Inmate and wild horse at the Honor Farm in Riverton, Wyoming.
Wild horses have been patiently “gentled” over the past few months by inmates of the Honor Farm in Riverton, Wyoming, using the gentling of wild horses as a rehabilitation tool. (BLM)

Adoptions Place Mustangs in Good Homes

By Sarah Beckwith

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, Wyoming, 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 called Billy by his trainer.  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 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.  Trainers and wild horses make positive strides together by learning to respect and trust each other.  Trainers learn that through communication, patience, and respect, even a wild animal will respond positively.  Inmates who are released after working in this program have a greater chance of success in the outside world.

In addition to the Honor Farm, the BLM contracts with correctional facilities in Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, and Utah to gentle wild horses.  As a result, hundreds of wild horses, in various stages of training, are offered for adoption into caring homes each year.

Providing a home for a wild horse or burro is both a challenging and rewarding experience.  Jeannie Bolt now cares for two living legends of the American West.  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!”

Even the auctioneer is sold on wild horses.  Scott Fluer, who is also a BLM wild horse specialist in Wyoming’s Lander Field Office, has adopted six wild horses over the years.  He and his family use them for trail riding, hunting excursions, and moving 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 entire Fluer family has grown attached to their adopted horses.  Fluer’s oldest daughter did a great deal of the training when they adopted a weanling named Cisco 9 years ago.  He was so well-trained that she rode him in horse competitions around the state.  A younger daughter rides trails 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.

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.”

Sarah Beckwith is a BLM public affairs specialist in the Wind River/Bighorn Basin District in Wyoming.