So let’s be honest, not everyone should own horses. Some people are simply ignorant to the care and energy it takes to owning an animal; let alone a huge one. Then there are those that can provide the basic care and have the time to do so. Owning a horse also requires patience and training. You may think you can get a trained horse and your set but in reality so long as the horse has been started it is more important for you to be trained.
You can see it anywhere.., a person gets an expensive well trained horse and it might be good for awhile but then things change. This person doesn’t do things exactly like the previous person and now the horse is doing things differently. That might be an acceptable change or it might be dangerous. All horses can be dangerous even the sweet ones … accidents happen.
Now take a look at wild horses…. They live without contact with humans; they don’t need us. They fight off or outrun predators on a daily basis. They pay attention because their lives depend on it. They live in a highly social herd with an intricate hierarchy.
The only way these horses end up with humans is that they are captured, sorted and separated from everything that they know and put into an unpredictable environment. I’m not saying that the BLM is right or wrong in doing this, that is not the point of this article. Imagine you are one of these horses and put in this situation… it is frightening to say the least.
Now you come into the picture and you want to own this animal; an animal that has never known how to be owned or what it means to be contained. You can imagine when you meet it’s going to be a fight or flight interaction but if you're calm and patient it might be the best relationship you will ever have. I know from personal experience that every horse is different, including mustangs, however I have a better relationship with my mustangs than I ever could with a domestic horse. Just like how people who come through a traumatic experience together tend to share. You should try to make it the least traumatic as possible for your mustang but losing everything and everyone you know is going to be traumatic for anyone, even a horse.
When I got my mustang, a gelding out of the centennial herd, I went through a TIP trainer. They are responsible for teaching your mustang how to adjust to their new lifestyle and how to understand what humans are asking them to do. The basics are to halter/ lead, pick up hooves and load in a trailer. My first was a bit of a flunky but we had been building a bond for months including a moment I call “Love at First Kick”. One of my visits, we got to the point where I could touch him at the wither but when I removed my hand I accidentally grazed his side with my fingertips. He raised his hind leg and deliberately tapped me on my thigh, just enough to bruise but not to really hurt, set his leg down and we just stood there staring at each other. Our bond was immediate. I’m going to be honest, my first mustang needed more time than the TIP trainer had available so I decided to take him earlier as I didn’t want to drive the 90 minutes to see him all the time. He came to me with the ability to pick up his hooves and tie a rope around his neck but not halter him. All of this was fine with me… I was willing to give him the time. It took about 6 more months before he was easily haltered by me and a couple people but no one knew. In fact, it’s been three more years and he still doesn’t let some people touch him without first telling him he has to.
A few months after I got the first, this trainer called me on another mustang, a gelding out of the Devils Garden herd, that passed the program with flying colors and was adopted but then the adopter decided it was too much to own him. He had always seemed really sweet and willing but the trainer was getting frustrated as everyone who came out to adopt him, he struck at. Yes, he was trying to defend himself from strangers … he was very good at the concept of stranger danger. As she had been trying to rehome him for months with no luck I decided to take him. He never struck at me but to be honest we didn’t click right away. I remember the moment we did like it was yesterday. I had him and my other mustang turned out in an arena about a year after I adopted him. He had been fully broke to ride and I was even using him in some of my intermediate riding lessons. My friend offered to help bring them back to their stalls… she haltered him and asked him to walk with her but he refused. Without moving a hoof, he turned his head and I swear he looked at me asking if it was ok to go with her.
To this day, I have to give both my mustangs permission to walk away with others. The only way I know to explain this behavior is that I am their leader, we are their new herd as they lost their first one. The bond is family. They tend to mimic my behaviors, following my exact footsteps in situations that make them nervous and look to me for reassurance. It wasn’t always this way. I had to earn that role, they test me daily and when I make a mistake they do hold it against me. At the beginning of our relationships, I had to prove that I was a better leader than they were as they were trying to prove the same thing to me. In the wild, this could be as simple as some tail swishing to full on wrestling, biting and kicking. This is where mustangs can be dangerous but if you can read their body language sometimes all it takes is a little glare of disapproval. Everyday can be a challenge but so is family and that is exactly what it means to “own” a mustang. As I said before, it could be the best relationship with a horse you ever have. Your mustang is the only one that will know if you're ready to build that bond. Please be as prepared as possible before taking on this adventure… many people are not and the ones that suffer the most are the horses.