Saturday, October 16, 2010

2010 - The First Week

I’m volunteering at a mustang training ranch called The Yr OKAY Corral located in the northwest corner of New Mexico. The ranch is close to Four Corners. The closest town is Farnington.

Meet a mustang...Loren

I’m working for Patricia and John Irick, mostly for Pat. She takes in mustangs fresh off the range and trains them for adoption. I’ll talk more about this arrangement in a subsequent blog.

Some of the ranch buildings

The ranch house is actually an old school building from the 50’s which was built when El Paso Natural Gas had fairly large crews in the area. It was closed in the '70s. Pat and John bought it about 15 years ago and Pat started her mustang training. The location is spectacular…right out of a Tony Hillerman novel, even with pictographs just half a mile from the ranch. If you want to see where it is, the coordinates are 36° 28.765'N 107° 31.614'W.

My first the ranch, on a hinny and on Crackers. A hinny is a mule
with a donkey for a mother and a horse for a father.

Crackers dashboard

On the trail with Babe

Petroglyphs just a half mile from the ranch

Pat and John are great people and this is a tremendous learning opportunity for me. I’ve only seen mustangs and of course never worked with then. Now already I’m working with four horses that just came off the range and three more that have been here about two weeks.

Loren gets adopted and meets his new owner.
Pat is teaching him some of her unique training techniques.

The goal of the training is to have the horse comfortable enough with humans that they can be handled by them. Petting all over their bodies, allowing the picking up of their hoofs, willing to be haltered and led and respond to basic commands like “walk on”, "whoa" and "back." This can be accomplished in as little as three or four weeks.

Pat is teaching me some hand and voice commands. Here I work with the horse Cisco with commands for him to go forward, turn around, trot and stop.

People who adopt them then can start the process of training them to be ridden. (I carefully avoid the word break here, al la Monty Roberts.)

Meeting Prince Albert. He is a beautiful horse that's been
here only two weeks and is already "finished" his basic training.
He is already spoken for. What a horse!

I’ve never trained a horse from scratch, let along worked with a horse that just weeks before was wild. I can’t think of another animal where this is possible. We start with hand feeding the new horses. They learn very quickly. Soon you can touch them in the feeding process and then you can ask them to do something, like touching their nose to two extended fingers and reward that action with a handful of hay.

Here I meet Phillip and halter him.
Phillip has only been here for a little over two weeks.
He is a very fast learner.

Pat takes the training further than the minimum requirements and includes handling of the hoofs, knowing some word commands and even trailer loading...It all very, very exciting!

"Jumping" with Phillip.

The horses that have been here for about two weeks are beautiful. The cutest one is a little horse named Phillip (above), probably only 13 hands tall but young enough to grow some. He’s a bay with a beautiful blaze. I worked with him today and he already knows how to be lead and respond to verbal commands. He’s also very affectionate.

Me and my buddy, Phillip

Four horses arrived the same day I did and Pat asked me to name them (a privilege of a volunteer.) They are Little Star, Champi, Victoria and Blazette. Champi left eye was injured and has swollen almost closed. Even though this horse was in the wild just weeks ago, Pat, with her knowledge of how horses think was able to medicate the horse (with a little help from me.) The swelling is already going down.

I’m sure there will be lots more to tell as my relatively short time here progresses.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Week 2

It's all about horses...and politics.

I decided to make this blog about mustangs and how they are controlled by the government.  There’s a lot of misinformation about the current government policies dealing with mustangs.

If you find this boring I hope you’ll enjoy the pictures.   And by the way, there is a video of me working with a mustang.  Click here to see it on YouTube.

Wild mustangs date back to horses that came from Europe starting with the Spanish invasion.  Some scholars also feel there may have been an indigenous strain that was here before the white man.  These horses are quite small and have a link to small horses still found in Greece.  By the time the West was being first explored and settled, wild horses roamed throughout North America.  Some Indian tribes were very dependent on horses and had deep respect for them.
The dry riverbed near the ranch.

As North America became settled in the 18th and 19th century, wild horses lost much of their range land.  By the 20th century there were more horses than the range land could support.  Different reactions to this problem came to pass which has led to the current wild horse management which is under the National Forest Service (NFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and to a degree the National Park Service and some state agencies. These agencies work based on guidelines established in1971.  Mustang herds were defined at that time and are protected by law.

The herds are located in Herd Management Areas (HMA) and have an ideal population which that land can environmentally support.  When the population exceeds this number horses are gathered.  Each land management group has their own way to gather excess horses.

Mucking out goes with horses...half a wheelbarrow per horse.
And with about 20 horses, mules and in the heavy equipment.
You gotta look close but that's me in the loader!
My boss Pat works with the National Forest Service.  The NFS contracts with trappers who gather individual bands of horses.  A band of horses can be as little as 3 horses, with a stallion, a mare and a foal to as many as 12 to 14 horses with a dominant male, lieutenant males, a matriarch mare, other mares and foals.  There are also stallion bands made up of younger male horses.  NFS gathers horses on trapping a complete band.  In our district they are taken to Farmington’s Short Term Holding Facility.

Phillip running in the yard.  What a beautiful horse.
Saturday he's going to an adoption fair.
I'll be so sad to say good-by. 

In Farmington, the horses are examined, wormed, aged by looking at their teeth and checked for disease; the male horses are gelded.   At this point any of the horses can be adopted, but usually the horses are put into training with private trainers like Pat.  She will take four horses at a time and have as many as 12 horses in various stages of training.  USFS training goals are that they are pettable, halter trained and leadable.  Pat adds her own goals which include responding to basic voice commands like “whoa”, “walk on” and “back”, allow for the lifting of both front and rear hooves for cleaning, and trailer loading. A horse might be in training with Pat for as little as two weeks. 

Blazette arrived the same day I did.  Her training is going well. 
She's a very pretty horse too.

Once trained, the horses are advertised for adoption.  Horses may be adopted right out of Pat’s ranch or out of the USFS facility in Farmington.  To adopt a horse you have to have a suitable place for that horse…no barbed wire, appropriate fence height which may have to be 7 feet for the wilder ones, and the agencies would like to know that you have basic understanding of horse care.  The cost (in 2010) is $125.00 for horses under 10 years old and $25.00 for horses 10 and over.

The USFS pays the trapper about $750.00 for each horse, $250.00 to the trainers (like Pat) and about $200.00 for veterinarian services.  Obviously the government isn’t in this for the money.

The BLM uses a helicopter contractor to round up mustangs. The result of this is that the horses they catch may or may not be from the same band as they are pushed along. The horses run a great distance and many, especially young foals, appear to suffer injury from the process. It is this helicopter gathering that so enrages the wild horse advocates.

While in the past, surplus mustangs have been sent to slaughter houses I have found no evidence that this practice still occurs in the federally controlled herds. Some states are still sending horses to slaughter.

Evening clouds tell of rain to come...

I’ve been busy this week.  Just keeping up with my chores…my part of mucking out and feeding…learning new training techniques and putting together videos of Pat’s techniques.
Shooting the opening of the videos
It’s lots of work and lots of fun.  Pat and John are fun to work with and Pat’s mom Audrie joined us this week, adding to the fun group.

Fall touches the air...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Last few days then - - Headin' Home

Pat took me out to see some of the Indian ruins which were all quite near to the ranch.  Facinating!

         Found this guy on the road!


Saturday (October 9th) was head to town day...Pat and John were taking three horses to the adoption fair, including Albert and Phillip.  I followed them into Farmington and the Forest Service Mustang Adoption Center.  We had a big rain storm Thursday night and we were worried about the road...20 miles of dirt. 

Beautiful rock formations along the way.

John headed out earlier and phoned back that it was OK except for a ford about 2 miles from the ranch.  So Pat with the horses and me with the Miata headed out.  There was water and lots of mud at the ford.  Pat went out and measured how deep it was...about eight inches.  

So I gunned the Miata and splashed through just fine...covering the car with mud in the process.  Pat made it through with the truck and trailer just fine too.  Then she said "Oh, we didn't get a picture...go back and do it again."  Not likely!   
Albert gets pretty excited when he's unloaded...trying to figure out where he is.
Pat quiets him in his new corral.  Later Phillip joined him here.  
Albert was already adopted and was picked up Sunday.  
I don't know where my favorite Phillip ended up.
So at the Adoption Center I said goodbye to the horses and then after a lunch (In a cool '50s dinner) I said goodbye to John, Pat and Pat's mother Audrie and headed north.  Left to right, Me (of course), Pat, Audrie and John.

I got to Moab, UT on Monday and stayed with a friend of friends.   Siana showed me around this beautiful area which was new to me.

Then I headed north.  I stopped for lunch in Helper Utah. (That's really the name!)  It's like a town frozen in time.  The cafe was so cool...totally '20s. 

Continued my great drive from there...what a trip...9 states, 3500 miles and an incredible learning experience.  I shot video of Pat's gentling technique and will be editing the six chapters in the next few days.  Pat will put them up on YouTube..

Mt. Rainier welcomed me back to The land of the pointy trees.