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Wild Horses

  • 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.
  • The West has tens of thousands of wild horses. And sometimes it seems there are almost as many opinions on what to do with them.
  • 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.
  • Journalist Ashley Ahearn gave up the city life when she and her husband moved to the rural sagebrush country of Washington state. And things took a significant turn when she opted to adopt a wild mustang named Boo.
  • 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.
  • Allison Burke has four mustangs at her place on the reservation of the Spokane Tribe of Indians in Northeastern Washington. All four are from Native American reservations in the Northwest.
  • I remember the first time my mustang, Boo, bucked me off. We were riding along through the sagebrush following a cowboy friend of mine, Dave Johnston. I wouldn’t let Boo put his head down to munch the spring grass so he threw a temper tantrum. I stayed on for maybe four or five good bucks but then he dumped me.
  • 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.
  • As my wild horse paws at the snow and eats hay in my pasture, I look at him and wonder what I’ve done. I would sit with my mustang, Boo, every day all winter, into the spring. Just hoping he’d start to trust me – and want to be around me. It had to be his choice, to come to me, to choose me.
  • The first time I visit a government holding facility for wild horses is in Burns, Oregon. I’m thinking about adopting a wild horse – one of thousands that the U.S. government rounds up each year. They’re kept in large corrals until they’re adopted, and some live out their days in captivity.