To many, the wild mustang is a symbol of freedom, tenacity, and unbroken spirit. To those who live and work with them, the mustang is so much more.
"Most of all, I love their wisdom," says Ramona Bishop. "Imagine what mustangs must know to survive in the wild: where to find food and water; which plants are edible in some seasons, but are poison in others; how to avoid prey animals; how to safely negotiate the most difficult trails. In the wild, they develop the heart, bone, feet, lungs, and the intelligence to survive. Who could ask for more?"
Bishop and her husband share their Oregon ranch with five treasured mustangs. At work, Bishop, a Bureau of Land Management adoption outreach specialist, strives to find new homes for the approximately 440 wild horses in the BLM holding pens in Burns, Oregon.
Following the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the BLM, and, in rare instances, the United States Forest Service, were charged with managing our country's public rangeland and the wild mustangs that call it home.
The territory in the western states where mustangs still run wild is broken into Herd Management Areas. These HMAs are constantly evaluated to determine whether there's sufficient forage and water to support the herds.
Currently, the government gathers wild horses from each herd every three to five years to prevent the group from growing larger than its HMA can sustain. That's where such specialists as Bishop find their mission.
"I urge people to consider adopting a mustang," she says. "There's a wonderful variety available." Her own experience is testament to that fact. Her mustangs include two trail-savvy geldings, 10 and 20 years old, a diminutive mare she uses for Pony Club riders, and two mares (one gaited) she uses for trail riding, low-level cross-country jumping, and dressage.
"They can do it all," Bishop says. "People are surprised to learn that some wild horses are naturally gaited. Our mare from the Warm Springs herd single-foots, carrying us down the trail with no jogging at all."
Bishop recounts a recent ride over a rocky, challenging trail. "My husband rode his 20-year-old mustang, and I followed with admiration as they avoided rocks and obstacles, while my non-mustang seemed to stumble over each and every one. The mustang dance is as smooth as silk!"
Read on to learn more about what just might be the ultimate trail horse: the mustang.