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Gentling & Training Mustangs & Burros

Mustangs/Wild horses and burros (wild donkeys) are wonderfully sophisticated, intelligent social beings. Only one thing stands between them and a loyal, lifelong bond with you: FEAR. Bottom line is, the animal thinks you want to have it for dinner!

A basic principle for working with wild horses and burros is:

One Size Does Not Fit All!

There are basic underlying realities of the way horses' and donkeys' brains are hard-wired. But each animal is an individual, as is each human.


Following a "program" can be helpful, but there really is no universal set of steps, etc., that must be followed in gentling a Mustang or burro.


The ideas presented in this section are presented to assist you, but should not be used as a substitute for direct personal experience.


Wild horses, like mules, must be trained the way all horses SHOULD be trained. They will not respond well either to being treated harshly or aggressively, nor to being handled in a lax or indecisive manner. They do not respond well to anger. Nor to "wimpiness". Like children, they will take over if you can't establish clear boundaries and limits. They will not do well if rushed, if you skip steps.

Wild horses are, first and foremost, simply HORSES. In most ways they are just like any other horse. There are some important differences, however.

Wild horses haven't been spoiled, abused or taught bad behaviors by anyone else. You are getting " Pure Horse." They are "blank slates" as far as experience with humans goes (but not to life in general!).

Wild horses have a much stronger sense of self-preservation than domestic horses, which must be understood in a training program. That's why going at the horse's pace and making sure everything is solid before moving to a more advanced step is important. That's why building trust is so important. Mustangs are capable of great loyalty, once they have learned to trust you. But until then, and so long as the horse thinks you may be out to get him, that sense of self-preservation will be challenging.

A horse who has spent time in a social band is smarter, has a stronger sense of himself, and is more sophisticated socially than one who has grown up a in a stall. Such a horse already knows good manners, respect, the ability to function in a social order, how to get along with others. Wild horses understand leadership - what a good leader is, and how to follow a good leader.

A wild horse has a deep ability to read and understand movement, energy, intent, and body language. It can read YOU loud and clear. We do not always read the horse well, however, and that's when the trouble starts.

Like all horses, mustangs are honest, and will give you immediate and honest feedback. That is why working with horses is so useful for personal growth, and even for rehabilitating prisoners.

If you want the horse to trust you, be trustworthy!

Gentling and training your wild horse will make you a better trainer and handler of all equines, and a better person, too.

Once you have earned the horse's trust and loyalty, it is ready to be trained just like any domestic horse. And just like any horse, the better the training, the better the horse.

An added PLUS is that Mustangs have all the wisdom and savvy learned from their life in the wild. Even young horses with only a few months in the wild are better off for the experience!

Jerry Tindell says, "They were born into a Black Belt Family!"

*Note: By "Mustang," I am referring to horses who are wild-born - not domestically bred "Mustangs."

There are a wide range of effective, humane approaches to gentling & training wild horses.

These include "Conventional Horsemanship" based on pressure and release, "Natural Horsemanship methods that include using movement and body language to encourage the horse to "hook on" or "join up" with you, the "Fiddler's Technique", developed and popularized by Kitty Lauman and her grandfather, John Sharp, as "The Bamboo Pole" method, and Positive Reinforcement techniques such as Clicker Training. The most popular method in actual use is simply to spend time with the horse.

Each horse is unique, as is each human handler. You may feel more comfortable with certain methods than with others. You may find that one idea clicks with you better than others. What may work best for an expert may not be useful for a beginner who lacks the experience and background to understand the techniques. And each horse is unique in its temperament, issues, and talents. There's no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all set of steps that work equally well for all wild horse training! Listen to your horse! Adapt your training to his needs and abilities.

To continue, choose a page in this series:

Horse Psychology 101     Just Spend Time     Pressure & Release     Bamboo Pole/Fiddler's Technique   Positive Reinforcement

Gentling & Training Burros (Wild Donkeys)   Teaching Basic Skills (Halter Training)   Ready to Ride?  

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