Wild mustangs ''gentled'' by trainers, sold after Olympics on Internet auction

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2002

ERDA, Utah (AP) -- Gently pushing his brown muzzle, Jackie Glanville tells the mustang named ''Dusty'' to give her some room.

''I don't have a treat; he needs to respect my space,'' she says, briefly raises two fingers in the signal to back up.

Reluctantly, the once-wild horse does.

Glanville and other volunteers at a modest horse ranch 30 miles west of Salt Lake City work to ''gentle'' wild mustangs who six months ago roamed free in the mountains of Utah, Nevada and California. The training aims to make the mustangs comfortable around people without the forceful techniques normally associated with breaking.

These horses will be showcased at the ''Western Experience Display'' during the 2002 Winter Olympics, which begin Friday. The idea is to offer the mustangs as a brush with the fading mystique of the Wild West.

The horses remind visitors of the nation's pioneer heritage, evoking visions of escapees from the Spanish conquistadors galloping over the sagebrush.

Never mind that miles of sagebrush has been developed, and the horses are multiplying so rapidly the federal government controls the population by capturing and selling them. The mustangs resonate as a living legend, akin to the California condor.

Much of the interest in mustangs comes from European visitors and residents east of the Mississippi, said Glade Anderson, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the horses. The agency hopes Olympic visitors will be so enamored with the idea of owning a wild mustang they'll bid on one at an Internet auction after the Olympics. The price starts at $100.

Last year 7,500 wild horses were adopted through Internet auctions or sales. In Utah alone the BLM manages 3,500 mustangs and 100 burros.

During the past six months, 11 volunteers have spent 15 to 20 hours a week, mostly on nights and weekends, patting, brushing and adoring nine horses and three burros.

At the ranch in Erda, ''horse whisperers'' use techniques that sound like passages straight from a new-age parenting manual.

''We work with their spirits,'' said Janet Tipton, the lead volunteer in the Olympic training effort. ''Our motto is never make them sweat. We want to develop the horse within ... basing everything off their natural curiosity.''

Old-fashioned training called for beating a horse into submission. Riding a bucking bronco until it was broken -- or so exhausted it would let practically anything sit on its back.

But now spurs have given way to poles, which touch the horses' withers before a person takes the liberty of petting it. Rustling plastic bags strung around the pen distract the animals and introduce them to new sounds.

Last summer, the sight of a person would cause the animals to gallop away in fright. Now, the mustangs can't be kept from snuggling up against a group of visitors sloshing through the snowy, muddy pen.

These nine mustangs, originally culled from a pool of 100, made the grade as Olympic material because they were at once ordinary, yet personable and well-behaved.

And they didn't fall into stereotypes -- for instance showcasing the white and brown coloring associated with a horse known as a pinto.

Most are small and stocky with shaggy hair in shades of brown -- chestnut, chocolate, amber.

Although none of the horses has been ridden yet, Tipton said nearly all are ready.

Yet for all the appearance of domesticity, Tipton said their wild streak can still come out. ''If they get jumpy, their first instinct is to run, so that's what they do. They run.''


On the Net:

Adopting a Mustang: http://www.adoptahorse.blm.gov

Raising Wild Horses: http://www.whmentors.org/

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