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Send 10,000 wild mustangs to slaughter

Gary Hubbell

Some people would say that Rosie is a cute little horse. She’s small, about 13.2 hands high, 7 years old, a sorrel with a white blaze, and has a wild look to her. There’s a big scar on her right ribcage where something hurt her badly. She has a freeze brand on her left neck under her mane.If you want her, you can have her. Free. I’d advise you against it, however. Chances are you’ll get hurt.Rosie is a mustang, a wild horse who was captured two years ago and adopted to an unsuspecting member of the public. The first time, she came back in a couple of months, no reason given. The second time, “Dan” adopted her. Though Dan is a softhearted soul, he doesn’t know much about horses. His idea was like anyone else’s – to find a nice saddle horse for his wife and grandkids. At first glance, adopting Rosie sounded like a good idea. It costs only $125 to adopt a mustang from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and he could give a home to a wild horse and gentle it. You have to give the horses a good home for a year and then the government gives you legal ownership. Years ago, it was common practice for ranchers and cowboys to round up mustangs and sell them to slaughter. In the 1970s, animal rights activists campaigned against this practice and forced the government into a policy of adopting the animals out to the public. No mustangs were to be sold to slaughter.This may sound wonderful in theory, but in practice it doesn’t work. Have you ever tried to put a halter on a wild mustang and lead the horse into a horse trailer? Good luck, and watch out. Since Dan didn’t know where to start with Rosie, I told him last spring I was going to start four other colts and one more wouldn’t be that much work. Though she’d been in captivity for two years, it took two hours to put a halter on her. I use the standard round-pen join-up techniques that most horse trainers now use, the techniques popularized in the movie “The Horse Whisperer.” Not that I’m any “horse whisperer,” but the methods do work if you apply them. The other four horses came along just fine and “joined up” fairly quickly. Rosie didn’t. I spent 10 times as long with her.One of the fillies, an extremely well-bred, gorgeous little Arabian, joined up in 15 minutes. I was riding her in two sessions. She never offered to buck. After 10 rides in the round pen, I started riding her across the river and taking her up the mountain – no problem. Another mare had been given to me because she was a problem horse. After 20 rides, my wranglers were fighting over who got to lead rides on her. I had similar results with the other two colts.Rosie, however, was a different story. Once I finally felt like she would stand so I could saddle and get on her, Rosie would have nothing of it. She bucked like a fiend. In her first 10 rides, she bucked nine times. The straw that broke the mustang’s back was when she bolted from under my wrangler, Michael, and threw him over her head. He broke his wrist in about eight places, needing emergency surgery and the insertion of plates, screws and pins. I called Dan and told him to come get the horse. I advised him that he and especially his wife should never ride the horse, and that she was a hazard and should be gotten rid of. “How?” he asked. “Send her to the killer,” I said. He couldn’t stand that idea.Well, folks, there are some facts that need to be aired. Please understand that I love horses (my wife and I own 40 head), and my regular readers know how I’m always going to fight for animals and the environment first and foremost. People can take care of themselves. Though mustangs were descended from the original Spanish barb horses, their bloodlines have been so diluted over the years that they’re just mongrels. They’re typically small, ewe-necked, platter-footed, have coarse heads, and they’re wild. You can go to the horse auction any given Saturday and see half a dozen or so mustangs run through for a hundred bucks apiece, horses that were placed with the public for a year. Most of them go for dog food.You can spend $600 a month having a mustang trained for several months, and when the dust settles, you’ll have a $600 horse – at best. In the meanwhile, you might get badly hurt. I have a friend in Denver who still doesn’t remember how she got her face kicked in, requiring emergency surgery and four days in intensive care. If you’re going to mess around with mustangs, you must be very experienced and very careful. If you think my experiences with mustangs are uncommon, ask around. In the meanwhile, the horses (an introduced nonnative species, by the way) are overgrazing their range, and there are far more wild horses than willing people to adopt them. The government is currently footing the bill for close to 20,000 unadoptable mustangs in captivity, most of which are more than 10 years old and a definite hazard for the public to handle. At the lowest possible rates, those horses are costing the government at least $6 million a year to board. Rarely do I support a Republican environmental policy, but Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana slipped a passage into an omnibus spending bill allowing the Department of the Interior to send up to 10,000 unadoptable mustangs to slaughter. I support this move.They’re livestock. They need to be thinned out. There’s a reason why cowboys never wanted to keep them and break them. In the meanwhile, the Department of the Interior can keep placing young horses with the public, the beaten-down range can recover for native species, and I warn you to be very careful if you’re thinking about adopting a mustang. It would be interesting to know how many well-meaning people have been badly hurt while trying to gentle mustangs.Gary Hubbell lives in Marble, where he and his wife, Doris, operate OutWest Guides. They offer summer horseback rides, fly-fishing trips and autumn big-game hunts.


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