could not remember one from the other. Finally, one night I was looking at Dreamhorse Classifieds and saw an 11 year old mustang for sale. A photo showed the horse with his owner sitting on him, who looked exactly like I did, and I said THAT's my horse! I called the owner several times and bought EL ROJO GRANDE a couple of weeks later. The rest is history.

On March 25 I joined BCHW and went on the first season opener ride at Glenwood, Washington to Outlook Falls. What a ride! The people and the ride were exactly as a dream come true for me! I had the most fun that I've had in my entire life!

With my transplant issues and Cystic Fibrosis, it was a very unsure future for me on a horse. Based on all of the opinions, it was especially true for a somewhat stubborn rider on a mustang. They said I couldn't do it!

Horse riding has done for my pain issues what no other pain medicine was doing for me. I have managed to lower my pain drugs by about 40 percent and most of the lower back pain I have had for many years is gone. Last week I wanted to go over to the hospital and tell all of my ill friends to go find a horse AND RIDE!

While there have been extreme advances in the medical field, which is why I am here and very much alive, there are still many thing's that doctors, drugs and technology cannot help people with. The thing I found out this month is that animals, specifically my horse El Rojo Grande, can fill that gap. AND IN A BIG WAY!

I look forward to this summer with the BCHW and all the great times ahead. Trail clearing and the camaraderie of other horse lovers is something that everybody should have the opportunity to enjoy. I feel very fortunate to get out of bed every day that I do and now especially with the BCHW fulfilling a long time dream of mine!

Adopt a Horse and Burro Program Volunteers
by Tom Moore and Vonnie Halvorson

When asked how we became involved in the Adopt-A-Horse and Burro Program, we reflect back over the past 12 years. Our journey began one winter day in early 1991 while on a skiing vacation in Montana. We were doing a little window shopping in the local town when a poster in a store window caught my eye. It said, "Adopt a Living Legend. Preserve a part of American Heritage and History."

I found myself reading the poster top to bottom, then turned to my husband and said, "Look, honey, there are still will horses in the United States." You see, being from Washington State and having no federally protected wild horse herds in our state, I had no idea other states did have them. He gave me one of those "You're having one of your blonde moments" looks as I proceeded to write down the phone number to obtain more information. I decided right then and there we needed to preserve a part of this American Heritage. We, at the time, had several domestic horses.

In October of 1991, after corral assembly, application submission and research into the Adopt-A-Horse Program, we made our first trek to Burns, Oregon to find our Living Legend. We were thrilled to adopt our first wild horse. This was the day our real journey into the world of these remarkable horses began. My husband still says that he was our toughest one ever to gentle. Me? I say he was our first wild horse to ever gentle-How tough can a 4 month old weanling really be?

The next thing we needed to do was find a name worthy of him. We read and researched everything from Indian names to Oregon landmarks. Finally, we decided on Chewaucan after the river which flowed through his Paisley Desert Herd Management Area. Today, Chewaucan or Chewie as he is known around here, at 12 years of age, is our main ambassador. He gives children of all ages rides. He shows great care with beginner riders. He will lower his head for folks to pet him and gaze into his all knowing eyes. He has changed a lot of people's opinions about mustangs and the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program, too many to even count.

We are currently home to 19 mustangs and 2 burros. We have had the privilege to work with many other horses and the dedicated people that love and care for them. We have attempted over the years to adopt from different herds in several states as they are all different in shape, size, color and personality, just like families. There are big ones, little ones, bright colored ones, dark colored ones, loving ones, crabby ones – anything anyone could ever ask for.

Becoming involved with the Adopt-A-Horse and Burro Program was just a natural progression of time and events, as we became more confident with gentling the horses and burros as well as acquiring our own special herd. We found we were promoting the adoption program locally by going to local fairs and horse events and talking about the adoption program. We enjoy talking with other adopters and prospective adopters, especially about the benefits of owning a mustang or burro. Since progressing from domestic horses to mustangs, we found we utilized the vet less as they were much healthier horses. Our feed bill changed, needing less "special supplements" and staying with the basics since these horses are much easier keepers.

We continue to attend adoptions and assist in our Northwest area as well as visit adoption events in adjoining states. Please feel free to stop us and talk. We love talking about these horses as we consider them our partners and friends in this life. We thank them for their loyalty, trust and love in some of our darkest as well as brightest times.

Tom and Vonnie have been a great asset to the wild horse adoption program and to the BLM staff in both Oregon and Washington. They have done everything from adopt to rescue to volunteer with BLM. Their help before, during and after adoption events has been invaluable. They have shared their love of the wild horses and burros by encouraging prospective adopters, helping new adopters, rescuing animals, assisting BLM staff at adoption events, and hauling animals home for new adopters.

OR/WA BLM Wild Horse and Burro Staff say: THANK YOU TOM AND VONNIE !

A Walk on the Wild (Mustang) Side Proves Educational
by Karen S Blackwood

I recently acquired my first horse, the fulfillment of 38 years of hopes and dreams and wishes. Ahh, you say, a nice dead-broke beginner's horse, the kind novices should buy. Nope—I opted for a mustang. A wild, unbroken, unhandled mustang. Thus began The Mustang Lessons.

The Bureau of Land Management offers horses gathered from the wild for adoption. Last October, I adopted a 4-month-old black weanling mustang colt from the deserts of southeastern Oregon. Friends offered to haul him. After an eight-hour drive, we arrived at the pen, opened the trailer door… and he just stood there, staring out, afraid to move.

Now, one would think that a 300 pound colt should not be a problem for three adults. However, we learned Lesson No. 1: Wild horses are afraid, and they don't know how to lead, particularly out of trailers. They can't be coaxed or encouraged. We squeezed in behind him, trying to avoid flying hooves, and flushed him out.

That led to Lesson No. 2: Wild horses, even tiny colts, kick when afraid and grow to about 10 feet tall. My weanling colt was suddenly a Budweiser draft horse with Percheron sized feet. With one last kick, he dashed out of the trailer, ran into the stall and hid. I began to wonder what I'd gotten myself into and went home for the night.

Early the next morning, I arrived at the barn, wondering how my colt had survived his first night alone. I found him standing in the stall corner, afraid to come out. Thankfully, he had shrunk back down to the size of a Labrador Retriever. I sat outside the gate and watched him, afraid to go in. I wasn't sure what he'd do. Attack me? Sneak up, then whirl and kick me? Rear? Stomp me to pieces? I really had no idea of what to expect, since this was my first horse. He stood and watched me, probably wondering the same thing, since I was his first human.

After a few hours of nervously staring at each other, he took a step towards me. I put some alfalfa near the gate. Pretty soon he was munching within arm's reach, so I reached out…and he dashed away, tail clamped between his legs, scared to death. Lesson No. 3: Food helps, but move more slowly than you ever imagined around a wild horse.

Hours later we were back to arm's length, warily watching each other. I s-l-o-w-l-y put my hand out, waiting to snatch it back if he attacked. He snorted, stretched out his neck as long as he could without getting closer to me, then touched my fingers with his nose. We both jumped, but a few minutes later we did it again. Eventually, he began to eat alfalfa out of my hand and allowed me to touch his nose while he was eating. I was thrilled. Lesson No. 4: There is nothing as soft as the nose of a wild horse who has begun to trust you.

The following day, I remembered the food trick and tried it again. He obviously remembered it too. I had picked a pretty smart colt! I was able to pet his face, then his neck while he ate. Once he realized that I could find all the itchy spots, he began to relax and enjoy my new role as surrogate scratcher. Soon I could touch him all over. Lesson No. 5: This is not your horse; you are his servant. It's sort of like a having a very large cat. Get used to it.

A few days later, I brought my dog along and introduced them through the fence. Lesson No. 6 was instantaneous. Wild horses aren't afraid of things such as paper bags or electric clippers because their mothers don't teach them about such things, but they are terrified of coyotes. Dogs are just coyotes in costume to a wild horse.

One day, I offered him a carrot. My colt, who was beginning to look like a Ranger to me, sniffed it and turned away. Guess what? Wild horse don't know what treats are! In fact, they won't normally eat anything that they haven't seen another horse eat. I took a bite of the carrot, pretended to chew on it, then put it in my hand. Ranger watched, then sniffed my hand. I took another bite and offered it to him. He carefully picked the piece of carrot from my palm and ate it. Lesson No. 7 had an awesome magnitude: Once a wild horse trusts you, he believes you will not make decisions that will endanger his health and safety.

Within a few days of our first touch, Ranger was allowing me to pick up all four feet. Since I was grooming him, I figured this was the natural progression of things. A short time later, an amazed, experienced horse person said, “What? You can pick up his feet? All four? I can't touch my colt's feet without being kicked! And mine's domestic!” Lesson No 8 became clear: Your horse will live up or down to your expectations.

I began talking to people about Ranger. Most were amazed that I had opted to adopt a mustang as a first horse. Most people's first mount is a dead-broke lesson horse. If that's not your dream, then perhaps you shouldn't get him. The horse that always galloped through my mind was a mixture of The Black, Flicka and Misty of Chincateague, not a nice, quiet mount. “Oh, I could never do that,” people say. Yes, you could, if you wanted—because I did. Lesson No. 9 is simple: Follow your dreams, no matter how outrageous or ludicrous.

And Lesson No. 10? Hey, relax Ranger is only a year old. I'm sure he's got plenty of lessons to teach me as we continue our journey through life together. I'm just thrilled to be able to say, “My first horse is a mustang!"

Wild Horses in the Back Country of Wyoming

Jack Hatch is an employee of the United States Forest Service. He is stationed at Black Rock Ranger Station on the 800,000-acre Bridger-Teton National Forest located near Moran, Wyoming. He was at the Bureau of Land Management, Burns Wild Horse Corrals recently to select six more mustangs for use on the National Forest. He told us he prefers wild horses for the demanding work of maintaining the Forest's many miles of wilderness trails. While he was here, we had the opportunity to visit with him about his thoughts on using wild horses.

As the stock manager Hatch is responsible for training the wild mustangs that are used by the crew of wilderness rangers and trail crews who work in the 600,000-acre wilderness area of the Forest. The crew spends 6 months of the year clearing wilderness trails, building trail bridges, and skidding fallen trees from trails, creeks, and river drainages.

Hatch has been training wild horses for the Forest Service for 12 years. He has trained more than 30 wild horses for pulling, packing, and riding. He has worked with both domestic and wild horses. He prefers the wild horses for their superior stamina and ability to get around in the rough country. "They are sensible horses with balanced minds. Unlike domestic horses, they have a sense of self preservation and won't get themselves in a jam when picketed or hobbled." He likes their ability to remain calm no matter what type of work he asks them to perform.

He says he has never had one colic and they have virtually no feet or leg problems. "We are phasing out our domestic horses for the wild horses. Our employees prefer using the wild horses over our domestic horses. The wild horses are also easy keepers. Our horses are pastured out all but several weeks of the year. The mustangs will come in off the winter pasture 100 pounds overweight while the domestic horses will come in 100 pounds underweight."

In their program Hatch says they have time but lack funds. The wild horses provide the least cost for the best results. "We have the time to put into training an ungentled horse. When we get done, we know we have an excellent using horse. With the domestic horses, we usually are buying someone else's problem. They take a lot more time to get to the point we can use them in our program."

Jack views the horses as their tools for the wilderness work they do. They do not own any 4-wheelers. They prefer horses to get to their project sites and to travel around the cattle allotments in the wilderness area. He has worked with Oregon's wild horses and prefers them because of their size, conformation, and good minds. He currently has horses from Coyote Lakes, Warm Springs, Sheepshead, and Paisley Herd Management Areas.

Jack believes in keeping things natural when training horses. He uses body language rather than any kind of physical restraints. He begins with a halter and a 30-foot lead rope. He uses a 60-foot round pen that has sand for good footing, which he believes is essential for his training procedure.

After he has taught the horse to respond to body language, i.e., to come, back, turn toward and turn away from him, Jack progresses on with the saddle blanket, saddle, and eventually the bridle. As a part of his training, he teaches the horses to "log" or drag a heavy weight from a rope tied to the saddle horn. All of their saddle horses must be able to drag trees from the wilderness trails.

He believes there is a need to maintain a balance between trust and respect when working with the wild horses. "You want them to trust you, but you don't want them so overly petted that they walk all over you."

Training the horses is just the first step in using them on the wilderness crews. The second and sometimes more difficult step is to teach horsemanship skills to the new summer employees who join the crew. He says he tries to match the horse to the employee, putting a seasoned horse with an inexperienced employee.

Outfitters that are out on the trails always comment on the size, quality, and ability of the horses that the wilderness rangers use. "They can't believe they are wild mustangs from Oregon," Hatch says with a smile.

Recently, Hatch placed second out of a class of 30 in an Open Reining class in Jackson, Wyoming. Although the class was for horses 5 and over, Jack entered his 4-year-old mustang. After the class, several of the competitors, including the winner, were sitting on their horses talking to some spectators. Jack said the class winner was boldly telling bout his $10,000 "Peppy San bred" horse and turned to Jack to ask him about the breeding on his horse. Jack replied, "This is a $125 wild mustang from Oregon." Needless to say, he got to tell the spectators more about his inexpensive mustang.

Hatch recommends that anyone wanting to adopt a wild horse have adequate training facilities. It makes the process much easier and the progress much faster when you have adequate facilities, which he believes should include a chute, a round pen, and a larger riding area or arena.

Jack Hatch believes that other government agencies, like the Forest Service, as well as private individuals can benefit from the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM's) good management of wild horses on the range. He says Oregon's BLM has managed for horses that people like and want.

Big Bear Paw

From a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse to an outriders pony at Portland Meadows Race Track, Big Bear Paw has lead a very active life with the McCormick family. Adopted by the McCormicks more than 21 years ago, this 22-year-old gelding has been an important part of the lives of four generations of McCormicks.

Big Bear Paw is named for markings in his Appaloosa blanket that are in the shape of a bear's paw. Bear was gathered from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area (HMA) near Burns, Oregon, and was adopted as an 18-month-old colt.

Jackie McCormick is very proud of her BLM horse and loves to tell stories about him. She seems almost proud of the fact that "he was skin and bones and had ticks all over him" when her husband Darrell adopted him. She said it took almost 6 months just to get him to eat grain out of their hand. Through their patience and dedication they made a life changing difference in a mustang that has become one of their greatest pride and joys.

Big Bear Paw was taken to the race track for the first time in 1985 and soon learned to be a pony horse for the races. Bear loves the excitement, the horses, and the people at the track. Once, while stabled at home for the summer, he escaped and was found heading to the nearby dog racing track where he could hear the announcer calling the races over the loud speakers. Summer with the grandkids was lacking in excitement so he was heading to the races!

Bear has a long list of skills and accomplishments. He was shown for 10 years in both English and Western riding class as well as halter classes. As a registered Appaloosa, Bear has been shown at Appaloosa shows as well as 4-H horse shows. He was ridden in several Portland Rose Parades, winning a first and a second place award.

Beth McCormick reigned as princess of the Fire Mountain Appaloosa Club riding Bear. He has worked as a security horse for concerts, an outrider horse for chariot races, a turnback horse at cuttings, and as a pony horse at several race tracks. In his spare time, Bear loves to swim in the nearby pond with the grandkids and babysit the colts and orphan foals at the McCormick ranch.

The former wild mustang had the honor of carrying Jim Bosley ("The Boz" from Portland's Channel 2 News) off into the sunset at his retirement party. One of Bear's greatest honors was to carry the colors in the 1993 Crooked River Round Up Memorial Day Parade for the Prineville BLM firefighters who lost their lives while fighting a range fire in Colorado.

On April 29, 2001, Bear was officially retired from his 16 years of service at the race track with a ceremony and a race ran in his honor featuring the Big Bear Paw Retirement Purse. Keeping in line with his very active life, Bear ponied race horses for three of the races that day. Dean Bolstad, Wild Horse Management Specialist with the BLM in Burns, Oregon, was on hand to perform the official unsaddling of Bear after his last race as a pony horse.

"The pride of ownership which the McCormicks displayed for their 'wild mustang' and the notoriety the Appaloosa has gained at the race track was a joy and an honor for me to be a part of" commented Bolstad. "Big Bear Paw, the Appaloosa mustang from Warm Springs HMA, is an excellent example of what the BLM's Wild Horse Adoption Program is all about. The desire long ago to take on a challenge and a new adventure has certainly turned out to be a win-win situation for the horse and all of the McCormicks. Just ask 9-year-old grandson Ethan who will inherit Bear and help him enjoy his retirement at the McCormick Ranch.