Vital to settling the American West, mustangs today are helping Colorado inmates find a new lease on life via horse training. Once saddle-trained, some mustangs are dispatched to U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Nearly 30 years ago, the Bureau of Land Management initiated the Wild Horse Inmate Program in Cañon City to train and offer mustangs for adoption. The program has trained 5,000 mustangs.
During a presentation to the Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen this week, Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin was informed about WHIP as he outlined a plan to launch the a mounted division.
“The wild horse program is desperate to find placements,” Kathe Hayes told Nowlin.
Intelligent, hardy, sure-footed and healthy, mustangs would be a perfect fit with Nowlin’s plan, Hayes said.
Addressing about two dozen people at the Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen meeting, Nowlin said the county has needed a mounted patrol division, which could assist with crowd patrol, improve search and rescue capabilities and enhance public relations.
“This is an idea, a vision, and we can justify the needs,” said Nowlin.
Nowlin estimates the price tag to start a patrol would be $50,000 to $100,000. Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen President Tif Rodriguez said mustang supporters would likely help fund a mounted patrol division if Nowlin opted to adopt WHIP mustangs.
“I think it’s great the idea is even on the table,” said Rodriguez.
The sheriff’s office already has a certified mounted patrol instructor with 30 years of experience on staff. An 80-hour training program would be required, which includes health and first aid, feeding, horse anatomy, tack gear, hoof care, accident prevention and horse psychology. Nowlin envisions as many as 10 deputies to serve with the mounted patrol.
“Utilizing this as a law enforcement tool is what it’s all about,” he said.
Indicating a willingness to partner with the sheriff’s office, Rodriguez said the Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen could have an immediate impact with local search and rescue operations via packing capabilities. Nowlin welcomed the support, adding that local search and rescue crews were dispatched four or five times a year.
“That would be a big help to save lives,” he said.
As for a timetable to saddle up a mounted patrol, Nowlin said he’d like to see it operational within 12 months, but admitted that it could take longer, depending on funding. He said officials in Dolores have requested mounted patrols, and have held discussions about installing hitching posts in town and allowing students to name the horses.
“We can make this happen, if we all come together,” said Nowlin.
Some of the WHIP mustangs are gathered from the 20,000-acre Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area in Disappointment Valley. Generally about 14 hands, or 56 inches, in height and 700 to 800 pounds, bays, sorrels, grays and pintos can all be found in the Spring Creek Basin herd.
WHIP horses are hand-picked for its 90-day training program. Utilizing the mustang’s instincts and behavior, the first step is to teach the horse to trust humans before introducing it to halter, grooming and saddle.
When finished, WHIP saddle-trained mustangs can be caught and haltered; pick up their feet for shoeing; back, turn and stop on command; stand to be mounted; be familiar with flexion and collection; change gaits on command; lunge in an open field; perform lead changes; side pass to open and close gates; drag a log; and lead into and out of a four-horse, slant load or stock trailer.