Successful Mustang Adoptions (Part 1)
A few years ago, I became interested in the plight of American wild horses (aka, mustangs) when I learned of the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) crisis that’s been ongoing for nearly two decades now. Though Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1971, prohibiting private capture or killing of these animals, they quickly amended the act to allow for round up and adoption of “surplus” horses and burros. The program was successful in the beginning, but today, thousands of animals are kept in BLM holding facilities and there simply aren’t enough adoptions taking place. Most see slaughter as the only other viable option unless the horses and burros are to be kept in the holding pens indefinitely. It’s become a huge and divisive issue in our country, as many of you are probably already aware.
The BLM has partnered with other organizations to increase wild horse adoption rates, but it hasn’t been enough. Though I, personally, don’t feel equipped to adopt a wild horse at this point in my life, I would like to spread awareness about wild horse adoptions and share some success stories. What I’ve learned from the people I’ve interviewed is that mustangs often prove themselves to be valuable companions and smart, versatile mounts.
Jordyn Delmet became interested in adopting a mustang simply due to the fact that many people around her in Georgia had them and she was intrigued by the horses. She wanted to participate in the mustang *TIP (Trainer Incentive Program) challenge, but didn’t feel the time was quite right. Then, when she moved to Illinois a short time later, Jordyn discovered the mustang TIP challenge was coming to nearby Madison, Wisconsin. She knew she had to do it this time.
After choosing her mustang from a group of approximately 60 which were available for the TIP Challenge, Jordyn named her 4-year-old gelding Gambler’s Full House, or “Gambler” for short, because his herd management area was Triple B Nevada.
“I literally went all in not sure fully what to expect but my mustang and I certainly learned along the way,” said Jordyn.
To meet BLM requirements, Jordyn built a six foot round pen for her new horse, but when an epic snowstorm blew in the day she brought Gambler home, she ended up putting him in the barn instead. Thankfully, it worked out.
Jordyn spent hours with Gambler every day, using lots of mini sessions.
“You’re starting with a completely blank slate and you have to show them everything,” said Jordyn. “First and foremost you have to earn their trust and show them you don’t want to harm them.”
Gambler was the first horse Jordyn had ever trained from the ground up and she got on his back for the first time around day 50. She took her 4th ride on him in an optional trail class at the fair, receiving 6th place in a crowd full of people.
Jordyn has now had Gambler for ten months, but they do a lot together.
“A couple weeks ago we competed at the very first International Liberty Horse Championship and received a 1st, 3rd, and 4th,” said Jordyn. “Gambler is trick trained, loves obstacles, and trail riding as well. We have done some entertainment with some musical freestyles as well. His most unique trick is popping balloons with his hooves on command!”
Jordyn said she grew up riding a push-button appendix quarter horse but never had the bond that she now shares with Gambler.
“My mustang most definitely is my heart horse and there is a connection with him that I’ve never had with any other horse,” she said.
Dawn Medley Fowler and her husband, Eddy, adopted their first mustang from a TIP trainer friend of theirs in June of 2016.
“We saw the gelding in her posts and it reminded my husband of a horse he grew up with, so instant bond!” said Dawn.
Until being taken in by the trainer, the yearling gelding, whom they named Stonewall Black Elk, or “Stonney” for short, had been at the Burns BLM holding facility in Oregon since he was six months old.
“We let [Stonney] settle in and we worked with him according to his speed,” said Dawn. “Stonney has been our easiest horse to train to do about anything. Just this year we took him to his first parade!”
Dawn and her family currently have three domesticated horses and two titled mustangs, but she says the mustangs were the easiest to train because they “use their head and think.”
“I trust them as they can do so much!” said Dawn.
Dawn loved working with Stonney and her other mustang so much that she decided to become a TIP trainer as well, gentling, training, and helping to find homes for mustangs (and burros) on behalf of the BLM. She and her husband have a Facebook page called Medley’s Mustangs. This past year, Dawn showed her burro, Poptart (who was later adopted out) and mustang, Lincoln, at the Mustang Mania competition in Nampa, Idaho.
“We feel it’s been very beneficial to adopt as a family to see what rewarding things come from it!” said Dawn.
Avital Smilovits had always wanted a black mustang, and though she didn’t adopt directly from the BLM, she got the opportunity to save one from slaughter in June of 2018.
“I have a few friends that own mustangs and one person in specific inspired me when she began the process to gentle them,” said Avital. “I would watch her and their language would begin to transpire and develop over time. From there, the idea to have one that needed a home was something I began to look for.”
After a friend tagged her in a Facebook post, Avital discovered the 11-year-old mustang gelding who would be going to auction at Kaufmen Kill Pen in Texas.
“Something in his eyes said not to let him go,” said Avital. So she began to fund raise, search for shippers, and find a quarantine barn. She decided to name him Aztec.
“He was born in 2008 and rounded up in 2009 and was then prepped and shipped to Georgia, where a woman from North Carolina bought him,” said Avital. What happened between then and April of 2018 is a mystery. From there, my understanding is that he was bought in Ocala, FL and shipped to Texas, went through a couple different pens and was at Kaufman for his final chance to be adopted before going to Mexico.”
That first night, Aztec jumped his five foot stall door to be with the rest of the horses in the pasture.
“He stayed quiet so I decided to leave him out with them for the night,” said Avital. “It was at this point and for the next couple weeks I had begun to ask myself ‘oh my gosh, what did I get myself into?!’”
Avital spent a lot of time working with Aztec using Parelli Natural Horsemanship methods, which she was accustomed to using with domestic horses. For the most part, Aztec’s training has gone smoothly, but the main challenge has been his anxiety and fear, which sometimes hindered their training sessions.
It’s been about a year and a half since Aztec’s adoption, and though Avital says he can still be a little flighty and nervous, these moments are much shorter and less frequent now.
“Taking things a little slower than normal can sometimes be irritating for me, yet at the same time, it’s teaching me to slow down,” said Avital. “Learning this together has been work on both our parts.”
All three ladies relayed that adopting their mustangs has been a positive experience, and all said they would love to adopt another mustang at some point. However, they also had words of advice for anyone else looking to adopt a wild horse.
Jordyn: “Don’t rush any training! Be patient and you’ll have an unbreakable bond. If you have horse experience and believe in yourself and are dedicated just do it. It will definitely be the most rewarding experience you will ever have.”
Dawn: “Mustangs can be very scary and each one has its issues and problems. Take your time and don’t rush the training! Listen to the horse! Do not think you know it all. It could get you hurt!”
Avital: “I highly recommend owning a mustang to any experienced horse owner as they are extremely versatile and smart, and can excel in many different equine sports. However, I’m not sure I would recommend just any mustang to someone as a new horse owner to own. If the horse is level headed and quiet, I don’t see a reason not to own them. But would recommend someone more experienced for the more challenging ones.”
Stay tuned for Part II of my wild horse adoption interviews. There are two more AMAZING stories to come!
*TIP (Trainer Incentive Program) was created by the Mustang Heritage Foundation in order to bridge the gap between potential adopters/purchasers and American Mustangs housed at the BLM facilities.