A little known fact about Feral and Unhandled Horses (Mustangs, Brumbies, etc)

Heart of Phoenix has a long history with feral horses.

Whether they have been mustangs, feral born mine land horses or horses born to people and left entirely untouched, we have been there and done that.Something we have been talking about recently is how many ferals very much bond to the initial person that starts their training, gains their trust and becomes their “first” person.

While I cannot tell you the science and psychology with research is to why, I’d conjecture that is, in part, due to the fact domestic, handled horses are imprinted while they are still learning about the world as foals, and they absorb more quickly, freely and with less fear. In all beings, it seems what we learn first and early sticks with us through the good and bad.With that said, a trainer can do a brilliant job with a feral type horse, make tons of progress, be riding / roping / reining. . .what have you, but when that horse goes into a new situation, especially if the new person or people weren’t heavily involved in transition training before the horse is moved from his/her trainer, then on top of this, they move the horse to a new barn with horses they do not know – it is not UNCOMMON for the horse to revert VERY far back to the first base.I wish for the sake of horse and new owner / adopter, this isn’t how it worked for so many previously unhandled horses (and it can prove true in very abused / troubled horses to a degree), but time and again, we do see it.

They take many steps back, sometimes. They seem shut down. It is tough on all involved.Realistically, trainers can’t continue to help these types of horses if they keep them – THEY SHOULD NOT.

It can’t happen that way, and it doesn’t need to.All this doesn’t mean if you are a solid horse person with dedication to learning that you should discount the feral type horse. But I encourage you to be aware and be fair to the horse and the prior trainer and your “self.” It is a learning journey. Try to be involved with the horse before he leaves the trainer he trusts. Take lessons, if you can, before leaving with the horse (as many as possible).

See if the trainer can visit and offer some lessons for as long as possible once you take the horse home. Be committed to a little or a lot of start over. Make sure you bond with the horse and have a good relationship before introducing him to your herd full time. Keep the horse in for a while and let it learn to take comfort and companionship in your presence before the horse goes out in a field or paddock with others.

One thing I will say is most of them, if the new person is dedicated, do rapidly remember they have been through this before and come along much easier when the steps are repeated the second time.

Good Horsemanship is a journey. Learn all you can – it cannot ever be “It All,” but we hope you give it your best effort – horses need us all to.

One thought on “A little known fact about Feral and Unhandled Horses (Mustangs, Brumbies, etc)

  1. Good insight! I would add that early handling should incorporate multiple people, if that is possible. Our first Mustang was handled by two of us and then exposed to a lot of people. When we leased him to a Pony Club rider he made the transition very well because he was already used to multiple people. My current Mustang, on the other hand, had a very rough start (and the scars to show for it) and was definitely shutdown when he came to me. He now fits exactly what you describe – completely stuck on me. Even though my mother handles him, if she rides him he wants to stay stuck to my side. It is definitely a different journey than with a fully domestic horse!

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