Wild horses not always wild

By Sharna Johnson, Freedom New Mexico

It’s hard to tell who adopted who, the human the horse or the horse the human, but one thing’s for certain, Josephus is anything but wild.

Josephus, or “Little Joe”, is a 2-year-old mustang adopted about three months ago through the Bureau of Land Management’s wild mustang adoption program.

With large hooves punctuating spindly, slate gray legs and ears that beg to be grown into, Little Joe plods around in his human’s shadow, edging for acknowledgment.

“There was something about his face. He looked kind of sad and I picked him because I honestly didn’t think anybody was going to adopt him,” Clovis police officer Jay Longley said of seeing Little Joe’s photo listing in an Internet adoption.

The plight of the American wild horses and burros received widespread attention when in June, BLM officials announced they are considering euthanizing as many as 6,000 because the animals have overpopulated public lands.

Adopting a wild horse was daunting, Longley said, but Little Joe has dispelled the myths of “loco” bucking broncos and turned out to be a fascinating surprise.

“If you don’t pay any attention to him he just follows you around like a puppy dog,” he said.

And Little Joe comes with a clean slate, unlike Longley’s five older, domestic horses who, though well loved, each came with quirks, training gaps or emotional baggage.

“He hasn’t had any other human contact. He doesn’t bring anything with him,” Longley said, explaining Little Joe is more human oriented than any of his other horses, seeking out people whenever they’re near.

“They (mustangs) don’t have an ingrained fear of people because they haven’t had a bad experience.”

Longley admits, training may end up being a challenge but thus far, Little Joe has taken every new experience in stride, never biting, bucking or even flinching.

What Longley has encountered is actually common with adopted mustangs, according to Paul McGuire, a spokesman for the BLM horse and burro program.

Ironically, he said, it is their wild traits that make them such good companion animals. Their survival skills breed keen intelligence, stamina, sure-footedness and other desirable qualities in a horse.

“One of the most satisfying experiences that people have in dealing with mustangs is they get to develop a bond with the animal that you wouldn’t normally develop with a domestic horse. And it’s a lifelong bond,” he said.

“These animals are imminently trainable. There’s nothing in the character of the mustang that renders it untrainable. There is something of a stereotype in certain corridors that the mustang is wild beyond repair, (but) you’ll see that the mustang is perhaps one of the best behaved and most trainable horses that there is.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy, he said.

“It’s important for individuals to realize that if they’re considering adopting one of these animals, that they are in fact wild animals. The first hurdle is getting (a mustang) accustomed to human beings. They can be very fearful and stand-offish and wild,” he said.

“But they’re very responsive to proper gentling techniques, so if you know how to handle these animals they will respond very well.”

Staff work to guide adopters towards a positive scenario, helping them select animals that match their experience levels and helping them to understand the reality of life with a wild horse, McGuire said.

There are even prison facilities where inmates gentle and train wild horses to be offered for adoption.

“Our focus is on seeing to it these animals go to good homes. We’re very careful to assess whether or not a potential adopter has the ability to provide a good home to this animal,” he said. McGuire explained there are checks and balances in the adoption approval process. Even after an adoption takes place, the animal remains the property of the BLM for one year and is checked on.