Successful Mustang Adoptions, Part 2
As I stated in my previous post, mustang welfare has become something very near and dear to my heart. Because the BLM has rounded up so many of these wild horses, now keeping them in various holding facilities around the country, a dire situation has evolved. There are far too many horses and not nearly enough adoptions taking place. So in hopes of spreading the word about this problem, I’m sharing several successful mustang adoption stories.
In the second half of this two-part series, I’ll begin with Emma Brayfield’s amazing and serendipitous adoption story:
As the barn director of a ranch in California, Emma was looking for several new young horses to add to the ranch’s string. Since she’d always loved mustangs, she decided to go to the BLM first. While looking at horses in the corrals, one curious group of horses ventured up to the golf cart Emma was riding in. After taking a closer look at the horses in this group, Emma chose a 2-year-old gelding and named him Mikko.
At the ranch, Emma started Mikko’s gentling process by getting him to eat hay from her hand.
“In the beginning, he took a bite with his neck stretched out as far as he could, snorted and ran. We repeated this for a few days—he was pretty fearful. Then he started to eat from a pile next to me.”
Emma continued to do this for several more weeks, but as soon as she got to the point where she could touch his nose, Emma was severely injured after being thrown from another horse. After surgery to fuse her spine, Emma endured many challenges, including learning to walk again. Obviously, it would be some time before she could return to working with horses. During this time, the ranch decided to sell Mikko.
“I assumed I’d likely never see him again,” said Emma. “I tried to track down the person the ranch sold him to, but they never answered me.”
Two years later, however, something amazing happened. Emma happened across a craigslist ad for a horse, which turned out to be Mikko, only he was in much poorer condition than when she last saw him. Emma wasn’t in a place to have a horse at the time, but she responded to the ad. A few days later, she made the 12-hour drive to buy Mikko back.
“As he came around the corner, I could see all the bones in his body,” said Emma. “He was fearful of everything . . . He saw me and suddenly his stride picked up. He came right to me and put his head in my chest. It was the most we had ever touched.”
Getting Mikko over whatever trauma he’d endured during his time away from Emma proved a difficult feat. Feeling like she was in over her head, Emma hired a trainer. But Mikko had an intense fear of the saddle and threw the trainer, who ended up breaking several bones and refused to get back on Mikko.
“I wondered if sending him to a sanctuary was going to be the nicest thing to do,” Emma said. “However, his personality with me is what gave me hope. He was always calm around me and sweet.”
Emma ended up moving to a different part of the state where she found another trainer. Though Mikko was making big improvements, he still circled and bucked when saddled. The new trainer tried to get on right away and was immediately thrown. He then told Emma to euthanize Mikko, saying the horse was too dangerous.
“The next day I picked Mikko up and took him to my friends,” said Emma. “We decided to take him into our own hands and that’s when everything changed.”
First, Emma revisited the basics, desensitizing Mikko to tarps, balls, flags, and other objects on the ground. Most importantly, she spent time with him whether it was in the pasture, going on long walks, or just relaxing together.
“Through that time we got to know each other and built trust,” said Emma.
Eventually, Emma worked up to getting on Mikko bareback.
“Everyone thought I was nuts,” she said.
But from there, Emma began riding Mikko bareback and with a halter with no issues. He never offered to buck or bolt or do any of the things he’d done with trainers in the past.
“He blossomed into an amazing horse. He is light, responsive, funny, sweet and calm. All things I knew were in him, but took two years to come out,” said Emma. “He will never be a horse anyone can ride. I haven’t let anyone else do so and I may never will–for his sake and theirs. Yet, he is a barn favorite and will do anything with me.”
Emma and Mikko do many things together these days: working cattle, ranch or trail riding, obstacles, riding on the beach, a little bit of dressage, and recently, jumping!
“My goal was to never specialize in something,” said Emma. “I wanted a well rounded horse who could do it all and surprisingly, somehow that happened!”
Mikko is the only horse Emma has currently, but compared to the many other horses she has worked with, she says Mikko is by far the most calm and level headed.
“I never have to ask people to stop doing something because he might spook,” said Emma. “In fact, I ask them to continue and to do it more. Yeah, he might spook by freezing or moving away, but it won’t be a big deal and after that he wants to go up to whatever spooked him and check it out.”
Inspired by her experiences with Mikko, Emma now sells an equine CBD pellet. You can learn more at her website.
Here is Emma’s advice for anyone considering adopting a wild horse:
“If you don’t have extensive horse training experience–hire someone who does. Or get one that is already started. If you’re picking one out from the corrals or at an adoption. Consider how they behave in the herd and given where they are–don’t just look for the best looking one. Give yourself and the horse TIME. There is no need to rush anything. Expose them to everything you possibly can. Take them places before you can ride them. If you don’t feel comfortable, if you’re scared–don’t do it. They know that. They aren’t a domestic horse, they have self preservation and will use it against you. If you’re able, don’t keep them in a stall. Give them as much room or time outside as possible. That is what they know and it will make them happy and therefore easier to work with (once they are gentled).”
Bob Hillery, from New Hampshire, has long had a passion for working with difficult rescue horses, and that passion inspired him to become a *TIP trainer and work with mustangs. Bob currently has two BLM mustangs: Friday, a 4-year-old mare and Teddy, an 8-year-old gelding. Friday’s adoption, however, was completely accidental.
“I transposed number of the neck tag from 1031 (a 14h3-15h buckskin mare) to 1013, this little sorrel,” said Bob. “As it was a TIP, for training and then adoption, I figured why not? I know who got that buckskin, BTW, and have been told I got the better horse!”
Bob’s plan is to adopt Friday out to a new owner, as at 14 hands, she’s too small for him to keep as a riding horse. However, he adopted Teddy this past August since he was older and had been passed over by other adopters.
“At 8, I knew he [Teddy] was at risk of at least being warehoused and forgotten,” said Bob. “I called BLM DC after the auction ended and finagled adopting him and getting him shipped east for pick-up. I went to the pick-up point (Cornell U., Ithaca, NY) and knew that I could refuse – but after meeting him could not.”
Bob already had a six foot round pen constructed of seven rail steel and to get Friday and Teddy accustomed to human interaction, he spent a lot of time with them in the round pen.
“From the beginning I mucked while they were in there (2x + daily), brought in hay & water, etc.,” said Bob. “I had had the BLM leave the small rope & numbered neck tags on – it’s MY job to gain enough trust to get close and take it off. Friday took 3 weeks, Teddy took 12 hours.”
It didn’t take long for the horses’ personalities to come through: Friday with her curious, feisty, and independent nature and Teddy, with his confident and friendly personality.
Bob is continuing to work with both mustangs, as their training isn’t a quick process. He is desensitizing Friday to tarps and jingling buckets as he prepares to get on her for the first time. He also does regular ground work with Friday to keep her ready for an adoption.
Teddy has responded to ground work very well and Bob is just starting to ride him. Bob’s goal is to ride trails and do range work on Teddy, as well as take him camping.
“I speak horse … and they speak horse, but a different ‘dialect,'” said Bob. “Maybe different ‘accent’ is better. We think we know horses from working with domestics – no. Wild horses aren’t so much ‘wild’ as they do not have ANY of the same ‘context’ for understanding human actions or requests.”
Further comparing his work with mustangs to domesticated horses, Bob explained, “They speak horse a bit differently – maybe ‘more clearly’ than the Oldenburg and the TB who had other owners and a ‘domestic’ upbringing. The mustangs FIRST language is horse, the others learned it from domestic horses and humans. The mustangs didn’t come with “baggage” from prior human handling. That has made it very easy to guage their reactions and learn to communicate. ”
Bob said he would absolutely love to adopt another mustang if available space weren’t an issue and if he had someone who would firmly commit to wanting one.
But he also had some words of advice to anyone looking to adopt a mustang:
“Really prepare the facility. ALL fences are ‘moral restraints’ – if they want out, they’re going to get out or hurt themselves trying. Take your time. Do NOT rush. Get the help of a QUIET trainer. Read Tom Dorrance, Mark Rashid, Ray Hunt, etc. Do NOT chase the horse around a round pen. That’s not ‘respect’ or control or proving you are ‘boss.’ Any idiot can chase a prey animal, and too many make too much money from fools doing just that. Adopt a mustang if you are ready to commit your heart and soul – you will have no better friend, no more loyal companion. Ever. Be ready to have to up your game to be worthy of that trust.”
*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.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed these wild horse adoption stories. If you have an amazing adoption story, feel free to share in the comments or email me. 🙂