How Can You Choose The Right Mustang For You?
With the expense and amount of time you will invest in adopting a mustang, the decision of which horse to choose is too important to leave up to chance. Selecting a horse that fits your personality is one of the greatest keys to a successful relationship. The amount and type of training is usually one of the greatest deciding factors in choosing a horse, but when adopting a mustang, training may have little or no bearing on the horse you adopt.
What are some things to consider when choosing the mustang who will be your equine partner?
1. What a Character!
Personality differences can be a big problem in horse/human relationships. Picking a horse that has a "personality" compatible with your own is important for both of you to work together as a team. When thinking about your future purposes for this horse, decide if it's nature should innately be more calm, slow, and easy going, or would a quicker, more responsive, sensitive horse excel in the career you choose for it. Do you enjoy riding a horse with more go, or more whoa? Realistically, consider your own horsemanship skills and goals when thinking about what you are looking for in your horse's temperament. While flashy energetic horses may look appealing, most people are actually happier paired with a calm and steady horse. Yet, if you are an experienced horseman and competition is your focus, a more dynamic, ambitious horse would be a better match for you.
When you are looking for the right character, it is extremely advantageous if you are able to choose from mustangs that have had some training/handling, like the ones JMHA offers for adoption. Because you can get far more information about the way the horse reacts to different situations or stimuli, you will have a much better idea if it will be well suited for the career you would choose for it. Also, you can see first hand how the horse reacts to you and your style of horsemanship personally. If finding a mustang that already has some training isn't an option for you, when you are looking at a holding pen filled with untouched mustangs there are still a few things you can learn about their characters. Keep in mind that the holding pen may be a new and stressful situation and they may not be acting quite like themselves.
Herd ranking: Looking at a horse's appearance can tell you some things about it's dominance level. Very dominant horses will have few or no bite marks on their body. A horse that is lower in herd ranking but defiant will often have bites on it's head neck and shoulders because it faces up to challenge the dominant horses, these horses may also be very playful and have a strong competitive nature. While a dominant or defiant horse can be challenging to ride and train they are often a great choice for trail or competition because of their ability to face their fears and gain confidence more quickly than timid horses. A low ranking, timid horse will have bites on its back, hips, and hind legs because it tries to run and avoid confrontation with other horses. Often, less dominant, more timid horses are easier to train and form extremely close bonds to their riders. They are the sort of horses that ¨take care¨ of their rider.
Go/Whoa: Some of the horses in the holding pens will pace and seem to be constantly on the move, while others will look solidly "parked" in their favorite snoozing spot. Observe how they react when something "spooky" should happen. Some will spook in place, maybe, simply twitching and lifting their heads. Others will pace, trot, or run to cope with the situation. How long and how much energy a horse puts out while in the holding pens can give you and idea of both their speed and endurance levels. All these things together are fairly good indicators of how much forward movement a horse might want to give you when ridden.
Spookiness: Watch carefully for the horses' reactions to things going on around the pens. Think about what the majority of the horses are doing and compare the individual you are contemplating. Ask yourself: Does this horse seem to be on "higher alert" to little things, is it more laid back, or is it about average? Also think about the amount of time it takes for the horse to return to it's normal behavior after a scare, the quicker a horse can calm itself shows that it has the ability to gain confidence rapidly is tense situations. Don't automatically discount the "flighty" horses either, a horse that is very sensitive to perceived danger is often also very sensitive to a rider's cues.
2. Age Is Just A Number. Or Is It?
It's no secret that most people get horses for riding. When looking to adopt a mustang it may seem logical to get a physically mature horse so you can begin riding as soon as possible, but there are other things to consider. Typically older horses are thought to be calmer and easier to handle, but that thinking mostly applies to horses that have lived domestically their entire life and have therefore gained a lot of experience and confidence in the human world. Even though living for years in the wild can make them more fearful of humans, older mustangs have had a lot of experience traveling through wide open spaces and can make wonderful trail horses.
At JMHA we generally choose young mustangs (6months-2years) to bring into our training program because there are so many advantages to the younger horses. The greatest three advantages are as follows:
Having lived less time in the wild a young mustang's fearful instincts will be less strongly ingrained because the tendency for flight is taught within the herd. The older dominant horses teach the younger herd members what things to be afraid of and how to react. If a horse is brought into captivity while still young it can learn from domestic herd mates, or even human companions, to be calmer and more curious about things that would normally frighten a wild horse. Learning to develop confidence comes easier for younger horses because they are in a learning stage of life and are naturally very curious about everything already.
Wild mustangs are at the mercy of the environment when it comes to the amount of food they eat and what shelter from the elements they can find, because of this many of them are not able to grow or develop to their full potential. When a mustang is brought off the range while still young and begins getting the benefits of domestic care, like abundant feed, nutritional supplements, and parasite control it begins to flourish usually growing much larger and gaining better muscle mass than it's relatives that matured in the wild. For these reasons it is very difficult to predict how large a young mustang will grow. One of the few advantages to selecting a mature mustang is that there is no guess work in figuring out what it's size and conformation will be, but raising a young one will mean that you can ensure it's diet never has any deficiencies while it grows. Medical care, including vaccinations, worming, and farrier visits, also support the proper development of a young mustang that gives it an edge over a horse reared in the wild.
Time Before Riding
It may seem paradoxical, but one of the biggest advantages to getting a young mustang is the fact that you must wait for the horse to mature before it is ready to carry you in the saddle. This time should not be wasted! It gives you time to get your ground work and training basics really solid before you advance your horse to the more challenging art of riding. It gives you time to expose your horse to all of the sights and sounds it will experience while ridden, so your horse is better prepared for it's future. Most of all it gives you time to develop trust and understanding in your relationship. When you are using the time wisely, it will pass very quickly and you will have a horse that is well adjusted and primed for it's career!
Horses Older Than 4 Years
Older mustangs, they need homes too. Some of them will require more skill and patience to train, but if you feel that your horsemanship skills are up to the challenge, don't hesitate to give an older mustang a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised. Many of the older mustangs have spent quite a while in holding, perhaps even years. All this time being cared for by humans makes them pretty quick to train. An extended time in holding pens gives them a similar upbringing to some domestic horses. You could possibly be riding together much quicker than you imagined possible if you choose an older mustang.
3. A Few Final Details
Some things in choosing a horse are personal preference. The color and general appearance of a horse should be appealing to you personally. When it comes to horses "love at first sight" often works out very well, but it is helpful to think about the physique and gender that will fill the needs of your future horsemanship intentions.
Size and Shape
Good conformation is important to every riding discipline. A horse that has straight legs and solid "square" build will have an easier time carrying a rider and will be more likely to stay sound throughout it's career. The height of a riding horse is of less importance than the solidness of it's bone structure and musculature. All of these things should all be judged in relation to the size and riding demands of the person the horse will be carrying. If you have more questions about judging "good" conformation there are many books written on the subject, studying books with many pictures comparing the physiques of different horses will be of great value to you before you go to select your horse.
It is pretty common knowledge among horse people, that mares are more temperamental and sensitive than geldings. Stallions are know for being more difficult to train because they have such as strong desire for dominance and are very focused on their mating instincts. Again, what gender horse one rides is a matter of personal taste, and having experience with domestic horses of different genders will help you decide which you prefer. Do be aware, all male mustangs older than 12 months old will be gelded by the BLM or Forest Service before they are eligible for adoption.
The biggest overall deciding factor should be picking a horse that "speaks" to you. When you feel a real connection with a horse it can be the tie that will bind you together in your relationship, even when difficulties arise(and difficulties will arise). If you have fellow feeling for a particular horse it will be easier to create the compassionate relationship that is the foundation for excellent training and partnership!
A horse is the projection of peoples' dreams about themselves - strong, powerful, beautiful - and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence. ~Pam Brown
"I always watch the horse with every fibre of my being: I not only try to read him with my senses of sight, hearing, and smell, I concentrate my mind on communicating my own thoughts and listening to his. I concentrate so hard that other thoughts are excluded. ...When you work with a horse you ask him to leave whatever he is doing and pay attention to you. You are trying to reach the same wavelength as that of the horse and, if you allow an interruption on your end, you are being disrespectful to him"
They(horses) crave leadership and authority, they feel safe and content in its presence. ... There is no faking leadership to a horse.
Horses recognize true leadership—fairness, courage, authority, confidence, intelligence, honesty, responsibility. When horses find a true leader, they have the highest respect and deference for and come to worship the ground their leader walks on. They trust and want to be with their leader and are always on the lookout for ways to please—to stay in the good graces of the one in charge. ...You cannot bribe or pamper your horse into thinking of you as a leader. That is not within his frame of reference. If you start out your relationship by begging him to be your friend, you automatically put yourself in the subordinate position. Horses crave authority, not pandering.
Another basic concept to be aware of in your relationship with the horse is the importance of recognizing where his attention is at all times. There are many indications that will help you learn to recognise this; the most important is to be aware of his ears and eyes. The rider should be alert to these main indications of the horse's attitude, whether approaching a horse and doing ground work or while riding. Much energy can be lost and frustration gained by trying to direct a horse's feet in one direction while his eye and attention are riveted in the opposite direction. ... Many common problems ... have their root in the unawareness of the importance of this concept.
- Ray Hunt
When we try to figure out how to communicate with our horse, we often look to the wrong people. For instance, if our stallion is mouthy, tending to bite, we look to owners of biting stallions to see how they handle them. ...If we look to people who have horses who preform well, we may get a clue about what they are doing to tell the horse what to do. Since we can't use "don't" cues to improve a horse's behavior, there's no sense modeling our training after people who spend lots of time telling their horses "Don't!"
- John Lyons
Although horses have lived in human environments for thousands of years, they have not really adapted totally. ... I think it is important to realize that even before we go to train and ride them, horses are already having trouble! It is our responsibility to help them adapt to this environment in order to live stress-free and have happy lives in their relationship with us.