Over the last few days, Heart of Phoenix and many other organizations have been tagged over and over in articles with this unfortunate headline:
“Federal Government offering $1,000 to anyone adopting a mustang”
I’ve had people reaching out to me without any noteworthy (or literally any) horse experience feelings like this means a jackpot, of sorts.
It is no jackpot, folks. Mustangs deserve quality homes and are well worth time and effort, but they are not for just anyone right out of a BLM pen.
This is destined to mean even more harm to these horses than they already suffer. Sure, it is pitched as a way to help these horses find homes and alleviate the cost of care the Federal Government incurs when they hold them. But unlike the Extreme Mustang Makeover events, which do actually create a great deal of good for our nation’s “wild horse” population in the West, this does not feel like it will help these horses. Whatever the intention of this plan, we have to consider the public reaction, and then we have to gauge the repercussions of those actions. Those both seem poor.
Any run of the mill horse will cost thousands of dollars each year to care for properly. Free horses cost even more, as as rule, and horses you must be paid to take cost the most of all. Keep that in mind.
Mustangs are national treasures, but they are not, straight off the range, for beginner, intermediate or advanced riders. They are a long term investment. They are really not even best served by typical trainers used to working only with horses handled from birth. Eventually, if started right, they get to that point? For sure. They are just not ready for most people straight from the BLM.
If people understood anything about horses, we wouldn’t have to worry about unqualified people answering this call. Then, this marketing offer would benefit just solid trainers with the ability to start these horses right, provide a good foundation and so forth, but the truth is, when adopting these horses out for even $25 can be very hard, offering $1,000 over the course of 12 months, post adoption, may spell disaster for them.
It may mean lots of people taking on horses they cannot afford or actually handle or train.
We are a nation at an extreme horsemanship disadvantage. Giving people $1,000 to make them believe they are getting a bargain will not further the plight of the wild horse.
It can mean that People will be hurt. Horses will be hurt.
But I write this not so much to talk about what can happen and accept it. I write this to hopefully impact those thinking about seeking out this offer because they want a horse and this seems an “affordable” way to gain one.
It isn’t. Get lessons, make sure you can afford thousands yearly in care and seek out a horse professional to help you find a good horse. If you want a mustang, make sure you’re getting the training foundation you need and can pay the monthly costs to see the horse is started well by a qualified person.
Might this incentive, which means a potential $500 stipend 60 days after adoption, then another $500 once title is received a year later, entice good trainers able to actually well start a mustang to step in? It may. But I have a very hard time believing it will do more good than harm.
Just today, a person with limited equine experience reached out to say she wanted to get “two mustangs” for her grand-kids and her, since they came with this great deal.
That mindset does speak to a larger problem we still aren’t addressing, though. People still think of horse ownership like picking up a cat as the local shelter. But friends, horses aren’t cats. Wild Mustangs are not cats. They also aren’t domesticated horses.
Horses require intensive knowledge, training and a life long commitment to learning. Times that by 20, and then you have a “wild” horse.
Heart of Phoenix chatted with trainers from across the East Coast this evening about this issue. Understandably, all were upset at what this could mean for Mustangs.
Grace Keeton of Ohio said, “Mustangs are understandably admired for their toughness and will to survive, which is exactly what makes them unsuitable for fulfilling childhood fantasies, or adulthood cockeyed optimism.”
Vivian of Sky Fire Horsemanship in West Virginia says, “These horses have a much greater fight or flight instinct then your average domestic making them a lot more dangerous to your average horse person. (…) A year barely touches what it takes to truly gain these animals trust to turn into a great mount.”
Smoke Rise Ranch in Ohio’s Jessica Runkle feels that, “Resorting to paying the average Joe to take on a wild mustang is incredibly irresponsible and just begging to set up not only the horses for failure, but setting up well meaning people for getting hurt. (…) So this is where they are trying to hook people on and stick them with something they can’t handle.”
A long time trainer in Kentucky tells a story that ended in heartbreak where the horse could not adapt to captive life, and the truth is that, without skilled horsemanship and facility set up to work with these horses, you are setting yourself and, potentially, other horses, up for disaster.
Heart of Phoenix purchased 3 mustangs a year ago. All proved above the average horse trainer’s abilities. Lovely horses in need of a lot of time and effort. Worth it? Sure, but not for average people right off the bat. Of the three, only one is suitable for a typical horse person today, after almost a year of continual training by a dedicated horsewoman, Bethany McNett. Bethany actually adopted him. And it wasn’t am easy road for Bethany. She had to trailer Angus to multiple locations to work with another trainer experienced in ferals and unhandled horses on and off for a long time. It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get Angus to where he could be part of typical equine society. And Bethany loves that awesome guy, but it was a long road to get there. He deserved that chance. He deserved a capable, committed person. He was lucky to get one.
They ARE worth it if they end up in the right hands. A program that makes people believe they are getting a bargain, that incites those not ready or that encourages people to, as Vivian Jones puts it, “(be an) average dog owner (and buy a ) wolf that’s born and raised in the wild and make it a pet,” isn’t a good plan. “Can it be done,” she asks? Answering her own question honestly, she says the people who can succeed “are few and far between.”
The odds are even less in the favor of novice people purchasing mustangs when compared to dogs and wolves, I’d bet. Especially, when you’re talking about mature horses verses very young ones.
Our biggest fear, as we talk this over, is that “most people who are going to get these horses cheap for the payout are not the same people willing to pay out for good long term training,” Vivian says. The aren’t even people who understand the need for a trainer. We all agree. These horses need a long bit of training by a particular type of horseman or horsewoman. The cost of the training, though it varies regionally, will be $600-$1,000 each month.
Jess of Kentucky, who is holding a Sales Authority Mustang for Heart of Phoenix right now adds, as we finished up the conversation, average people “don’t understand herd mentality involved with mustangs,” and she explains a personal story mentioned earlier of a mustang that would breaks through anything to be with other horses. Once in, this particular mare ravaged other horses. While that behavior isn’t something we found in the mustangs that have come through Heart of Phoenix, we have found it with ferals from other situations. It is something to be aware of, and it is something to be prepared to address.
Wild horses are large animals with a massive fight or flight reaction. If you’re not a qualified, experience horse individual, the $1,000 incentive is NOT a reason to run out to try to adopt a mustang unless you can afford the long term training costs of the horse, in which case, the $1,000 will be a small sum given to offset much higher training costs for you.
Before sharing or encouraging or deciding to adopt a mustang solely based on this financial incentive, please reach out and talk to people who have successfully worked with mustangs. Please do not let this program end up harming these horses more than they already have been by humans.