Taming the wild

Locals adopt wild mustangs, train them for domestication

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Patti Mosbey can't seem to get enough horses.

But not just any horse will do. Mosbey is sweet on the wild ones.

"These are my jewels," she said at her ranch earlier this week scanning over her two, mostly still-wild mares, Ginger and Lady K. Descendants of horses first ridden by Spanish conquistadors, the two pregnant Kiger mares were rounded up from a wild herd in Oregon. Mosbey later bought them at an auction.

After they foal, she'll work at gentling them, preparing them for a new life of riding, shows or ranch chores.

"They'll eat hay out of my hand right now but that's about it," Mosbey said.

Mosbey is a member of the High Plains Mustang Club of Craig; a group of about 10 people who are working hard to prove the merits of wild horses to local horse lovers.

And Mosbey is a living example of how that trend is catching is on.

She owns a dozen horses but half are from wild stock or called mustangs. Her goal is to own only mustangs.

"The more I learned about mustangs the more fascinated I became," she said. "You realize it's not the breeding of the horse but the time you spend with it can make them very nice animals."

Riding out the opinions

"Everybody has an opinion about our wild horses," said Valerie Dobrich, a wild horse specialist with the Bureau of Land Management.

Wild horse herds roam some of the western states like Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Oregon.

Before 1959, the public was allowed to gather herds using airplanes. During that time, some of the horses were used for ranch work while others were sent to slaughter making it a "lucrative business," Dobrich said.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 made it illegal for residents to capture and kill the animals. The BLM then took on the duty of managing herds and now sells them to the public though a regulated and reasonably priced adopt-to-own program.

"There's a dichotomy there, especially with the old timers because they can't rope and catch horses anymore," she said. "But in this day and age, there are people who also really like seeing horses in the wild."

The Sandwash herd, outside of Maybell currently runs 240 strong, Dobrich said. When that herd reaches 362, the BLM reduces it to163. It results in a roundup about every four years.

The BLM keeps the horses, which can be adopted for $125 each or some are auctioned off. Auctioned horses usually sell for an average of a couple hundred dollars each, Dobrich said. Mustangs sold through the adoption program sell well below the market price of domestic horses, which are often purchased for thousands of dollars.

To adopt a wild horse, purchasers must provide adequate corrals, shelter and training. If horse adopters can pass a BLM inspection a year later, they are officially the horse's owner. The BLM estimates costs of $1,000 a year in training, food and care for a mustang.

The BLM Wild Horse and Burro program seems to be catching on more quickly in Moffat and Routt counties than in other parts of Colorado, Dobrich said.

"I'm just seeing a whole lot of community cooperation here for some reason," she said.

In the last couple years, local schools have sponsored presentations on the issue and the BLM is getting more calls about the program.

"We see more adoptions here," Dobrich said. "I think some of that's because people are having success with it."

Group gallops on

Craig's High Plains Mustang Club has charged ahead since its formation in 2001. It has increased from just a handful of members to organizing horse shows over the span of a few years.

The club will host its third annual horse show in Craig in late June. For the first time, the Craig event will become part of a tri-state competition in conjunction with Utah and Wyoming wild horse shows.

"It says something about the group that they were approached by the national BLM office to do this," Dobrich said. "Somebody saw how proactive they were being."

To draw attention to the club, the Craig group has given away three horses.

Jennifer Brockman, 14, received a horse named TZ, which she first fell in love while working with it on the Mosbey ranch.

After winning an award showing TZ at a horse show in Craig, Brockman was given the horse.

"It took me a while to realize that they were giving TZ to me to keep," she said in a letter. "It was a very emotional time for all of us."

Mosbey said the club plans to give away another wild horse this year, but members want to ensure the horse will go to a dedicated individual.

The popularity of mustangs is catching on for a number of reasons, Dobrich said.

They tend to have a greater resistance to diseases and strong hooves that usually don't have to be shoed. Outfitters and hunters appreciate the levelheaded nature of mustangs, Dobrich said, noting that her own mustang has been known to sniff out elk trails.

Mustangs are receiving more national recognition, thanks to horse and rider pair who secured prestigious accolades a few years ago.

In 2001, the American Endurance Ride Conference inducted "Mustang Lady" Naomi Preston into the Hall of Fame. Preston adopted her horse, Lady, in 1982 through the BLM program.

Preston and Lady went on to win numerous awards, competing in endurance rides up that reach 50 to 100 miles in one day.

That Lady won the recognition is like a mustang winning the Kentucky Derby, Preston said at her acceptance speech.

Indeed, when Mosbey takes some of her mustangs to a show people are surprised that her horses "don't look like mustangs," she said.

"There are all these pre-conceived notions about what mustangs should look like or act like," she said. "But they can be as well-trained and as well-groomed as any horse."

Mustang owners often don't know the heritage of their horse, but are excited to own a little piece of history.

Wild horses and burros are descendents of animals that were released by or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, U.S. Cavalry or Native Americans, a BLM Web site said.

Teen-ager Shawni Clark of Craig wanted to give a wild horse a try when she adopted one two years ago at a roundup in Piceance Creek, near Meeker.

"I had really wanted to have a weanling to start out with," she said. "Finally I came across this one that made me feel he was the perfect one for me."

Clark named her horse Taking a Chance, "but I'm not doubting one bit about getting Chance," she said.

Clark won Reserve Grand Champion with her horse at a show in Rock Springs, Wyo. Taking a Chance also won first, second and third place ribbons at the show.

"After many weeks of coaching him and training him, he has turned out to be a great horse," Clark said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at824-7031, Ext. 208 or by e-mail at ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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