This is a non-commercial, independent website, owned and written by Nancy Kerson, for the benefit of actual and potential adopters of BLM Mustangs and Burros and similar animals.
Once you've decided to adopt a wild horse or burro - the next problem is
How good are your horse-gentling skills? We know the horse is scared, but what's your Fear Level?
Are your skills up to handling an adult wild horse?
Or are you more comfortable with a weanling or yearling?
Many youngsters are pretty easy - "just looking for a friend." Others can be plenty challenging, but their smaller size is less intimidating than a larger animal with the same behaviors and mindset.
Do you have a gut-level preference? Some people just love those babies, others prefer adult horses.
Watching someone else work with a wild horse is one thing: Finding yourself inside a gentling pen for the first time with a large wild horse can be downright scary! Most people are more comfortable with a smaller, younger horse.
Many experienced adopters feel that three to five years old is perfect: the horse is still young enough to accept training easily, yet mature enough to have all the mental and physical advantages of a natural upbringing in a fully functioning wild herd. And, once gentling has been accomplished, the horse is big and mature enough to move right into saddle training.
Young mustangs - weanlings, yearlings and 2-year-olds - are the best choice for most people. Young mustangs usually gentle down and accept training quickly. However, even the youngsters are wild, and some of them can be challenging.
However, some older horses do just fine! Keep an open mind.
Here's an "Over 10" Sale Authority horse who gentled down easily. There are so many wild horses in holding facilities now, that the focus of the current adoption program is the younger, more easily placed animals. But not long ago, it was common for people to adopt horses over the age of 5. There are lots of horses in use today that were adopted at age 6, 7, 8 even 10 or 11.
Some people dispute the commonly held theory that older mustangs are too difficult to gentle and should not be adopted. Not so, they say. Any horse will, with time and patience, learn to trust people and to bond with you. Older horse are usually slower to gentle, but if you are patient, most will come around eventually.
However, a horse who has spent many years in a wild herd is mentally a far different animal from the 0-4-year-olds most of us get. An older wild horse is the equine equivalent of a Black Belt - Be sure you know to read the horse and to remain safe - older wild horses are extremely skilled in "dispatching" threats, and are likely to behave defensively for a long time.
For most adopters, a younger horse is a better choice. For beginners, a very young Mustang is the best choice.
If your reason for getting a wild Mustang is to ride right away - DON'T!
Very few people will be able to ride their new wild horse within the first year. There are occasional horses who just gentle down and accept training very quickly, and a really good trainer can usually get a wild horse "green-broke" under saddle within not too many months. Many of the Extreme Mustang Makeover trainers had their horses well-started under saddle by the end of the 100 days, but these were professional trainers or very experienced amateurs.
For most of us, it's a longer process. You probably WON'T be riding right away. Even if the horse seems docile, it is not in either your horse's or your own best interest to rush things. Allow the time to get each step solid before proceeding. If your top priority is to ride right away, get an already-trained horse.
WHERE TO GET A SADDLE-TRAINED MUSTANG: If you live in the West, consider the Warm Springs Correctional Center Wild Horse Program in Carson City, Nevada. They do good work, and hold adoptions three or four times a year. Also, the Mantle Ranch in Wyoming, also trains horses for the BLM, and there are several prison programs fort training wild horses: Canon City, Colorado; Riverton, Wyoming;, Crabtree Prison in Oklahoma, and perhaps others that I don't know about.
Or buy an already trained mustang from a private party. The Bay Area Equestrian Network and the Wild Horse Mentors/KBR website have classified ads for "pre-owned" mustangs. The California BLM Adopter's Assistance website also has a section for horses and burros needing homes. Craigslist is becoming popular as a place to advertise horses for sale - be sure you are buying a TITLED animal in that case.
2. Gender: To some people this isn't an issue. Other people have definite ideas about gender in equines.
Mares are often more "cuddly" and affectionate than males. They can also experience "mood swings" with their heat cycles. Mares tend to be "bitchier" around other horses. Many people prefer geldings for this reason. Of course, individuals vary. Many mares are relatively unaffected by their hormonal cycles, and are reliable and steady.
PLEASE NOTE: THE WILD MARE YOU ADOPT MIGHT BE PREGNANT.
If she has been in captivity less than 11 months, you should consider that she very likely IS pregnant. Do your best to gentle her right away (or hire someone who can).
A wild mare with a new foal is one tough customer - be ready!
A pregnant mare is not a good choice for a first-time adopter, although it happens commonly. Far too many mares are turned back to BLM or dumped at the auction, because the foal is easy and the mare difficult.
Don't do that! Get the help you need and make a commitment to your mare, if you adopt one.
Wild Studs are reported by many to be far more tractable than domestic stallions. This is due to the socialization inherent in wild herd structure - a wild horse who acts like a jerk is not tolerated by the others in his band. Wild studs do have normal mating urges, however. It is generally a good idea to get a newly-adopted wild stud gelded as soon as possible. Most horses available at BLM adoptions have already been gelded.
WANT TO BREED? PLEASE CONSIDER: Even though your Mustang stud is beautiful and would no doubt sire beautiful foals, please look at the overall horse market before choosing to breed Mustangs in captivity. As of this writing, with hay and fuel prices through the roof, there simply is no market for young, untrained domestically-bred horses of any breed, except perhaps in rare instances of highly proven performance pedigrees, unusual breeds, combined with aggressive marketing. Please don't add to the problem of "The Unwanted Horse." Remember, there are plenty more where your horse came from!
Geldings are the choice of most horse owners. There is an old saying that "Mares and stallions are good for making foals, but the only good working horse is a gelding."
The BLM will either geld a stud horse for you, or provide you with a voucher to help offset the cost of gelding, once you get the animal home.
3. Conformation for Health:
Unless you are consciously taking on a rescue horse (and this is a wonderful thing to do, don't get me wrong!) you will probably want to learn enough about conformation (skeletal structure, etc.) to choose a horse who has sturdy legs and feet, and an overall structure that will allow a pleasant smooth ride, and will not cost you big bucks down the line in vet bills due to constitutional or conformational issues. Luckily most wild horses have already been pre-selected by Mother Nature to have strong, sturdy legs and feet.
Here is a good website to learn about conformation:
Don't be distracted by a poor coat, mud-caked feet, or a "hay belly" on a youngster. Look for the underlying structure and use your imagination to see what the horse will be after a few months' good care and nutrition.
Think about what you want to do with your horse, and choose accordingly. A good dressage horse is built differently from a good cutting horse. A reining horse needs differing conformation than a carriage horse. A good barrel racing horse is built differently from an endurance horse.
If you aren't sure what you want to do, or don't know what is needed for your chosen discipline, visit shows and talk with people. (Be aware that they'll probably also turn up their noses at your mention of a mustang - but consider that their problem, not yours!
If you don't have a set discipline in mind, then just choose a sturdy, sound horse who appeals to you in other ways.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT HORSE FOR THE JOB
What do you want to do with your horse?
Likewise, if you're into cutting, reining, team penning, or general ranch work, you'll need a horse built for that type of work. If you plan to show your horse, you need to choose an animal with exceptional conformation. Contrary to popular myth, such excellent individuals abound in the wild horse populations.
(Photo of National Endurance Hall of Fame winner "Mustang Lady" and Naomi Preston)
All-Mustang Drill Teams are enjoying an increased popularity. Drill team horses can include any type of horse, so long as it is well-trained and agile. Of course, flashy coloring helps!
HORSES FOR DRAFT OR CARRIAGE PULLING:
And, depending on your circumstances, choosing for good health and easy maintenance might be a consideration.
MOTHER NATURE BREEDS A BETTER HORSE
Mustangs do vary in size and type, however. So if you have a specific discipline or activity in mind, choose a horse that is built for what you want to do.
5. Does Size Matter?
Mustangs tend to be small to mid-sized horses, usually between 14 and 15 hands. Some are quite small, 12 - 13 hands, and some reach heights of 17 hands and upward, but the vast majority are in the 14 - 15 hands range. Mustangs are so sturdy that even a mature 13.2h mustang usually has no problem carrying a 200 lb. rider.
The early Vaqueros preferred the shorter horses, due to their maneuverability and ease of mounting and dismounting. Middle aged and/or less fit riders today are re-discovering the same thing.
Nowadays, many people seem to want tall horses, perhaps influenced by the current popularity of Warmbloods and Appendix Quarter Horses. There ARE tall mustangs over 16 hands tall. Several herd areas - mostly in Northern California and Northern Nevada, are known for their large horses. If you must have a very tall Mustang, you can find one. And remember, mustangs continue to grow through their fifth and sometimes even sixth year. Many people have been surprised to find that the 14.2h mustang they adopted grows into a 15.3 or 16.1 horse. Higher nutritional levels of domestic feeding situations are the reason for this. Since Mustangs continue to grow well past their fifth year, sometimes still gaining height at 6 or 7 years old, don't rule out a 2-or-3-year-old who has everything you need except height!
Temperament is probably the hardest thing to evaluate in horses being presented for adoption, whether at a holding facility or a weekend adoption. The stress of being confined in a small pen with other horses who may be strangers to one another sometimes makes good horses look bad.
Another variable is how long the horse has been in captivity. Although still quite wild, horses who have been in the holding facility for several months will be much less "crashy" and skittish than horses fresh off the range.
Horses who have been born at a holding facility, or spent years living at one, may have lost much of their natural fear of people. Such horses often appear to be tame to the potential adopter. Please understand that they aren't gentled - they just aren't afraid any more. These horses present their own challenges - often needing more work in teaching manners and respecting personal space - more like a domestic horse who ahs not been trained but is used to people.
It is important to keep such animals at a safe distance until they are gentled enough for safe handling. This is contrary to most new adopters' focus on getting that first touch.
There are a number of widely-quoted benchmarks for judging temperament: Look for a kind eye, look for large, clear eyes, not tight, slit-open ones. However, horses at adoptions are stressed, and may not exhibit big, kind eyes, although the horse will develop this countenance after settling in to the new home, being treated well for a period of time, etc.
A better benchmark is this: Watch how the horse interacts with others. (And even this is not totally valid at adoption sites, due to the stress of being in a new place, being in a small pen with unfamiliar horses, etc.)
If you want a quiet, easy-going horse, choose one that manages to avoid most skirmishes, one that does not seem overly upset by things that upset the more excitable horses, one that is neither the main aggressor nor the main one being picked on, and one who seems sociable and well-liked by the other horses. A horse with many scars and blemishes should not necessarily be ruled out, as it may be due to human harassment, injuries during capture or transport, predator encounters or a host of other reasons, but it is a "red flag" that just may indicate that this fellow has an Attitude!
If you want a horse for endurance or similar discipline that requires tremendous "heart" choose one of the more animated, even feisty ones.
Do understand that horses at adoptions are stressed. It seems unreasonable to expect them to stand around, calm and serene, with big soft eyes, under the circumstances. Their facial expressions will change 100% once you get them home and they start to feel safe and comfortable.
My first mustang (and still the love of my life after my husband and kids), Sparky, was a newly-captured youngster when I first met him, and he did not exhibit the big, kind eyes I had been told to look for. His eyes were little slits and he would not look at me or any humans.(he did, however, relate well with others, engaging in a lot of mutual grooming) Nowadays, everyone who meets Sparky remarks about his "kind eye."
No matter how "practical" or "rational" a choice is, your adoption project will not be successful if you cannot, in your heart, commit deeply to it.
So, after considering all the practical matters:
CHOOSE A HORSE THAT SPEAKS TO YOUR HEART.
since January 1, 2005