Local trainers buy mustangs at auction

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Monday, April 21, 2008
— Tracy Porter didn’t name the 2-year-old mustang until Sunday morning.

She hoped if the horse didn’t have a name, she wouldn’t get too attached.

It didn’t work.

Porter led the little brown mare into the auction arena at the Alliant Energy Center Sunday afternoon. In tears, she begged the audience of hundreds not to bid on the mare.

“I’m totally, completely in love with this horse,” Porter said.

Some did bid, but Porter had the top dollar and will bring the horse—now named ShezMyHolySocks—home to her Milton farm for $2,000.

Porter and the mare were one of 50 trainer/mustang teams from around the United States competing in the 2008 Mustang Challenge at the Great Midwest Horse Fair over the weekend. Trainers had 100 days to turn wild mustangs into adoptable companions. The teams competed in a show, and the horses were sold at auction.

The event, organized by the Federal Bureau of Land Management and the Mustang Heritage Foundation, raises money and awareness of the adoptability and trainability of American mustangs.

The adoption program is intended to control the wild mustang population, foundation spokeswoman Weslie Elliott said. This is the first year for the Mustang Challenge, which was modeled after the 2007 Extreme Mustang Makeover, hosted by the same organizations.

The competition let the horses show their stuff, Elliott said. Even in the auction ring, trainers pushed the horses to demonstrate how much they’d learned in 100 days.

The horses, with riders on their backs, walked forwards, backwards and sideways. They raced along the railing, inches from clapping fans, and stopped on a dime.

Some riders shot training guns into the air to prove the mustangs weren’t gun shy. One Stoughton trainer shot at balloons while the horse walked calmly through the arena.

Porter, a professional horse trainer, wasn’t the only local competitor loath to lead a mustang into the auction ring.

Miss Mariah, a 4-year-old mare, had a sign on her stall that read, “Please don’t bid on me. I love Rich.”

Mariah needn’t have worried. Her trainer, Rich Bruner of Janesville, bid on Mariah and bought her for $1,500.

Since January, Bruner’s been teaching the wild horse to walk, trot, canter, spin, stand on a pedestal and jump over fire.

The first thing was to teach her to trust, Bruner said.

Bruner started out teaching Mariah not to fear his touch. Within two weeks, she was wearing a saddle, Bruner’s wife Beverly Bruner said.

The process is an incredible lesson in patience, Beverly said.

“If you think children try your patience, you should see these wild horses,” Beverly said. “They teach you patience.”

The American mustang

Wild American mustangs are descendents of horses brought to North America by Spanish Conquistadors, federal Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Karen Roberts said.

Norse explorers also introduced horses into the herd, she said.

During the Great Depression, the herd grew as farmers released horses they couldn’t afford into the wild.

People have been taming wild mustangs for centuries, Roberts said. Native Americans tamed the wild horses for their own herds.

And as Europeans explored west, sometimes they traded their tired horses for wild ones.

“You just jumped on and hoped you could ride,” Roberts said.

Adoption programs help control the size of America’s wild mustang herd, she said. The land can sustain a population of only about 30,000 mustangs. Because the horses are federally protected and have few natural predators, the herd can increase at a rate of 20 percent per year, she said.

The horses make good companions for talented trainers, American Mustang Heritage Foundation spokeswoman Weslie Elliott said. She encourages those who can to adopt a wild mustang.

“If you have the facilities and capability, go do it,” Elliott said. “It’s our American responsibility. This is America’s horse.”

On the Web

Learn more about wild mustangs and adoption programs at these Web sites.

-- U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management. Visit www.blm.gov. Click on programs and look for the link to horse and burro management.

-- The Mustang Heritage Foundation. Visit www.mustangheritagefoundation.org.

Last updated: 4:05 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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