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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 law.

“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, information states.

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 expect it.”

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 your friend.”

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 Worth facility.

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
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