Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mustang-o-Rama

In case you didn't notice, I wrote the article about the BLM adoption event that occurred in my town recently. You can find it on the home page of Horse Channel or just click on this link:

Too Many Mustangs, Not Enough Homes

Because I live in Norco, California-- officially christened with the motto, "Horsetown, USA"-- the BLM figures they can find lots of horse lovers with horse property just waiting to adopt a mustang and stick it in their backyard. Uhm, not so much anymore.

Mustang adoptions here and throughout the country are far below the levels of past years. The main reason? Just take a look at the online and print ads offering horses for sale. Many people simply cannot afford the domesticated, broke to ride horses they have now. Adding another horse-- especially one requiring more care and more attention-- to the family herd is not feasible. Not only is the economy shaky, but feed costs are escalating. The high price of alfalfa, for example, was just one reason why several of the attendees at this particular BLM adoption were literally laughing at the informational brochure being distributed. The BLM estimated the cost of feeding a horse to be "about $1,000 a year" depending on "the region" where you lived.

I can tell you that would not be in the region of California, where this adoption event was being held. With hay selling regularly for $18-$20 a bale, the annual cost for feeding a horse is at least double the stated amount.

And then there's the training issue. I know that some of the regular readers of this blog have adopted BLM mustangs and are making great progress. A good friend of mine rides her mustang on the trails with me. And I'm aware that Wells Fargo (a large banking institution in the West) uses bay mustangs to pull their trademark stagecoach. And the U.S. Marines color guard uses palomino mustangs in parades and drills. Yet all of these successful mustang scenarios have one thing in common: The adoptee possessed a certain level of horsemanship skills.

Trust me, at the BLM event that I attended, many of the potential adoptees did not. In fact, it was somewhat frightening how very little some of them knew about feral horses. Some came because this was the only way they could afford a horse: At $125, they could just forego their Starbucks runs for a month and justify the purchase. Others wanted to "save" a wild horse from... what? It's not like the mustangs that roam the California high desert are in danger of being eaten by timber wolves.

As I roamed the backside of the holding pens I encountered some interesting tales.

One barn manager was told over the phone that a newly adopted mustang wouldn't just back out of the stock trailer and waltz into the corral at its new home. Instead, according to the BLM agent, the driver of the stock trailer would have to back right up to the open gate of the corral, sort of like the space shuttle docking with the space station, and then the driver would open up the back of the trailer and they'd all have to "shoo" the mustang into its new corral.

Then this question was posed: "But can we rope it to catch it?"

The quick, flat response from the BLM rep was, "No. You cannot rope these horses."

Later I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was helping his young daughter select a mustang. Ever since she'd read the book "Cloud" her dream was to own a wild horse. When I pointed out the fractious behavior of the mustangs that were currently being shooed through the chutes into an adjoining pen, their ears pinned, their tails tucked between their hind legs, and their hooves clanking against the metal rails, I could see the wheels turning in the dad's head: So, like, how do my 10-year-old daughter and I get a halter on such an animal so we can groom it and fuss with it and make it tame so it loves us?

You're probably wondering where I'm headed with this diatribe. It's this: I not convinced that the mustangs' welfare is always put first. Otherwise, the BLM would be more concerned about screening potential homes than just checking off one more mustang from the burgeoning herd of horses warehoused on what amounts to government feedlots.

I mentioned to the BLM spokesman who was overseeing this event that some of the attendees seemed ill prepared to handle or gentle a mustang. He said (in so many words) that it wasn't the BLM's problem. He motioned to a poster that listed a handful of requirements for adopting a mustang. They included a 20 x 20 corral with a 3-sided shelter. Nothing about prior experience handling a green or untamed horse or basic horse care skills. No proof required to demonstrate that an adoptee knew how much to feed a horse or when to summon a vet. As long as there wasn't any intentional neglect or outright abuse, the BLM was content to let the mustangs go to anyone who ponied up the small amount of cash and signed a form.

"Is that good enough?" I asked. "Should some of these people, perhaps, not be adopting a mustang right now?"

"There are people who shouldn't have kids who have kids," he said. "But this is America. We don't stop them."

Yes, he actually said that.

So there may be some people who, for various reasons, probably shouldn't be saddling themselves with the welfare and training of a mustang. But no one, apparently, is going to talk them out of it. At least no one from the BLM.

Somehow, I think the mustangs deserve more.

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The entire mustang problem is a difficult one to fix. If you have any ideas or comments, just click on "comments" below or email me at: hc-editor@bowtieinc.com

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. It makes my heart ache to hear what's happening to our mustangs. Recently I came across an article that said the government was planning on shooting thousands of mustangs in holding facilities. That is truly sad that that is the only "solution" they could come up with. When I was young, I always said someday I would adopt a mustang, hopefully palomino. I would gentle it, but never break it. I have 5 horses now, and no room or money for another. A horse rescue group I am familiar with has a 20+ year old gray percheron with arthritis they are literally BEGGING someone to take. His picture tugs at my heartstrings, but I know that bringing home even ONE more horse will take away from the care mine are getting.
People at work talk about me as the "animal lady" because I am so soft hearted. I wish things were different. If hard-working people with horse skills could afford just ONE more, it still wouldn't completely take care of all the mustangs and unwanted horses that are quickly piling up at horse rescues. I have turned down several "free to good home, PLEASE take him" horses.
I don't have a solution. Can't think of one. I believe that darting the mares that are still running free with the shots that prevent them from getting pregnant every year would help. Not stop the problem, but help. And people like the man down the road who breeds unregistered, ugly, poorly built, have to trap them and rope them to touch them horses should have to be made to think about what they're doing. Every year he just runs his wild weanlings/ yearlings into a trailer to take them to the local auction. The last sale I went to he had one pretty filly that sold for $35.00. And an ugly one that sold for $30. I asked him about his horses, and he said he loves to see the foals each year.

I get so aggravated, but what am I to do? I bought my racking horse/paint gelding as a 5 month old for $100. He is beautiful rich dark brown/ black with a tail that drags the ground, and an absolutely gorgeous mane. The people were going to dump him at auction. He is my boy, and I hope to keep him forever.

I'm sorry this turned into a book. Lots of times I wish I didn't love horses so much. It is literally a heartache to drive by the sale barn. Or pass a pasture with ribby, bag-of-bone horses. I have called the sheriff's dept a couple of times, and the closest humane society is 2 cities away, and say that they can do nothing. I bought a 3 year old registered quarter horse filly May 19th of 2007. She should have weighed AT THE VERY LEAST 700lbs. She weighed just shy of 400lbs. I got tired of nobody wanting to do anything for her, and finally offered her "owners" $100. I didn't think she would live, but she did. And I managed to find her an awesome home. But she's lucky.
I don't see any end in sight. I think I'm going to go outside now and spend the next couple of hours brushing and hugging and feeding cookies to our horses. And thanking god that I have them in my life!! ;)
Jamie

Jessica said...

Ugh - this makes me sick to my stomach! These "good intentioned" people who have some desire to help a mustang are the ones who typically end up abusing them so badly and don't even realize it! I wouldn't want to give them a trained horse let ALONE a GREEN BEAN!

You're right - they obviously DON'T have the Mustang's best interest at heart. I wish I had the money to save them too :-( If only horses were that cheap to feed a month!

Good grief. How incredibly sad.

Nancy said...

Oh this just breaks my heart - and not only is it happening with mustangs, it's also happening with pmu's. I've been very involved with a rescue in NH that rescued several truck loads of pmus - and all these well intentioned people adopted the babies, but they werent screened. Now these babies are 3 and 4 year olds, and havent been trained at all. And these well intentioned people dont have a clue that a horse is a very expenseive 40 year committment.

I dont know what the solution is. Now with the economy tanking, we're facing this with mustangs, pmu's and regular horses. People are just abandoning horses they cant afford and cant care for. Sigh.

Cindy Hale said...

I must admit, I was sort of afraid of the responses I might get, but so far everyone more or less agreed with me. I think it's a sad fate for the mustangs if the BLM does end up euthanizing the older, unwanted, unadoptable horses. Many of them would not have been born if proper sterilization and management practices would've been employed from the get-go, instead of relying on the public to take in wild horses. At least that's the way it seems to me.

If I had not been "broken" and still had the physical ability to work with a green horse like a mustang, I'd adopt one.

By the way, I was judging a show not long ago and an acquaintance of mine-- a very well known hunter trainer-- was showing this cute roan mare in the baby green hunter classes. She was not a particularly "fancy" horse, but she was quite cute and jumped in nice form. I asked about her and it turns out she was a BLM mustang! So they can and do make wonderful riding horses... in the right hands.

grominese said...

I have come to the unfortunate realization that I alone cannot save every horse in the world but I cannot stand it when someone thinks that they can break or take on a horse without having any kind of experience or knowledge of what it takes to care for a horse. Too many people in today's throw away society think that if an animal becomes an inconvenience to them, they will just abandon it or let it roam free, hoping someone else will take care it.
I agree that it would be much better to either have sterilized or have proper management in the first place.
Very sad indeed.

Gwen

Christina de Pinet said...

Cindy, I appreciate your unbiased and honest article.

As you probably know (because I tell anyone who might listen/read), I am training a BLM Mustang right now (click on my name to find his blog). I also own my own Mustang - Hammar was put into the hands of an incompetent trainer with very harsh methods. He came to me practically wild, but worse. I retrained him when i was sixteen, and now he is the best horse I have ever ridden; athletic, willing, obedient, loyal, and well on his way to completely calm and bombproof. You are absolutely right that Mustangs can and do make wonderful riding horses in the right hands. The whole reason I am training Nine is for the Extreme Mustang Makeover, a competition designed to showcase the versatility and trainability of Mustangs. Yes, the BLM could have done more yesterday, but please remember that they are trying to help today. The "shooting" of thousands of Mustangs that has been proposed is due to a lack of funds. The BLM cannot afford to feed the horses in holding facilities. They HAVE to be indiscriminate about who adopts the horses, because if the aren't, all the Mustangs will suffer for it. People like me who are capable and willing to train wild Mustangs do what we can to make sure at least some of these great horses aren't left to rot in the barn. I care so deeply for these horses... The Mustang Heritage Foundation feels the same way, and I urge you all to learn what you can from them. Last year 100 Mustangs were trained for the first Extreme Mustang Makeover, and all were adopted. This year 200 adult horses (including Nine) are up for grabs, in addition to 200 more yearling Mustangs. It is the goal of the Mustang Heritage Foundation to place 1,000 trained Mustangs in good homes in 2008. There are off to a heck of a start, and I hope they succeed. I am doing my part by training Nine.

I also know of breeders and horse owners like the ones Jamie mentioned. I will not go into detail here, but those people make me sick. There isn't a curse word strong enough...

I also didn't mean for this to turn into a book... But seeing as I am the first person to post from the perspective of a Mustang owner and trainer...

Anonymous said...

Yes, they deserve more! Just because those people who shouldn't be having kids are having kids and those kids are having kids and needing lots of space and taking over the mustangs' habitat doesn't mean that the mustangs deserve less! It's understandable when the BLM has to bring in some horses because the land can't support tham all. Yes, the mustangs are going to breed and yes, they may overpopulate an area. However, if someone who is able to do math and has a heart for the horses was in charge, they would have figured out that the horses can't reproduce that fast. A mare can only have one baby a year. Everyone knows that. Even if every mare produced a filly and therefore doubled the size of the herd (which is pretty unlikely), the range would be able to support even that many horses. Besides, working with probability here, there's a 50/50 chance of a foal being either sex, and the males don't stay with the herd anyway, and when a male goes, he'll often steal mares from other stallions, evening out the numbers a bit. The territory that a herd usually stays on should be strong enough to support a couple herds through all seasons. The problem is, there's not enough space because the humans are crowding them out. So, lots of horses get rounded up, lots of horses that are rounded up either get homes with inexperienced people and get caught up in some catastrophe because of the stupid people, or they just plain don't get adopted. In some cases, the "unadoptable" horses get destroyed. That is unfair and it's wrong. I know this is starting to sound like a rant about this country's weak economy, but in reality, money is the root of many problems. But then again, so is the problem of lack of morals among our people. Hence, lots of babies that grow up and need space and make more babies! Now, I'm not against having children, but we can choose. Those horses just do what's natural for them. They can't think about it. Yes, I know I'm writing in circles, but I think that humans, in several different ways, are the reason for the mustangs' peril. I know that not everyone can save every horse that comes their way, but there has to be something that can be done to help the mustangs. There has to be a better way to solve the overpopulation cycle problem than simply shooting them. Unfortunately, nothing has come to light that will work. You'd think SOMEONE would be smart enough...