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For $125 you can get a wild horse from the Bureau of Land Management and try and train it. That’s what I did this spring. Bua’a (“friend” in Paiute) is a three-year-old mustang from the Beatys Butte wild herd of southeastern Oregon. Boo, as I call him, has a kind, curious eye but he doesn’t trust humans – so far, we’ve brought him mostly pain. No matter how you feel about them, mustangs are a powerful symbol of what it means to be American – and Western. To be “of” the open spaces and big sky country. To be survivors and roamers. Over the next 8 episodes, Boo and I will explore the complex human, cultural, economic and environmental issues that surround mustangs today – as we embark on our own journey of training and trust.

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  • Dr. Yvette Running Horse Collin is a Lakota scientist who studies the history of Native Americans and horses. Through her research, she is challenging the dominant narrative that horses went extinct on this continent in the last ice age and did not reappear until European explorers came to the New World. Ashley joins Dr. Running Horse Collin on her ancestral lands in the Black Hills of South Dakota during the time of the Sundance Ceremony. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Boo and Ashley nap in the sun and reflect on trust and love and adventures to come.
  • Mustang genes are like those of our country: mixed and mingled, influenced by wave after wave of immigration. Mainstream science tells us the modern-day mustang is descended from horses brought over by the Conquistadors, who used them to subjugate the Indigenous peoples of Central America. But what if the horse wasn’t introduced by newcomers, but was here all along, living alongside the Indigenous peoples of North America? Meanwhile, back at the ranch, while Boo eats his breakfast one morning, Ashley plucks some of his mane to send off to a genetics lab to find out what Boo’s genes can tell us about the history of wild horses.
  • Stefanie Skidmore runs Wild Horse Outreach and Advocacy, a nonprofit where she trains and rehomes troubled mustangs. She believes even the toughest mustangs can have productive, good lives in captivity, but we have to approach them with the same patience and empathy we strive to show our fellow humans. Stefanie is on the autism spectrum and says her unique brain gives her a special connection with wild horses who are learning to navigate the world of humans. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ashley has her own training struggles with Boo when he bites her and drags her during a session.
  • For some ranchers, mustangs are seen as trash horses that litter the range, taking much-needed grass from cattle and destroying expensive fencing and water infrastructure. Ashley heads to Winnemucca, Nevada to talk to a fifth-generation rancher who runs his cows in wild horse country. But unlike many ranchers, Will DeLong doesn’t want the wild horses gone – they’re entwined with his family’s history – he just wants them better managed. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Boo bucks Ashley off and she gets teased about it by the cowboys at the local bar.
  • Native American Nations across the West have long revered the horse as a cultural symbol as well as a weapon of resistance to conquest by European settlers. Today, thousands of wild horses live on Reservations and are managed by Tribal Nations. Ashley travels to the Spokane Reservation in Washington to meet a woman who is finding a new path for the horses rounded up there. The Spokane have long been a horse people, and today the tribe is managing wild horses on their reservation in ways that keep horses in balance with other animals, plants and medicines the tribe values. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Boo experiences his first trip in a horse trailer.
  • The BLM often uses helicopters to round up wild horses and get them off the open range. The images and videos are hard to watch: groups of horses racing through the sagebrush trying to escape, foals separated from their mothers. Some get caught in barbed wire or are injured and have to be euthanized. Activist groups say the roundups are cruel and should be stopped. Ashley visits with activists in Reno who claim fertility control (read: mustang birth control shots) are the solution to keeping wild horse numbers in check. Perhaps easier said than done. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ashley keeps fattening Boo up and wonders if he had a choice, would choose the easy life or the wild life?
  • The Bureau of Land Management estimates that western ecosystems can support about 30,000 wild horses. The problem? There’s almost triple that. And that number rises by 10-20% every year. Too many wild horses – just like too many cows – is bad for the fragile, arid rangelands of the West. The horses can overgraze the native grasses and destroy creeks and riparian areas that provide critical habitat for the Greater Sage-Grouse and other creatures. To find out what this looks like on the ground, Ashley heads to Nevada, the state with the most wild horses in the U.S., and gets out in the sagebrush with biologists there. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ashley spends some time getting to know her skinny, scared mustang and wonders what the hell she’s gotten herself into.
  • For $125 the federal government will sell you a wild horse. So, that’s what Ashley Ahearn did – she bought a mustang from Oregon. What could go wrong? Wild horses have long roamed the open stretches of the American West and the American imagination. They are a powerful symbol that have made their mark on everything from Hollywood to the automotive industry. But now they are caught in the crosshairs of environmental and cultural controversy as their numbers increase and people fight over how to manage them. Do we round them up? Leave them out there to keep reproducing at unsustainable levels? What does the mustang mean to us, today, and what does it tell us about our history? Join Ashley as she meets her mustang for the first time, and starts to explore the complex world of wild horses in the West today.
  • For $125 the federal government will sell you a wild horse. When I met my mustang he was skinny and he was scared. The government says western ecosystems can support about 30,000 wild horses. Problem is: there's almost triple that out there – and that number rises every year. I’m Ashley Ahearn and I hope you’ll check out Mustang – a new podcast that explores the complicated world of wild horses.

The Little Black Mustang children's book!

A woman in a cowboy hat looks down and is holding a book with a horse snuggled to the left of her.

If you're enjoying Boo's story, and there's a little person in your life who you think might enjoy it too, I wanted to let you know that I wrote a kid's book to accompany this podcast. It's beautifully illustrated by Catie Michel, who did the art for this series. You can get your very own copy at TheLittleBlackMustang.com.