Born Free ~ Part 2
by Bethany Videto
So, you found out about the Mustang plight and decided you would like to be help in some way, but don’t know how? The best ways to help, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is to either donate or adopt. Either way, you are helping the Mustangs. It is about knowing yourself and your limits, which can be a bit difficult given that we all have an ego. Some of the most stubborn people you will ever meet are horse people. If you are an equestrian veteran, you know exactly what I mean.
There are many Mustang charities you could take part in, if that is what you choose. The hardest part of donating is deciding which foundation to go through. The best part of being charitable is that you do not have to limit yourself to just one! You can give to one foundation one month and a different one the next. Research shows the top two Mustang charities are The Mustang Heritage Foundation and Saving America’s Mustangs. Another less known small (but still great) foundation is Friends of The Mustang. They have been operating since 1982, they received the Volunteer of The Year Award in Washington in 2014 and they are not political in any way. They actually have a contract with the BLM and they use their money to maintain trails, watering holes and land for the Mustangs. Their goal is to raise awareness for the Mustangs as well as protection. They are, however, specifically limited to the Little Book Cliffs Area in Colorado, which is something worth considering.
Saving America’s Mustangs Foundation is another regional foundation based out of Nevada; the extra special thing about this particular foundation is their use of their donations to build an eco-friendly Mustang retirement facility. This facility will double as a tourist attraction meant to educate people. If you would prefer a broader stroke charity, the Mustang Heritage Foundation might be the way to go. They work with the BLM in relation to Mustang adoption and regulate the treatment of Mustangs before and after those adoptions take place. They ensure that no Mustang is trained or treated inhumanly and have been given the power to step in and remove a Mustang from an adoption participant. There really is no wrong choice when it comes to being charitable.
What if you do decide to adopt? What can you or should you expect and look for? How do you choose a horse? There are a lot of things to take into account when adopting. Would you rather have a mare or a gelding? Do you want a younger horse or an older horse? Younger horses are generally thought to be easier to work with and easier to train. Getting a weanling means your horse will accept your touch more easily and may be easier to train under saddle once you get there; but you have to wait for them to age up before you can ride them. An older horse is physically ready to be ridden, but not mentally. Older horses can be more stubborn and difficult to train. Don’t let the popularity of the make-over challenges give you the impression that bringing home an older wild horse means you’ll be in the saddle riding them within 100 days. Obviously it is possible, or these competitions would not exist. However, these trainers are the exception, not the rule. Further, you do not see all the participants that don’t make it to the final competition, just the ones that do. According to studies done by Mustangs 4 Us, most mustang adopters go through a 3-5-year training process before having a horse that is working full time under saddle. Do not let this dissuade you from your gut instincts. There is a local woman in my town that adopted mustangs last year. The younger one (now 4 years old) is having a much harder time than the older one (8 years old).
Gender may or may not matter to you as an adopter. You may be one of those people that would want to go to the holding facility and see what you fall in love with. Gender, color and age do no matter, only your chemistry with the horse itself. Other people have gender preferences. We have all seen ads for domestic mares where they highlight that their girl as “not mare-ish” as mares carry a stigma of being hormonal and stubborn. As the owner of a domestic mare, I can say attest to the stigma that is well earned. A mustang, however, is not a domestic horse. And although they are relatives, they are a different breed altogether. Those who interact with mustangs regularly can vouch that the mustang mare commonly exhibits tendencies of cuddliness, friendliness, and even seem to be emotionally unaffected by their heats. So don’t overlook that pretty little filly just yet.
The same misunderstandings follow the mustang stud. Domestic studs can be a handful. Mustang studs tend to exhibit far less of the associated behaviors of a stud. Why? This is mainly due their herd mentality. If a stud was a particularly difficult member of the herd, they would draw more unwanted attention from the other horses: being a pushy and moody literally gets a stud beat up. This is not to say that they will not want to follow their breeding instincts though. Then there is the ever popular gelding. Mustang geldings have the highest adoption rate. There’s a much higher percentage of mares in holding than studs and geldings. This is partly because the BLM will geld any stud for you before you bring him home, should that be your preference.
The hardest piece of the puzzle is one very close to home: your skills and your time availability. Once you have a wild horse at your barn or in your back yard, will you be the one training it? Have you ever worked with young stock, ridden a green broke horse or been the one to sit on a horse for the very first time? If the answer to any of these is a resounding “no,” you will likely want to consider an outside trainer, which means additional costs. Obviously part of the majesty of adopting a mustang is the attraction to being part of and watching a wild horse become “tame.” These circumstances are not where you’d want to test things out. Trial and error style learning will result in injury or worse. You’ll need confidence, awareness, as well as lots and lots of patience. This may be the hardest aspect of your decision. It takes honest introspection, which is definitely not something that we, as humans, excel at.
Once you’ve considered all the impacts pertinent to adopting, (should you still decide to go through the wonderful journey of Mustang adoption), you must decide exactly how you’d want to adopt. There are several options to choose from; you can travel to the BLM holding facilities, interact and view many horses and choose your horse that way. The BLM also holds online auctions, where you can bid on Mustangs that are posted. The buy in fee for adoption auctions is $150, though there are discounts, if you are interested in more than one, or a mother and foal combo, (the BLM limits adoptions to 3 Mustangs to one adopter at a time) or you can go through the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s “T.I.P.” (Trainers Incentive program) and adopt a “gentled Mustang,” or a mustang that has already worked extensively with a trainer. These horses start at $150 and might be the best approach for many. In the end, you come to realize that charity is fulfilling, and once you breach that societal expectation and take the chance to delve into the Mustangs world, you will come to realize that the smallest personal investment can make the world of difference to these animals. The smallest action can make the world of difference…it only takes you.