"Unmolded Clay," the beauty of the wild horse...
From wild mustang to best pal
By Jonathan Martin
Seattle Times staff reporter
..."At first it was infatuation with having a wild horse," said Moore, eyeing mustang No. 9646 from a hay bale. "Then it got to be that gentling a wild horse was just so satisfying."
Enthusiasts describe wild horses as precious, unmolded clay. They have no bad habits, and their sturdy hooves and indefatigable spirits make the animals excellent endurance or backcountry steeds once they've been broken, or gentled.
"These horses are a product of the survival of the fittest," said Rick McComas, the BLM's wild-horse program manager for Washington. "Only the best and smartest survive on the range and those are the ones that reproduce."
Tracing their roots
The mustangs of the American West trace to Spanish horses imported by conquistadors into Mexico. Their stamina, speed and spirit became intertwined with the mystique of the country's westward expansion, but herds dwindled until mustangs fell under federal protection. Since 1971, more than 175,000 mustangs have been adopted.
Last January, Congress ordered the BLM's National Wild Horse and Burro program to sell for slaughter 10-year-old horses that had repeatedly failed to be adopted, prompting protests from wild-horse enthusiasts.
The BLM's wild-horse program treats the animals a bit like foster children. It retains ownership of a sold horse for a year and can regain custody if a horse winds up in a bad home. Hence, auctions are called "adoptions."
...Breaking a wild horse can take weeks or months. "It's like being a schoolteacher," said horse trainer Steve Reppert. "It's like taking an unruly child and turning him into a productive member of society."
But even broken mustangs retain a whiff of rangeland attitude, Reppert said. They pause when meeting other horses to determine if they are friend or foe, and they always take test slurps of water before drinking deeply.
"These animals grew up on inhospitable land," he said.
After two hours in a corral with horse trainer Lesley Neuman, mustang No. 9646 had lost his edginess. She tied a rope to his halter, grabbed his deep brown ears and gave his neck a hug.
"What a good horse," Neuman said.
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