Mustangs have become a controversial topic throughout the West. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages the majority of the country’s wild horses, there are over 72,000 wild horses currently on public rangelands. And opinions on humane options for these majestic animals vary drastically across the country. We connected with Bryan Mantle, a lifelong horse trainer generations deep who along with his family has dedicated his life’s work to training wild mustangs. The Mantle’s get mustangs from the BLM to then train and gentle them for adoption. The Mantle’s goal is to find them a forever home as an alternative to the mustangs remaining in holding pens.
What is the relationship between your family and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)?
“The Bureau of Land Management has different divisions: wild life, forests, planes, and the wild horse division. We just work with the BLM in the wild horse division. They study and monitor the herds, and then they decide what areas to gather, when to gather, how many to gather, and how many to take off of that range. They're the ones that go through and get all these horses rounded up. Then they run them through a processing facility, and that's where they freezebrand, vaccinate and deworm. Once they're processed and they're in the system, then they go to a holding facility. That’s where we come in. We start gentling them and trying to find them forever homes.”
When did this start?
“Our relationship started in about 1998. My dad got a contract to gentle six- to 10-year-old wild horses off the range. We started halter breaking those and then we progressed into younger horses in 2001. Then in addition to halter horses, we started offering “green” started riding horses. We've been doing this for a little over 20 years now with the BLM, one of the longest running partnerships with the BLM and private business; we adopt mustangs and we do clinics through the BLM at events and at the ranch. Our number one goal is to get these mustangs forever homes. The more training/gentling that we do with them and the better they are to handle, the better chance they have of going to a new home and staying in that new home. We usually adopt roughly 100 mustangs a year.”
What are some of the biggest challenges that you face?
“The biggest challenge with the mustangs is recognizing their personalities. Each one is a little bit different. It's knowing how to handle each individual personality so that the horse has the best experience and we have a positive training experience, through the non-resistance handling. The sooner a person can recognize the individual traits, the faster you can accomplish your goal of getting that horse adopted. Then that leads us to the next challenge, which is getting the people to match to the horse. That is important because if we've got a person that's very fast with their hands and very go-go-go and they get a horse that's very nervous and very reactive, then that combination is not going to fit together as well. The horses will feed off that, and that person’s energy just amps that horse up. Versus a horse that has a calmer disposition, maybe he's not as reactive. He's quieter. That horse almost suits that person’s personality better. Trying to get the people matched to the horses is some of the biggest challenges we face. We want the adoption process to be successful and for the horses to find their forever homes. And in order to do that their personalities need to be a good fit.”
Dealing and training with mustangs for so long, what's the biggest thing you've learned?
“With mustangs, it's absolutely patience. It's literally a battle of patience. It's which one of you is going to lose first, and horses can get mad and frustrated just like people. But if you get frustrated and mad at that horse, you're never going to win that battle because that just escalates the horse and amps them up—and it doesn't work. Patience is the number one thing. And sometimes less is more. With the mustangs, their brain doesn't handle a two hour session all the time. You're better to do four 15 minute sessions. They retain that information a lot more than they do the other way. And it has made it easier for me because I don't have time to go out there and work a horse for two, three hours every day. I wouldn't get anywhere, and I'm trying to work eight to 10 horses a day.”
What is the most rewarding part about what you do?
“The most rewarding part for me is when someone shows up and they get their horse and I'm able to interact with them and the horse—and I can see that it is actually going to be a fit there, and they're excited to take their horse home. It’s when the horse gets along with the person and I know it's going to be a good relationship and the horse is not going to come back. He's going to have a forever home and something to do. You don't always get to choose where they go. You hope they go to a good home—and most of the time they do. So, we try to ensure that they find the best home possible so that they don't have a negative experience either and then it's a win-win for us. People will send us emails of their horse in their house, sticking its head through the windows, or going camping. It’s gratifying to see that your work is paying off and they're enjoying their animal—and the program is working.”
Is there extra difficulty with mustangs?
“Mustangs have a high sense of self-preservation. There's no one there to feed them, there's no one there to take care of them. They get raised to run with the herd. When their mothers decide they're done nursing, they kick them off. The colts, they're more scared, they've never been around people. They've been doing their own thing; their thought process is to take care of yourself, don't trust things. They're a lot more cautious than quarter horses and domestic-raised horses that always have food and have never had to be self-sufficient. So with mustangs, it just takes a lot more time. The trust factor with mustangs is the big thing. You need to become friends first and then you can start training them more efficiently.”
How does that trust issue come into play in terms of getting the mustangs adopted?
“Becoming friends first just makes the horse want to be around you; they like you better. It makes for a better animal and it makes for a way better result in the end. They need a lot more reassurance than a domestic horse does, and they need a lot more petting, a little more love every now and then and not just, hey, here's your job, let's do it, back to your pen and we're done. They don't respond to that as well as getting scratched on and played with a little bit here and there. Each day you don't do something, you can lose some of your progress, versus domestic colts that have been gentle since birth.”
Every day is different, but can you describe part of your process?
“Any time you take them to a new environment and you expose them to new things, it builds their confidence. It also teaches them that they might have been scared of that new situation, but they got through it. Now they have more confidence with you guiding them into a situation where they don't have to be so afraid. It’s as if they realize that they’re going somewhere and doing something new, but this person has got them through it before so it should be okay today. It just makes it a lot easier to roll on and do all kinds of new activities with them, day in and day out, and change things up. Then they just get better. The more you expose them to, the better they get.”