Four men, 18 Mustangs, six months and 3,000 miles: From Mexico to Canada, the deepest backcountry in the American West. Here are their stories.
On November 16th we loaded up in trucks and trailers headed to Hutchinson, Kansas, to pick out a group of Mustangs to use on our trip. The Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Trainer Incentive Program (TIP) presents professional trainers with the opportunity to spend 30 days handling previously untamed Mustangs before less skilled horsemen begin working with them. We chose Jerry Jones of Cresson, Texas, and Lanny Leach of Benbrook, Texas, to be our TIP trainers because I had previously bought a Mustang from Jerry that was incredibly well trained.
We arrived at the Hutchinson correctional facility that housed the Bureau of Land Management holding pens early in the morning, and we immediately began looking through the hundreds of Mustangs. Over the course of the day we sorted through 350 horses and whittled them down to the 11 best suited for our needs.
To successfully complete a backcountry trip like ours we need horses with specific traits. Here is what we looked for based on my previous trip and advice from Jerry Jones and Lanny Leach. The list starts with our most preferred traits and moves to the least preferred. We were very lucky that we had the opportunity to carefully select our herd.
1. Size—Our ideal horse is between 14 and 15 hands and sturdily built.
2. Black Feet—Black Feet hold a shoe better than white feet and they don’t wear down as fast if we have to use them barefoot.
3. Good leg conformation.
4. A short back.
5. Herd disposition—We picked out horses that weren’t being picked on but were also not the aggressive leaders. The bottom of the totem pole mustangs can be too flighty to work with and the top of the pole can be a dangerous predator. We tried to stay in the middle ground.
6. Geldings only—Having freshly-gelded Mustang stallions with a bunch of mares can lead to fights and injuries. We decided to use geldings only except for one mare that is already trained. She’ll be our picket mare.
7. Head swirls—We tried to avoid Mustangs with more than one swirl on its forehead. Lanny has trained horses most of his life and noticed that horses having multiple forehead swirls can be more difficult to work with.