Wild Horse Workshop

Michael Horrigan explains the concept of release to a student.

By Shelly Moore

Mustangs wild and free, the saying conjures up images of the wild horses racing across the desert plains. Unfortunately the fragile desert eco-system is not robust enough to support many large family groups of the mustangs. There are other considerations that affect the mustang's survival in the wild. These considerations range from environmentalists' fear that the mustang population will completely wipe out many native plants, to the farmers' and ranchers' fear that the mustangs will eat the precious grass and drink what little water may be available, to their animals through the grazing permit process and to the entire wildlife population that inhabit and share the range. Regardless of whose side you take, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) annually rounds up a large portion of the mustangs.

The BLM has developed herd management quotas to manage the mustangs in as natural a way as possible, while sustaining the environment and the horse herds in a tentative balance. Mother Nature still has the ultimate "say" in what happens to each herd, through weather and actual terrain where the horses live. One year, not so long ago, the BLM was genuinely worried they might lose entire herds of the mustangs due to heavier than normal snowfall and snow pack, making foraging for food difficult at best for the horses in the area. The BLM estimated they lost nearly 50% of some herds. Through Mother Nature's culling process the horses that were left were tougher than the horses that had perished that winter. It truly was survival of the fittest for the affected Oregon herds.

The BLM has set up minimum and maximum horse population levels for each herd area. These levels are based upon the actual number of acres the herd populates, the availability of food and water, and whether or not any of the horses are a nuisance to the local populace. To keep the horses at a population number of less than the desired maximum, the BLM has periodic round-ups of the mustangs in each herd area. The BLM keeps track of the acres in the herd area, the last gathering date, the last inventory date and the actual number of horses on the inventory date. They also have established estimated populations of each herd area based on the statistics they have. The State of Oregon is divided up into districts and the mustang herds are identified by the district area and the herd name where they reside. The Oregon Districts are the Burns District, Prineville District, Vale District, and the Lakeview District.

Lesley Neuman demonstrates her approach to the mustang's first human touch.

The number one factor at this clinic was everyone's safety. The horses were trucked in from Burns, Oregon to the Benton County Fairgrounds, Corvallis, Oregon. This was a very long six-hour trip for the horses. The semi trucks are large open boxed stock trucks with a partition system that allows smaller groups of horses to be separated out into smaller safer groups. This allows the BLM to sort the horses by age and gender more easily, thus allowing the horses to stay with animals of their own age. The corrals that the horses were unloaded into were pipe corrals with deep fir shavings as bedding. The corrals were completely ready for the horses well before the horses even arrived. The BLM had large sheets of plywood at each turn the horses were to pass through - a visually defined wall that the horses knew they could not run through even if panicked.

The first horses unloaded from the truck were very tentative and really did not want to leave the safety of the "herd". But with a little help from the BLM wranglers everyone unloaded in a safe and manageable fashion. The horses were then herded into their group pens where fresh water and alfalfa hay awaited them. With the excitement of the unloading completed and the horses fairly settled by the next day, the first round of the adoptions began.

This was a silent auction that was open to the participants of the Wild Horse Workshop 2001. The idea behind the participants getting first shot at bidding on the horses was to foster a good start in the relationship of the new adopter and the adoptee. The people who adopted their special horse would get to work with their new horse under the supervision and expertise of the many professionals who were there to teach. This was to help insure that the horses were gentled and accustomed to human beings before the end of the week, thus helping to ensure a positive outcome for the mustangs.

The Wild Horse Workshop is the brainchild of Willis and Sharon Lamm. The Lamms own Kickin' Back Ranch in Brentwood, California. Willis and Sharon came up with the Least Resistance Training Concepts idea and then went on to make the LRTC a non-profit organization. The focus and goal of the LRTC is to offer mentoring to the average wild horse adopter to give both the human and the horse the most options available to insure a successful adoption. The LRTC is based on a mentoring program of teaching mentors to teach new people to become mentors. By teaching mentors to teach mentors theoretically you will have a renewable mentor resource that will go on and on. The LRTC basic idealism is that knowledge is not mentoring, but that heart is mentoring. You do not have to be the perfect horse trainer to be a mentor; you just have to be willing to help another human being. You might not know what to do exactly for every situation, but you do know whom you can call or to whom you can refer the client for more information pertinent the situation.

The concepts that are taught at this workshop come from a variety of sources, which all share the common goal of getting the horses gentled and then trained in the least traumatic ways possible. Safety is the big issue on everyone's mind since relatively inexperienced people are working with wild horses in an enclosed setting, while learning new skills or mastering old skills. The safety issue was evident to everyone that attended, from the padded rails in the "squeeze" pen to the helmets worn by the participants.

Clinic participant starts the gentling process using an 8' to 10' bamboo pole.

The LRTC website address is www.whmentors.org. On this website you will find loads of information relating to how to build a round pen, gentling with a bamboo pole, clicker training, mounting, and what people are doing with their newly adopted mustangs just to name a few things. All of the information on the website is available to be downloaded, so you can take your printed copies out to the corral and get started.

Attending a full week of the Wild Horse Workshop is a bargain beyond belief. The amount of knowledge available to the average participant was overwhelming to many. I do not know if all the participants realized the whole value of the experience. The amount of training that went on, of both the horses and the people, was worth several hundred dollars if the person were to have to pay the individual trainer for the knowledge obtained. The other intangibles of the clinic were meeting new people with similar ideas, expanding our current training repertoire, networking for future clinics, horse watching, and a lot of horse stories.

The trainers at this clinic were absolutely wonderful! The clinicians were available during the breaks, meals, and during the evening to answer questions, go over techniques and help the participant to learn what it was that they came to learn. The clinicians were also very willing to watch and learn from one another many new and old techniques of gentling and starting the mustangs.

The clinicians and the assistant clinicians covered a large variety of different gentling methods, all of which appeared to be quite effective. The clinicians that taught were Frank Bell, Hue Simpson, Robert Denlinger, Willis Lamm, Cheryl Eastep, Michael Horrigan, Lesley Neuman, Steve Rother, John and Joyce Sharp and Jerry Tindell.

There were several clinician assistants (CAs) that helped with the workshop the entire week. The one CA that really made an impression on me was Donna Maye West. Donna showed all the participants a video that dealt with the important safety issue of the use of riding helmets. This video, "Every Ride, Every Time", interviewed real people who had lost loved ones or had family members experience severe life changing injuries in a horse related accident that could have been prevented or at the very least not been so severe a trauma. This video prompted some participants to really see the value of wearing a helmet when riding. This is an inexpensive and comprehensive video that is a must see for anyone, especially parents with children who ride.

I was really impressed with the way that the whole workshop came together for the good of the horse. These mustangs were brought into the arena and separated into individual pens that were side by side. This enabled the horses to still have a sense of the herd while being handled for the very first time. It was heartening to see all of the clinicians and participants really take the time and effort needed for each horse on an individual basis while still giving consideration to the human "student" that was in attendance. Most of the horses were given frequent small breaks from the gentling procedures throughout the entire lesson. Many times the lessons were completely stopped and the humans physically left the pen if the horses exhibited fear or apprehension. If the horses were reactive to the activity in the adjacent pens or to the other horses coming and going from different pens they were given a break.

The mustangs rest after a morning of working with humans. These horses quieted down and were taking afternoon naps by Wednesday.

As the week progressed I saw marked improvement in all the horses. They really seemed to settle down and become more responsive and less reactive to the human presence by the third session of gentling. Some horses were starting to seek the companionship and comfort of the participants by mid-week. I checked the corrals where the horses were kept daily and noticed that the mustangs that once were completely avoiding the human contact were now up against the rails begging for their butts to be itched or their face to be stroked. It truly touched my heart when a yearling stud colt came over to the fence for a butt scratching session every time he saw me…of course I rolled in a few TTouchs on that particular boy! He really enjoyed the tail pull and the pelvic tilts. It was amazing to watch the osmosis that was taking place with the members of each group.

I got the chance to teach the TTEAM leading exercises to the participants on previously adopted mustangs and I got to work with a couple of horses that were having confidence issues due to hard starts with humans in the beginning. I taught several children how to lead in the Elegant Elephant leading position through the obstacle course that I had set up. It was really rewarding to see these kids actually grasp the importance of leading a horse in a safe and correct way that communicated directly to the horse exactly what you wanted him to do. Through having the kids lead one another, as though they were the horse, they learned about leading from the horse' s point of view.

I also Bio-Scanned Steve Rother's mare, Sage, during the week, to help with stiffness and flexibility problems she was having. Bio-Scanning Sage was a unique opportunity to work with a horse that really has a job every single day and who is on the road traveling to that next job for most of the year. Sage did not really want to be touched or messed with and in the beginning only stood for the Bio-Scanning out of obedience. By the second treatment, Sage was actually letting her guard down enough for me to sneak in a few TTouches along her back and hip. What was really exciting is that Steve and Michael were teaching Sage how to become more collected and work in a frame, and before the Bio-Scan session she was stiff and having a hard time doing what she was asked. After one session, Steve reported that the collection work had improved and she seemed more flexible and able to do what she was asked.

Hue Simpson and I did an evening demonstration, for the people, that focused on grounding, centering, breathing and being in the moment, in addition to introducing a few TTouches. It was really gratifying to watch the participant's body actually physically change before your eyes. Most of the participants that stayed and learned the TTouchs used them the next day as part of the bonding process with the mustangs to which they were assigned.

The Pacific Wild Horse Club of Eugene, Oregon sponsored the event. The Pacific Wild Horse Club was started in 1981 and is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that was started to protect and promote the wild horse and burro population. The club has members all over the United States. The club meets the third Thursday of each month.

The adoption rate at this function was quite good. Nearly all of the horses and burros were adopted out. The value that the new adopters received is truly amazing! Many of the horses were started on leading and at least one horse was started under saddle. The horses all had basic gentling and were much calmer and accepting of the human/animal interactions. In fact, many appeared to see the direct benefit of having a human scratch your butt and rub your face.

If you are at all interested in mustangs and want to see a really good group of people who are working for the good of the horse, this is a must attend event! Who knows - a mustang or burro just might open your heart up to a new frontier in horse stewardship.

About the author:
Shelly Moore, a freelance writer and owner of Full Circle Farm in Creswell, Oregon, is a TTEAM/TTouch practitioner and teaches Holistic Horse Care classes. Shelly has over 10 years of experience using alternative and natural horse care principles and products including herbs, flower essences, TTouch, TTEAM, and other bodywork. She is available for telephone consultations, clinics, classes, and private healing sessions at 541-895-3196 and ttshelly@yahoo.com or visit www.wisdomhorse.com.