By Jeff Rebitski
The results of the Riverton Honor Farm Mustang Adoption Event were nothing short of amazing as the buyers obviously came to take home the best of the best in equine talent.
On Friday afternoon, the preview event opened the farm to those who wanted to preview the 58 head of horses and donkeys that were available for bid adoption on the following day. While the inmate cowboys demonstrated their cowboy skills and training methods for the audience, all the horses were on display for the public to admire and ask questions about.
Most of the stock was quiet and well mannered while for some, all the activity was a little much as they stood in the bright sun and hoped that someone would take them home and give them a purpose on a nice ranch or as a backyard hobby horse.
Each of these horses undergoes complete training after they are transported to this program. These Horses are all from Wyoming and are gathered from different regions to be regrouped at the honor farm where they are placed in a program that involves gentling, medical care, foot care and eventually riding and in depth training depending on the horse or burro. Some horses are better built for cattle and ranch work while some are selected for performance or general pleasure riding.
The inmates are selected based on their willingness to learn and their knowledge base. Some of the guys that work the horses are really good hands by anyone’s standards, having been raised on ranches around Wyoming. Others are new to ranch life, but really love the hard work and the interaction of the animals. Since we cannot use the inmates names, one inmate that was standing with the horse he was assigned to care for, said “This program saved my life. I completely changed my whole outlook after I was taught how to communicate with the horses.”
According to that same inmate, the horses go through stages and after each level, they move on to something else. The “first ride” is done by one of the top hands and then the horse is handed off to someone else who puts a lot of time into the animal in the way of care, affection, communication, and the building of trust. Combine that with a lot of wet saddle pads and there is a recipe for a good horse or burro.
The burro’s are a little different, and although some are trained to ride, most are trained to be pack animals for hunting guides and backpackers. The process is the same and often these little furry friends can be as difficult to train as any of the horses. Time and careful handling is what gets the job done and the results are obvious as people come from all over to bid and buy these amazing animals.
This program has been in place since 1988 and is the oldest program like it in the country. When COVID hit Wyoming, the program or at least the adoptions stopped in an effort to protect the public. This restart is a refreshing change and with another adoption event coming at the end of summer, these cowboys at the honor farm are gearing up for the next batch of rough recruits off the open range of Wyoming.
Because of the damage caused by overpopulation, the state legislature has been attempting to pass legislation that will allow for the gathering of these majestic horses of the plains for castration and chemical birth control to reduce the herds that are destroying range lands around Wyoming. According to Brad Purdy, Deputy State Director of Communications, BLM Wyoming State Office in Cheyenne, the stallions all go back to the herds while mares are given PZP as birth control. If they don’t receive a booster within a year, they are going to begin the estrous cycle again and breed.
This program at the honor Farm, albeit small, does a mighty good job of placing small numbers of horses and burros into homes and families that will use and care for them. With proper and continuous care, these beautiful and useful animals can serve for years to come.
During the preview event on Friday, the public was served a treat of homemade ice cream sandwiches made in the kitchen at the honor farm. All the inmates were courteous and willing to answer any questions about the horses you might have had. Without the obvious red shirts that each inmate wears, the grounds could have been any other hose sale in the country with its white painted steel rails and red roofs. Impeccably clean and well maintained, it was an effort that was destined to be well attended and with almost 300 in attendance on Saturday for the sale and the highest horse selling for $12,000.00 it is hard to believe that these programs are disappearing from around the country as the amount each prison gets for caring for the animals from the Bureau of Land Management diminishes. It is hard to measure the long term benefit for the horse and the inmate but years of practice has shown nothing but a positive effect on the animals and the men here in Riverton.