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Inmates save America's Wild Mustangs, one horse at a time



When the black horse breaks into a gallop again, Garrison gnaws his lip and unbuckles his helmet. Before he came to WHIP 11 months ago, he had never touched a horse, let alone a wild horse. At home in Phoenix, where he is the father of 13 children, he did not even have a pet. Now he is doing the most important and dangerous step in training: the first touch. In order to get the horse used to its presence, it has to work slowly to the middle of the hurdle, while keeping its body relaxed. When the animal feels trapped or is aware of its fear, it risks being kicked, biting or bumping to free itself. No wonder, Garrison says he was scared when he first climbed into an alley.

  Two inmates ride into a prison cell.
Two prisoners ride into a prison correl. Mark Peterman

Randy Helm, program manager of WHIP Florence and one of his five full-time employees, watches from the stables as Garrison enters the corridor. Since the beginning of the WHIP chapter six years ago, Helm, a former covert policeman and police captain who still wears the rodeo belt buckles he won as a young man at age 64, has worked with more than 100 inmates like Garrison. Prepare for approx 500 Mustangs for adoption. After all, he has led more greenhorn handlers to the championship and worked more hours with wild horses than any other trainer in the Southwest.

Later today he drives 10 saddle-trained Mustangs to Wickenburg (70 miles) northwest of the prison, where he will auction them tomorrow to about a hundred spectators. But now his attention is focused on Garrison, who agrees to a long workout.

Whenever the horse breaks sideways or sideways into the fence, Garrison braces, but he does not jump out of the way. A few weeks ago, an inmate jumped in a similar situation, and the horse was startled and kicked, shattering the man's tibia and fibula. This was not an anomaly. Mustangs are known to be aggressive and stubborn and are therefore disregarded as unruly loners. Helm, who grew up training horses on the ranch of his grandparents, contradicts the cliché. "You have to understand that the horse has a past. The horse has scars, "he says. "They are very similar to us – they just want peace."

But lately it has been hard to find peace. In 1971, Congress made the killing of a wild Mustang or Burro a federal crime, and in the years that followed, the numbers exploded. 82,000 animals now roam ten western states. Mustangs, free from natural predators and displaced by pastureland, have started meeting developers, residents and ranchers. As a result, cruel horse ordeals have increased. In October, Arizona authorities discovered a foal interspersed with Buckshot, and similar cases occurred in Nevada and Wyoming.

  A Mustang is maintained.
A Mustang is maintained. Mark Peterman

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The BLM has insisted that she has little choice but to gather herds and place them in a network of backcountry corrals. In the last 45 years, about 300,000 animals have been taken on board at a cost of about two billion US dollars, reports New York Times reporter David Philipps (19459016). Horses that are not adopted immediately often suffer from long-term storage, where they contract disease. In 2016, a BLM advisory council recommended killing 45,000 state-owned horses to reduce the burden of care. The plan was intensively reviewed and rejected by the BLM, but officials continued to push for mass mortality. The Trump Government's proposal for 2018 allowed the Mustangs to be sold to any buyer, including slaughterhouses, and the BLM is considering plans to transport tens of thousands of animals to farms in Guyana and Russia, where no laws prevent the killing of horses. (The BLM argues that current funds prohibit sales to parties that destroy healthy animals.)

WHIP offers an alternative. Founded in 1986 in Colorado, the program has been extended to prisons in five other states, including here in Arizona, and has taken up about 10,000 animals. Although the idea of ​​inmates training wild horses may seem strange at first, Helm points out that few institutions have the area, manpower or willingness to spend months saving half a ton of animals. Sure, the wild horse problem is far beyond what can be done with WHIP alone. Helm believes, however, that he can help solve the problem by proving that Mustangs can be successfully trained and ridden.

  A saddle trained Mustang makes a jump.
A saddle trained Mustang makes a jump. Mark Peterman

After Helm has loaded the horses for tomorrow's auction and checked the logistics at the BLM, he makes his rounds and walks stand by level to watch each horse's progress. The Mustangs are kept in stalls in the empty center of the 6-unit correction facility on seven acres of pasture, separated by a wire-rope fence from the rest of the prison. There is a small barn, a covered pavilion and about 40 stables and stables where 30 wild horses and 10 burros train at all times. "As long as you're not kicked or kicked, it's a good day," says inmate Josh Warren.

Then a horse bucks like a cue and throws his rider. Helm and several others hurry to help him, but he waves her off. His hand is cut open and will probably need stitches, but he takes the injury and plays the other roommates with a jib. It's clear he and the other guys get along. Since the inmates at WHIP are housed near the stables, they spend almost every moment with each other, bonding with horses and telling stories about their families. Some take part in anonymous alcoholics and narcotics, honoring their first true sobriety WHIP.

  Program Director Randy Helm.
Program Director Randy Helm. Mark Peterman

In order to earn a place in the program, the inmates must be classified as low or medium in the last six months and have no ticket violations within be five years after the discharge. Some of the inmates, like Garrison, are serving drug convictions. others are kidnapped, burglary or murder. Helm has no connection between the criminal record of a man and his ability to train a horse. He seeks applicants who show patience during the interview and have a history of handwork since horses are nothing but shit to cut and hay. According to personal politics, Helm is not very close to any of the prisoners, but as he walks from stall to stall, he jokes and puts his hand on a man's shoulder while talking through the training. He tries to teach the men to see the world through the eyes of a horse. "They come from the wild and do not know what to expect from them," he says. "They need to find a language they can understand."

The metaphor, though clumsy, resonates with the boys, some of whom freely compare themselves to wild-coming animals. Although not conceived as an equine therapy, WHIP has a 15% recurrence rate compared to the national average of 70%. This is probably due to the fact that training horses in comparison to other prisons offers discipline and freedom alike. The inmates are responsible for one animal and can ride it alone for hours. A study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology suggests that working with animals in this way promotes empathy and helps reduce the effects of trauma. WHIP stands as proof.

  The inmate Richard Kline leads a mare towards the saddle shed near the corral.
Inmate Richard Kline leads a mare towards the saddle shed near the corral. Mark Peterman

19659006] Shortly before lunch Helm starts in the direction of Wickenburg an F-250 and pulls a horse trailer out of prison. Tomorrow, six Mustangs will be sold, each contributing $ 800 to $ 1,525. The proceeds of this will be used by WHIP for new saddles and other branches. One of the auctioned horses, a mare Garrison trained, will go to a man named Buster, who grew up in Zimbabwe and always dreamed of owning a Mustang. "It's a piece of the West, of America," he'll tell me. "One we need to protect."

In the meantime, Garrison climbs back into the alley in Florence. He hopes to touch the black horse, but it shudders and neighs as it cuts tight circles. After 10 minutes it works but exhausted. Garrison centimeters on it, waiting. The horse blows and stamps, but does not retreat. The garrison approaches and hits a dressage whip at the buttocks. Again no retreat. Despite their small size, they have achieved a breakthrough. Garrison resigns and J.J. Anderson, his supervisor, nods in agreement.

After working with the horse for about an hour, Garrison climbs out of the enclosure. It is almost time for the prisoners to go to Sally Harbor, where they line up and get inside the building again. As he wipes the sweat off his face, he says training a horse is easy compared to a day when he has to re-enter civilian life. "The whole world is different when you get out," he says. "It's scary just to think about how different." At the moment, however, he is happy to have a job that offers him stability and peace. It will take a long time to ride this horse, he continues: "At about 14 years between the years 19459016 and 19459016 ." After all, it is not easy to come out of the wild; that's one of the lessons he takes from the horses and applies to himself. But that's okay, he says. Both have time.

This story appears in the November 2018 print issue with the heading "Breaking Point".


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