Wild Mustangs Give Patrol Horsepower On The Border
by TED ROBBINS
June 29, 2012
It's all new for Achilles: his name, his horseshoes, the surroundings at his home near Nogales, Ariz.
"To break 'em from what they're focusing on, you want to turn 'em from one side to the next," Border Patrol agent Luis Navarro says as he carefully leads Achilles into a round training arena.
Navarro holds the mustang by a short lead, and teaches it commands to trot and to slow down.
Just a few months ago, the 5-year-old horse was roaming the northern Nevada desert in a herd of wild mustangs. Then he was captured by the Bureau of Land Management in a roundup. First, he was sent to a Nevada prison, where inmates got him used to being around people. About a week ago, Achilles and three other mustangs arrived here.
Border Patrol supervisor Chris Dubois says the horses get trained to obey commands and learn to stay calm in the field.
"We're going to encounter groups of illegal aliens, narcotics smugglers, people hiking trails, you know, cars, trucks, water jugs — all types of things when we're out on the trails," he says.
Border Patrol Agent Bobbi Schad pets a mustang at the agency's training facility in Willcox, Ariz., last August.
Horses are nothing new for the Border Patrol. When the agency was founded in the 1920s, agents were almost always on horseback. That's still how agents get into remote areas no vehicle can reach. In southern Arizona, the Border Patrol used to buy quarter horses from ranchers. Then, a year and a half ago, the agency and the Bureau of Land Management decided to try captured mustangs.
"We look for horses with big bones, big hooves, large legs, stout bodies," Dubois says. "That's kind of what we use here. I mean, if you could look around, it's all mountains where we're at. It's all ridge lines. It's all rough, rough, rough country."
Turns out the mustangs are actually better suited physically to the terrain than quarter horses. They're used to roaming harsh landscapes. The Border Patrol says no mustang has been injured on patrol since the program began.
But there's been a lot of criticism in the four decades they've been rounded up. The bureau says the land can't support some herds when they get too large. Mustang advocates say the horses are taken from their families and warehoused in feedlots.
But even critics like what the Border Patrol is doing.
"It utilizes the mustangs' brains and physical abilities, both of which are extensive, and it gives them a job, and it puts them in an environment in which they're very comfortable," says Ginger Kathrens, who heads the Cloud Foundation, a wild horse advocacy group. "I think it's challenging for them."
Achilles' trainer, Navarro, says the horse seems to be getting the hang of his new job.
"Just by the way he's reacting to the verbal commands, and the way he was paying attention to my hands and body language," he says. "I can see this horse will be ready in about a week or two."
Then, Achilles will patrol the border in southern Arizona for six or seven years before being retired or sold to the agent who's been riding him. In all, the Tucson Border Patrol sector has about 150 horses on patrol. Nearly half of them are now mustangs, and the agency expects the percentage to grow even more.
Probably the best thing they ever did for the Mustangs. At least some of them are not going to slaughter over the border. And I agree that they are better suited to the terrain than a quarter horse. Only thing that might do it like the Mustang are mules because they are so sure footed but the Mustang probably will outshine even the mules...lol.
I knew a Mustang named Shadow cause he was charcoal grey. Belonged to our blacksmith and Shadow used to be ridden in the Independence Day parades and such. He was also a long standing member of the sheriff's posse. Shadow was something. I think he was still on the job up till 35 yrs old. When I met him, he was 29 and still full of vigor. They are a very sturdy horse. If I had a place to keep one, I wouldn't mind getting another horse to ride again.
In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9
You just can't beat a mustang for that job and terrain. They won't run out of gas, puncture a tire, and unlike an ATV, they'll warn their rider of danger... Anyone used to riding out on the trails learns very quickly to pay attention to their horse's ears.... they'll find something out of place LONG before a human has any clue.
One problem is that they don't tend to be large horses... finding those 'big bones, large bodied" animals is going to be a bit of a trick. However, a 14 hand mustang can easily carry as much weight as a Quarter Horse who is 2 hands taller and 400# heavier... and do so on a LOT less grain, water and care.
My first horse was a little 13.2hh paint mustang mare who was simply too small for ranch work. She was a classic broomtail- hammer headed, long backed- not any sort of example of a "pretty" or well conformed horse in any way. But she beat high-dollar registered Quarter Horses in all sorts of games- barrel racing, pole bending- as well as a couple of memorable pleasure classes where the judge decided her perfect behavior rated higher than the points awarded for looks.
She ended up as a Sheriff's Posse horse and was ridden into her 30's, dying at 38. I still miss her- she was one of the most reliable, most fun rides I've ever had, and that covers a LOT of animals over more years than I like to admit.
I saw maybe 35 mustangs in one area the other day, the most by far I have ever seen in one part of the range. There were 5 or 6 bunches and almost all the mares had foals. I don't know what will become of them. We had a great year last year with lots of vegetation, so the mares bred readily. This year is extremely dry and even the weeds aren't coming up as usual.
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