By Mary Jo Zanolli
Mustangs are a large part of American Old West culture, sharing the same pages in history as “Cowboys and Indians”. For the knowledgeable horse person, adopting and training a mustang can be both a rewarding experience and an exciting link to the past. With the help of the Bureau of Land Management, potential adopters can begin the search for their own perfect mustang.
The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for managing wild horses on areas considered public rangelands. These public rangeland areas include the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. BLM determines the number of horses each land area can support, with the goal of maintaining herd health and preventing overgrazing of land. Excess horses are rounded up and then offered to qualified adoption applicants. Potential adopters must fill out an adoption application and meet certain requirements. Requirements include being able to show that the horse will be properly fed and certain stabling criteria will be met. Adoption fees average about $185 per horse. Adoptable mustangs are available for viewing online, at designated public adoption areas, and at public auctions. After adoption, the mustang remains property of the federal government for one year. At the end of the first year, title of ownership is transferred to the adopter if the horse is found to be in good condition by a BLM approved veterinarian or humane official.
Domestic horses begin to form relationships with people from birth. The wild horse, however, is not at all familiar with people, and it takes a long time to establish a trusting bond. It is recommended that the potential mustang owner thoroughly research the training differences in domestic horses and wild horses. There are horse trainers that specialize in training wild horses. These trainers are available for lessons or clinics on training a mustang through Gentle Horsemanship Techniques. With patient and kind training, mustangs can be wonderful show or pleasure prospects in just about any riding discipline.
Eva Beerman from East Ashford bought a mustang from a University of Connecticut wild horse and burro auction. Eva’s mustang Lauri is believed to be from a herd of wild horses that lived outside Carson City, Nevada. Eva says, “The hardest thing about having a mustang is to realize that they are wild. Luckily, I have other horses and I thought they would be better at training Lauri than me. After about two months, I turned him out with my Icelandic horses and an older Quarter horse cross. They disciplined him when he needed it and played with him too. Mustangs are very smart and I think he realized that I was boss of the horses that pushed him around and that I treated him better than his herd members. So he would come to me for pets and treats and protection if one or another horse was chasing him for some offense that he had incurred. I was the good guy, but also boss of everyone”. Eva’s long-term goals for Lauri are to train him both as a dressage and a trail horse. “I want to show that some of the mustangs that we have for adoption can be very talented and beautiful if given the right feed and upbringing and training”, says Eva.
Gaining the trust and respect of a wild horse takes time, but the relationship that develops between horse and handler is like no other. Eva advises potential mustang owners “to appreciate what they have in a mustang- a part of nature that is not tamed yet. Lauri has added a lot of life and spark to our horse farm and I am very proud of him and how he is turning out”.
For more information on the BLM Mustang Program and training mustangs, visit: