Change two lives — adopt a mustang
for The Fence Post
Wild horses stir the imagination with their grace and freedom and untamed spirit. Residents of the Grand Valley of Colorado are fortunate to have a mustang herd in the nearby Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area.
The maintenance of this herd of presently 190 horses and their 36,000-acre range is shared by the Bureau of Land Management and the local Friends of the Mustangs (FOM) organization, a group of over 100 horse lovers who volunteer to work for the wild horses in various ways. For 36 years, this cooperative partnership has been a win-win situation for the BLM, the FOM, and especially for the mustangs of the Little Book Cliffs Range.
The group now racks up countless volunteer hours and saves the BLM (and taxpayers) thousands of dollars each year by maintaining trails, clearing water holes, routing natural springs into troughs, removing old wire and other debris that could endanger the horses, erecting signs to guide hikers and horseback riders, and helping with the reseeding of the range when necessary. Trained darters from the group implement the fertility-control program that temporarily blocks pregnancies, a program that has reduced the need for more frequent gathers.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” said BLM Range Specialist Jim Dollerschell. “FOM is an integral part of everything we do for the Mustangs.”
According to Dollerschell, the drought conditions this year are almost the worst anyone has ever seen. It has drastically reduced the available forage, and some water holes on the range are drying up. In the interest of preserving the health and well-being of the herds, a gather was initiated this month in an effort to remove 60 head of wild horses from the Little Book Cliffs Range using water and hay as bait. BLM personnel have been setting out water and feed at 10 sites where they hope to corral the horses, with game cameras recording visitation. Once the animals get used to the set-up and come into the enclosures willingly, gates can be closed automatically, trapping them inside. This procedure will need to be carried out several times throughout September to get the target number of horses.
The mustangs captured will be taken to the Canon City facility for vaccinations, de-worming and hoof care. Those selected for adoption will be brought back to Grand Junction to be auctioned off sometime in November or December. Bids start at $125 for approved buyers but may go higher depending on the number of bidders. Little Book Cliff horses have wonderful color diversity — almost every color of horse is represented due to careful management by the BLM over the years. If folks are partial to a certain color, chances are it is going to be available for adoption. These beloved horses need loving adoptive homes, so interested parties should consider coming to Grand Junction for the auction later on this fall. Firm dates for the event will be announced in October on both the BLM website: BLM.gov, and the FOM website: FriendsoftheMustangslbc@gmail.com. Provided enough horses are gathered, another auction will be held in the spring.
Mustangs are used exclusively by the U.S. Border Patrol on both the Canadian and Mexican borders. Many members of the Friends of the Mustangs organization have adopted mustangs and use them in different disciplines, touting their intelligence, hardiness, sure-footedness, and the partnerships they have developed with their individual horses.
DIEHL AND ROMEO
Romeo was born in the Monument Rock area of the Little Book Cliffs — the most remote part of the range. He was an unknown when he came in as a 2-year-old at the 1989 gather and was subsequently trained at Canon City by an inmate in the Wild Horse Inmate Program.
Here is Beckie Diehl’s story: “Romeo got his name because of his Roman nose. I became his owner after his original adopter became ill and couldn’t care for him. I was recovering from a bad horse accident at the time and unable to ride, but Romeo taught me to ride again. We have been partners for several years, riding the Wild Horse Range, checking on and photographing the wild horses of the Little Book Cliffs. He has willingly carried me many, many rugged miles. We have also ridden in parades, gymkhanas, FOM Open Houses, and even had our picture taken with the Marine Color Guard. He is very solid in everything he does and has never hurt me. He is my saving grace.” Diehl also owns three other mustangs and boards two more.
HYRUP AND NUGGET
Jim Hyrup said this about his mustang: “Nugget is a 7-year-old palomino gelding. His dam was with foal when she was gathered in Wyoming. She was processed and sent to a BLM wild horse pasture in Oklahoma, where Nugget was eventually born and lived until he was 4. He was then sent to Canon City, and then to Grand Junction for the Trainer Incentive Program, for which I had signed up. I gentled him and taught him to lead, have his feet picked up, and load in a trailer, with the intent of adopting him out to someone. Out of the 13 horses brought over, he was usually at the top of the class. I was leading, loading, unloading, and riding him in a round pen within 60 days. By that time I had fallen in love with him, and of course, I couldn’t let him go. He has made a fantastic companion. We trail ride and camp, and he does very well alone. This fall he will get to experience gathering cattle from the summer range.”
BOUGHTON AND OLLOKUT
John Boughton always wanted an Appaloosa but was not in a position to have one for most of his life. At the age of 59, Boughton’s dream finally came true — he found himself the proud owner of a sorrel Appaloosa mustang he named Ollokut after the Nez Perce chief. Ollokut had been gathered from the Salt Wells herd, just north of the Colorado/Wyoming line in 2000 and taken to the Canon City holding facility. He was there for two years with very little handling and came to Grand Junction with other adoptees in September of 2012.
Boughton became the lucky bidder and soon discovered it was a “match made in heaven.” The pair quickly formed a bond, and Ollokut has been trained exclusively by Boughton, except for trailer loading. Both Boughton and his horse are intuitive, and they enjoy a telepathic communication seldom found in the horse world. They read each other like a book — it is an amazing thing to watch. Ollokut never offered to buck or act up at any time during the period Boughton spent working with him before his first ride under a real saddle. Even then he remained calm and accepting, almost as though he understood in advance what he was supposed to do. Since that time, the pair has ridden the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range alone many times, with never a mishap of any kind. Their partnership is a perfect example of the bond one can create with a mustang.
“Ollokut is so cool and so sweet,” Boughton said. “I am an advocate for the various mustang holding facilities and for the BLM adoptions that occur from time to time. Anyone who wants to adopt a mustang can let their interest be known as to what kind of horse they would like — color, size, sex — and the BLM will try their best to oblige. It sure worked out well in my case. I will be forever grateful for this special horse — Ollokut has changed my life.”
George Brauneis, who has been adopting and caring for mustangs for several years said, “Based on the BLM’s own estimate, the cost of keeping a mustang in a holding facility for a lifetime is approximately $50,000 per head. With the mustangs I have gentled, adopted and boarded, I’ve done my part in saving the government at least a million dollars, while helping to improve those mustangs’ quality of life within a domesticated world. It may not be ‘freedom,’ but it’s making the best of the opportunities available to them once they’ve been taken off the range. My goal is to help hundreds of horses and their humans, and then thousands. I ask, what is standing in your way of doing the same?” ❖