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Working With Wild Horses: Horses Healing Humans x Three

In March of 1999, a select group of inmates from the Canon City Correctional Institute in Canon City, Colorado, were chosen to watch a short CBS news clip introduced by Dan Rather. When the film ended, the lights were left off for several minutes. The room was completely silent. There was not a dry eye in the room. These men had just observed a young boy with no control of his own legs ride a horse named Convict. Several of these men knew Convict well, since they had taught the horse to accept humans as part of daily life. These are men who tame the wild mustangs fresh off the range while serving time for their own misdeeds-deeds committed within our society.

There is a growing trend throughout the world in which horses are being used to heal humans. With several thousand therapeutic riding programs operating on the planet and programs in which at-risk teens interact with horses, plus millions of everyday people enjoying their interactions with horses, there seems to be emerging a very clear message. Interaction with horses is healthy for humans from all walks of life.

Domestic horses raised in captivity lead very complex lives compared to those growing up in the wild. Often times they are handled from the first hour of birth and this continues throughout their lives. Humans become an everyday event. Sometimes this is good and sometimes it isn't. In many ways humans have lost the natural ability to understand and empathize with horses. That ability was used everyday in centuries past. Today interaction with horses is mostly recreational. The horse exists for the human's pleasure, not his survival. For that very reason most of the problems that horse have are human related. Cribbing, weaving, and wind-sucking do not exist in the wild nor do so many of the aberrant behaviors that horses exhibit in captivity.

Close To The Earth

Wild horses also known as mustangs are different. The old saying, " The farther you get from the earth, the farther you have to fall" seems to apply here. These horses never leave the earth. They don't get into trailers to hurry to events or have their feet manicured every six weeks. They exist as wild creatures in a herd that protects them against the natural elements in the universe. They know exactly where their feet are coming down and don't fear water, boulders, logs, or shadows. They are raw-boned creatures with no preconceived notions of what life will offer. They just deal with it everyday and accept it. Acceptance is the key word here.

Domestic horses are dealt a different hand. They learn to sense our moods and desires. They have human-related temper tantrums. They worry and develop bad habits and attitudes that we often enable unknowingly. Domestic horses are vastly more complex largely because of their dependence on humans who are not consistent, but really highly unpredictable. How can the horse be perfectly predictable if the handlers aren't? They can't. So we live with this reality as we attempt to fit humans with horses as we embark on the new millennium.

  Frank working with at-risk  teens

Mustangs, while truly wild, are very calm by nature. That calmness deep inside is a very desired quality for dependability. Dependability is the most important and desired element for the handicapped riding programs mentioned earlier. Additionally, these programs need sound dependable horses with many years of active life in front of them. Reaching that dependability requires patience and empathy far beyond most human's capacity. Patience and empathy are often the very elements lacking in the men and women who end up in incarceration, as well as the at-risk youth who are headed in the direction of a troubled life which may very well put them behind bars.

Pairing mustangs with prisoners and teens is not only logical, but it is working astonishingly well. When the mustang is gentled and ready for a life with humans, isn't a logical step to put them into a therapeutic riding program?

The Great Vision

There are approximately 50,000 wild horses managed by the Dept. of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. They need to be managed just like wild game with one big exception: they are not hunted and killed, but captured and auctioned off to the general public. With a base price of $125, it is a losing proposition for the government. When the animal can command more value, the numbers make more sense. The value is in horses healing humans. Envision this:

Capture the wild horse as humanely as possible that is presently being accomplished. Have the prisoners do the initial gentling for several months. Move the gentled horses to an at-risk teen program for several more months depending on needs. Then . . . Place the horses into a therapeutic riding program for potentially the next twenty years.

What does this concept accomplish?

First, the excess mustang problem is alleviated as horses are ultimately adopted and placed into therapeutic riding programs. The prisoner learns a usable skill while reaching deep inside himself to accomplish this task. The prisoner understands that the very animal he is helping learn to cope with life may very well touch the lives of numerous disadvantaged humans. The prisoner is also " earning his keep" from the fees generated with his training. The $125 horse is now leaving the prison as a $750 or $1000 horse. The horse is taken to an at-risk youth facility. The students have learned the skills needed to work with the horses. This builds the confidence of both parties.

The horse remains at this facility adding value to the program until ready to move to the handicapped riding center. Again, the teens fully understand just where the animal is going in an attempt to pull them into the bigger picture, enlist their empathy and teach altruism.

This concept comes full-circle when the general public become involved. Ideally, sponsors are located who will furnish the initial adoption and training fees of approximately $2500. The horse will be named by the sponsor and the tax benefits realized. In this win-win scenario the sponsor gets excellent P. R., and the horse a meaningful life that benefits three distinct groups.

Frank is also working with several groups focusing on obtaining a federal grant to set up a training center and to provide scholarships to those desiring a career in working with horses, at-risk teenagers, or in handicapped riding programs. Several other at-risk teen programs have joined  in gentling the mustangs, including the Assurance Home in Roswell, NM.

Wild  Horse Related Links

Working With Wild Horses

Horses Healing Humans

Mustang Project

2004 Wild Horse Workshop

2003 Wild Horse Workshop

2002 Wild Horse Workshop


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