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Excitement was in the air in late February, as members representing five southern Idaho 4-H clubs gathered outside of Boise. These 4-H clubs focus on equestrian skills, and this day was one many had underlined on their calendars. It was the weanling pickup day!
The crowd had traveled to the BLM Boise Wild Horse corrals to attend the annual University of Idaho 4-H Club wild horse weanling pickup event. Each spring since 2009, 4-H club members have partnered with the BLM to select and take home weanlings (wild horses which are 6-11 months old), so they can begin the process of gentling and training the horses—a key step in the horses’ eventual adoption.
Members from the 4-H clubs carefully observed the group of 14 weanlings. The young horses had been gathered from Idaho’s Owyhee desert following last summer’s massive Soda Fire. After watching the weanlings and taking detailed notes, the club members quickly huddled to rank their top five young horses. Clubs then drew numbers to see which got first choice of the weanlings. One by one, the clubs made their selections, then loaded the lucky young horses into trailers and headed home.
Over the next two months, the 4-H club members will instill a basic handling foundation in these young horses by training them to lead, to pick up their feet, and to load and unload from a horse trailer. “These horses learn really fast!” enthused Donald Shaw, a 15-year-old member of the Bridle Brats 4-H club from Twin Falls. This will be Don’s second year of gentling and training a weanling. 4-H kids typically work with the young horses every day, and the transformation that the weanlings undergo in just two months is remarkable.
When the two-month gentling and training period is over, the clubs will bring the weanlings back to Boise for an event called the Trail Challenge. That’s where the work that went into the weanlings will pay off.
The weanling training program is a unique partnership between the BLM and the University of Idaho 4-H Extension Program. The 4-H clubs gain horsemanship experience and are able to add value to these young horses by gentling them and getting them used to being handled, which tends to benefit future adopters. Following a competitive bid adoption, the 4-H clubs get to keep the proceeds above BLM’s adoption fee of $25.
Since the partnership began in 2009, over 300 wild horses have been adopted into good homes, over 500 4-H members have developed wild horse handling skills and more than $43,000 has been raised for Idaho 4-H Clubs!
View more photos on BLMIdaho Flickr.