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More Mustang Madness

By Cindy Hale

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

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American MustangIt’s no secret that I have a high level of frustration with the entire American mustang issue. Or perhaps, more precisely, I have an issue with the way the BLM has handled our country’s herds of feral horses. Now I’m at the point where I’m not sure whether I should finally be rejoicing or simply continue banging my head atop my desk.

You see, the BLM has finally decided it wants to get out of the business of riding herd on our mustangs. With adoption rates pitifully low, and federal budgets desperately in need of trimming, the BLM has decided to hand over the mustangs’ oversight to a third party. Who that will be remains to be seen. Meanwhile, a team of equine experts are convening to come up with workable scenarios that will, once and for all, humanely and wisely manage the mustangs. That report isn’t due until a year or so, but at least it’s a start.

What bothers me the most about all this?

Let’s start with the fact that only now is the BLM waking up to the fact that perhaps better birth control practices need to be instituted in the free-roaming herds. Like, duh.

But for years I’ve also cringed at how the BLM allows pretty much anyone to adopt a mustang. The occasional stories you hear about mustangs ending up at slaughterhouses aside, I find it disconcerting that $125 and a corral gets you a wild horse. Trust me; I’ve attended numerous mustang adoptions solely for the purposes of observation. To be certain, there are always a handful of savvy horse folks who have decided that training a mustang is a challenge and honor they want in their lives. Kudos to them. But sadly there are far too many folks smitten with the romantic notion of taming the Wild Thing through love and sugar cubes. Though they can barely sit a horse, let alone teach one to longe, wear a saddle and yield to bit pressure, they have it in their heads that they can gentle, break and ride a mustang. Of course, that plan loses its appeal the first time the rodeo starts.

Yes, I know there are some DVDs available on how to gentle and start a mustang but let’s be honest. If you have to rely on a DVD for instruction on the basics of handling a wild horse, should you really be getting a wild horse?

Too often the sad result is that, several years later, the mustang is languishing in a pipe corral, cast off because it’s proven to be more of a project than expected. In fact, not a month ago one of my acquaintances in town called to find out where she could refer one of her barn buddies who’d adopted a mustang mare several years ago. She explained, “It will go along fine for a few months and then decide to dump someone.” The disgruntled mare had already been given away several times, only to unload its new human, thereby sending it back to whence it came. Now the original adopter just wanted to be rid of the darned thing.

The one bright light in the mustang debacle, as far as I can determine, is the Mustang Heritage Foundation. They present the various Mustang Makeover events. The group also offers a trainer’s incentive program that funds several months of professional handling and care to get a mustang gentled, the idea being that the horse will then be more appealing to potential adopters.

But on the flip side are a lot of our country’s cattle ranchers. While people like me are fretting about finding proper homes for mustangs, the majority of cattle ranchers just want them to go someplace, anyplace, that’s away from federal grazing lands. Their market beef are competing for sparse forage with the mustangs, which they see as mere pests.

Ultimately, I am a realist. I accept that there are too many mustangs, with the grand irony being that more mustangs are being held captive in corrals and pastures by the BLM than running free in the wild. Plus, it’s hard to justify paying nearly $40 million a year to manage mustangs. But this manmade mess is not the animals’ fault. Better herd management practices could’ve prevented a burgeoning population and conscientious culling of poorly conformed individuals would’ve produced herds with more consistent size, eye appeal and athletic potential.

Fortunately, I am also an optimist. I’m clinging to hope that in another year (or so) we’ll have some reasonable recommendations from this panel of experts and the BLM can pass the mustangs’ destiny to another entity. Then maybe future generations can have the experience I once had, many years ago with my father. We stood at the side of a dusty road in Nevada, just outside a crumbling Wild West ghost town. We felt the earth tremble. Then, like a mirage, a band of mustangs suddenly appeared and galloped past us. I remember several sorrels, a bay, and a speckled gray with a silver mane and tail. Their heads were high, their nostrils flared, as they charged through the sagebrush like earthbound spirits. Somehow, such ethereal creatures must be preserved, protected and treasured.

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Reader Comments

Anna Blake    I love Mustangs!, HI

7/4/2012 12:28:37 PM

Hi That Girl that was taught patience by her horse!
I agree with you! I love Mustangs and I want to adopt one as soon as I'm able to! keep on!

Pat    Great Falls, MT

12/14/2011 2:01:34 PM

It would be benificial to all if the Mustang Heritage Foundation took over the task of managing the Mustangs.

Allyson    Orange, CA

11/14/2011 7:00:32 PM

I have never, ever understood the BLM's "logic" in refusing to geld at least half of the colts born every year. Problem, if not solved, at least greatly reduced!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the biodiversity argument. Got it. Still doesn't hold water when you look at the sheer numbers of horses on the range.

The BLM has an impossible task, not that I am in an way excusing the agency's mismanagement of the mustangs. The herds are horribly terribly mismanaged and a government agency is never going to be able to the job.

The girl that was taught patiece by her horse    Somewhere Mustang-friendly, BC

11/10/2011 4:47:09 PM

As soon as I'm old enough, I'm adopting a mustang from the BLM, if they are still doing it then. I and will NOT give up on a wild horse. True, I don't know what a wild horse is like, but I will NEVER give up on ANY horse. If I were to give up on any horse, I would've given up Maverick by now. Don't take me for a joke-I'm a capable 12 year old that stands on her own feet. Don't laugh-if I commit myself to do something, it will happen, if I have any say in it. Thank you for the news update. I hope everything is OK.

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