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American mustangs: From wild to mild in 120 days

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What do Big Ben and War Bonnet have in common? Both are wild stallions removed from public lands as excess horses and sold at auction yesterday at the annual Western States Wild Horse and Burro Expo in Reno, Nevada. Now geldings, these previously wild mustangs, named by prison inmates at the nearby Carson City Correctional Facility, have been transformed from wild to mild in just 120 days.

When mustangs are rounded up and removed from the range, Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management choses a select few to be trained by honor inmates at various prison facilities throughout the U.S. . The well accepted “gentling program” works it magic on man and beast alike.

These wild stallions had never felt the human hand before roundup day. It’s possible that some have never even seen a human . Their fight or flight instinct automatically engages when us two- legged critters force them into confinement. With no room for flight, fight is the choice that remains.

Most of us wouldn’t be particularly excited about facing a 1,000 pounds of angry muscle, but those who can make that primeval connection between man and horse, a connection built on trust, produce astounding results. War Bonnet, a striking brown and white paint, bowed to the audience after a winning bid of $2,300 determined his new adoptive home.

An inmate stood casually on the sidelines, staring off into the distance with his hands in his pockets. What’s so unique about that? He was standing on the back of a wild stallion now turned trusty steed.

Make no mistake, these horses are still considered “green broke”. We’re talking magic here not miracle. The new owners will need to build their own trusting relationship and continue working with their horse, but much of the needed groundwork has already been laid.

All but one of the horses offered at yesterdays auction sold for over $1,000, three of them toppled the two thousand mark. These are bargain prices for a piece of the American West known for their strength, endurance, and intelligence, particularly considering the cost of such intensive training.

The Bureau of Land Management maintains several adoption outlets across the nation. An untrained horse or burro can be adopted for as little as $125.00. For more information on the adoption process and adoption locations, visit BLM's " How to adopt a Wild Horse or Burro" page.