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Through federal program, wild
mustangs go to loving homes
By KANDACE MCCOY
BONNIE — Karina Lewis of Harmony, Maine, loves to train horses. But the
horses she and fellow trainer Michael Gerald work with are a bit unique,
as well as adoptable — wild mustangs.
Lewis and Gerald have been in Bonnie the past few days working with wild
mustangs that have been rounded up by the U.S. Department of the
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. Trainers are nominated for this
duty by the BLM to work with the animals for the Extreme Mustang
Makeover, which will be held in September in Fort Worth, Texas. Lewis
and Gerald collected their trainees from the BLM holding site in Ewing.
According to Lewis, about 30,000 of the animals have been gathered by
the BLM, with more than 68,000 still roaming freely over public lands
throughout the West, where they are protected by the BLM under federal
“It’s fairly important they’re separated [from herds] because the herd
size doubles every year,” Lewis said.
The BLM protects, manages and controls wild horses and burros under the
authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 to
ensure that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands. The BLM manages
the animals as part of its multiple-use mission under the 1976 Federal
Land Policy and Management Act.
To help restore the balance of the herds, the BLM gathers some wild
horses and burros and offers them for adoption or sale to individuals
and groups willing and able to provide humane, long-term care,
Trainers like Lewis and Gerald then work with the horses to “soften”
them for their new owner, which could take anywhere from a day or two to
even more than a month, Gerald said.
“They’re really smart animals,” he noted, adding that once the mustangs
get used to being around people and learn basic commands, they become a
“really good friend.”
“Once you socialize them, they’re friends to everyone,” said Lewis.
“When they’re smothered with love, kindness and patience, they come to
Lewis and Gerald both say people may have misconceptions about wild
mustangs not being trainable. “It’s not too challenging,” Gerald said of
training the mustangs. “I look at them the same as domestic horses.”
“When you approach a wild horse, you have to apply patience and time, a
lot of it. All horses speak that language,” Lewis explained. “If you
apply that, you’ll have a friend for life. They’re kind and want to be
One horse Lewis has been training, ShoGun, is a 3-year-old mustang that,
as of Friday, had been out of the BLM holding facility at Ewing for
about four days. Another horse, Smoky, also out of the holding facility
for a few days, recently discovered a new favorite treat — carrots.
“They’re a joy to work with,” Lewis exclaimed. “They’re the pure essence
of a horse.”
Mustangs and burros can be adopted for $125 prior to a scheduled
adoption at any of the BLM holding sites. However, during a scheduled
adoption at a site, adoption fees are set by competitive bid with
initial fees being determined by the level and quality of training each
horse has received.
Mustangs like ShoGun and Smoky will be participating in the Extreme
Mustang Makeover competition Sept. 19-20 at the Will Rogers Equestrian
Center in Fort Worth. Three- and 4-year-old mustangs will be judged on
conditioning, groundwork and a “Horse Course” that requires maneuvers
and includes obstacles. The purpose of the competition is to showcase
the “beauty, versatility and trainability” of these horses. Following
the competition, the horses will be available for adoption at the Fort
To qualify for adoption, those interested must be at least 18 years of
age with no record of animal abuse. In addition, adopters must have
suitable facilities and can adopt no more than four animals.
The next scheduled adoption is set for Sept. 5-6 at Ewing.
For more information about the Wild Horse and Burro Program, visit
www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov or call 866-MUSTANGS.
Trainer Michael Gerald of New Jersey and
Karina Lewis of Harmony, Maine, check over ShoGun, a 3-year-old wild mustang rounded up by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. Gerald and Lewis are one of many trainers chosen to help “soften” wild mustangs for adoption or sale to individuals and groups willing and able to provide long-term care.