Training any animal requires a lot of work and patience, especially training a wild horse when you’re between the ages of 14 and 18.
Every year 4-H members in the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Program get to experience this for an entire summer.
According to the BLM, 245,000 wild horses and burros have been placed in good homes through BLM’s program. A program that not only teaches great skills to the wild horses, but also to the 4-H members who train them as well.
“Patience is the biggest thing that I’ve learned through this program,” said 4-H member, Kaelynn Clark.
That seems to be the key to taking a wild horse and training it. Through the BLM’s program, 4-H members between the ages of 14 and 18 have the opportunity to select a wild horse from the Rock Springs Wild Horse facility and spend 90 days turning them into a horse someone will want to adopt.
“It’s amazing how far they bring them in the short amount of time they work with them,” said BLM’s Rangeland manager and specialist, Julie Smith.
“With the 90 days that I have them, I teach them a lot with the ropework and stick and string, so they’re good with their legs, and we pick up their feet. I teach her to lunge and then a lot of the trail course stuff, I have a teeter-totter bridge, and then she’ll balance it a little even. We’ll take her to the horse shows and just try to expose her to as much stuff as we can before we come here because this is a lot for them to take in,” said Clark.
Just like you and me, these horses have different personalities, so gaining their trust can sometimes take unique tactics.
“One girl has sat in a lawn chair and just read books to her until the horse came to her,” said Smith.
Kaelynn Clark has trained 6 different horses with the BLM, yet, every first day with her mustang has one similarity.
“The first day its kind of overwhelming I guess, you’re like ‘I got a lot of work to do!'” said Clark.
According to the BLM there are 50,000 wild horses and burros in off-range facilities, and two-thirds of the Wild Horse and Burro Program’s annual budget is spent on the care for un-adopted and unsold animals. So having 4-H members take on some work to get horses adopted makes a huge impact.
“For a lot of potential adopters, it’s daunting to think of bringing home a wild one and training it yourself, these guys have already been started and have had a great start and are ready to go any direction you want,” said Smith.
While it may seem hard to let go of a horse you’ve spent 90 days bonding with, Clark says the experience is nothing but joyful.
“It’s kind of a good feeling because you’re like ‘I worked really hard to make a quality animal, I know this person can take them and start them, I’ve done all of the work that all you have to do is hit the ground running,” said Clark.
The horses are adopted through a competitive style auction at the Eastern Idaho State Fair.
Bidding starts at $125 dollars, for every horse that is sold BLM only takes $25 dollars and the 4-H program gets to keep the rest.
According to smith, every horse that is adopted saves taxpayers $50,000 dollars in long-term holding costs.
Through this program, Idaho 4-h youth have helped over three-hundred mustangs to get adopted.