This "wild" mustang may not have been broken to the saddle, but he certainly failed to live up to the John Wayne stereotype of stampeding hooves stirring up clouds of dust as he fights to escape the wooden corral.
"These horses are very trusting animals," said Chad Kelly, owner of Kelly's Colts in Monett. "These horses have never been around people. They've been rounded up, vaccinated for everything under the sun and shipped out to short-term or long-term holding.
"When I get them, it's my job to train them and then adopt them out," said Kelly.
Kelly is one of the approved trainers for the Mustang Heritage Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting successful adoptions for America's excess mustangs and burros. Kelly takes and trains animals gathered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency that is charged with maintaining herd population on public rangelands, primarily in the western parts of the United States.
"These horses are from the Nevada gathers," Kelly said. "Others take place in California, Oregon, Montana and Utah.
"The BLM holds more land than any other entity," he continued. "By removing a portion of the mustang and wild burro populations each year, the BLM manages those grazing areas and makes these horses available for adoption."
The BLM is mandated to remove excess population of animals to achieve appropriate management levels. The methods by which they achieve that goal are set forth in legislation that came about due to the "Wild Horse Annie Act," an effort spearheaded by Velma Bronn Johnston, later nicknamed Wild Horse Annie. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 was instrumental in passing legislation to stop the use of aircraft and land vehicles to capture wild horses and burros.
"That bill passed with 100 percent approval," Kelly said. "It was also the start of the adoption program in the early 1970s. That program did well until about 10 years ago. Then adoptions dropped."
Five years ago, the Mustang Heritage Foundation initiated a program to change the image of the wild mustang.
"Everyone had the idea that it was like a western movie," Kelly said. "That these horses were crazy stupid and couldn't be trained. That's the farthest thing from the truth there is.
"Yes, they can get scared," he said. "It's all about how you handle them. They go from stupid-wild to gentle in one day."
The general nature of the mustang is to adapt to its conditions, whether it's a sparsely covered rangeland or in a long-term holding area. For the horse, its all about survival.
"All mustangs have unique traits," Kelly said. "Some are more apt to pull a wagon, while another one might be better suited to trail riding. All horses are good for something. You just have to find out what that something is.
"It's not that the horse is unwilling or incapable," Kelly continued. "But it's all in how a person interacts with them. If the horse has 100 percent trust in his rider, he'll do anything you want him to."
Kelly generally has between 40 to 70 head of horses on his land at any given time, all in various stages of training.
"I'm one of just a few people in the United States that is participating in the Mustang Heritage Foundations Trainer's Incentive Program," he said. "That allows me to get these horses in here, break and train them for 90 days and then adopt them out to qualified buyers. The BLM adoption fee is all the buyer needs to pay.
"We're trying to make useful mounts for people willing to take them," Kelly said.
The program allows trainers to break a horse primarily for trail-riding purposes, which is the majority of Kelly's customer base.
"This is a good program for someone wanting a horse," Kelly said. "The mustang is sort of like the Ford truck of horses. Not everyone needs a $100,000 horse. And for $125, you'll get a good, trustworthy mount. It helps everyone."
|Kelly has several people of varying ages and skill sets assisting with training his horses.|
"I have all sorts of people ride these horses," he said. "The gentlest horses in the world are made by drunks and children. Once a horse is 'drunk-broke,' anyone can ride him."
With that in mind, Kelly won't adopt out a 90-day horse to a family looking for a child's mount.
"Ninety days is not long enough," he said. "I'll have people buy horses and take them home for a year to ride. They bring the horses back and then if I feel a horse is ready, I'll sell it to someone for a kid's mount."
The final word on adoption comes back to Kelly.
"I won't give somebody a bad horse," he said. "Once I had a buyer pick out a horse based on its color. That's not a reason to buy a horse. When it came down to it, the horse was too much for the guy, and I wouldn't let him have it."
Kelly picked out another mustang for the buyer based on the temperament and ability of both. It was a good match for the owner.
"I have the ultimate veto if I see a problem," Kelly said.
With over 38,000 mustangs and burros remaining in the wild, it is important to get them adopted out to good homes in a timely manner.
"Horses can double their herd size in four years," Kelly said. "Burros don't. If there is not enough grass, burros just won't breed.
"But the taxpayer expense for keeping mustangs in long-term holding is enormous," he continued. "Those are horses that will forever be on ranches. Most are over 6 years old and for one reason or another can't be adopted."
Kelly feels fortunate to be a participant in the Mustang Adoption Program.
"I've done this a long time," he said. "And I can tell you that when these horses come off the truck, they run around for a bit and then settle in to see what's next.
"Mustangs are not wild and untrainable," he continued. "They're just horses."
For more information on BLM's Mustang Adoption Program visit the website at www.blm.gov/adoptahorse.