How our wild horses ended up being sent overseas to Germany
While the BLM has still refused to make arrangements to let Carol Walker and Ginger Kathrens go to take photos (for free) of wild horses to help facilitate the needed adoptions of over 1,000 wild horses on private property at Axtell, Utah, the BLM shells out millions of dollars a year to Mustang Heritage Foundation to facilitate adoptions, including, for the first time that we know of, shipping wild horses overseas. Over 2 months ago, Wild Horse Freedom Federation filed a Freedom of Information Act to find out who actually applied for and bought these wild horses, so we’re happy that, coincidentally, the BLM finally came out with the PR piece below on their Oregon facebook page. While the BLM continually touts Mustang Heritage Foundation activities as saving money, remember that the wild horses & burros would cost nothing grazing on the 22 million acres of their federally protected public lands that have been taken away from them. ( And, if Sandra is a TIP trainer, they get about $1,000 for training each wild horse.) And, don’t get me started on subjecting wild horses to a 9-hour-long international flight. – Debbie
In the case of adoptions, the BLM even holds onto the horse title for a year, giving the agency time to check on the animal and ensure it is receiving proper care.
Animals that have already been put up for adoption three times, or those that are 10 years or older, are available for outright purchase.
Clark has used both methods — adoption and purchase — and in 2017 she took in 25 Oregon wild horses.
The large-scale acquisition is only possible via a new program called Storefront, a partnership between the BLM and the Mustang Heritage Foundation that caters to elite trainers.
The initiative is aimed directly at increasing adoption rates by making more gentled wild horses available to potential adopters.
There are 14 Storefronts in the U.S. and Clark’s is the only one sending wild horses overseas, according to Casey Graham, program director with the Mustang Heritage Foundation.
Graham called Storefront an “exclusive program” only available to “qualified, vetted trainers.”
Capacity and location are also large benefits to the Storefront program, said Robert Sharp, a manager of the BLM wild horse program in Oregon.
Every Storefront needs to be able to handle at least 10 horses and serve as a pick-up, drop-off location for other trainers. In the case of Clark’s ranch in Georgia, called Rackettown Mustangs, it is much closer to her German clients than the BLM corral in southeast Oregon.
“I think it’s a great program because it exposes these horses to easier physical access for the general public looking to adopt,” said Sharp.
“It’s pretty neat hearing what these mustangs mean to them in Germany,” he added.
Krystal Johnson manages the BLM wild horse program for the entire eastern half of the country. She has two teams to cover 31 states.
A Storefront like Rackettown Mustangs, with an established trainer and a facility big enough for a semitrailer full of horses to turn around, is huge for reaching more local markets, she said.
“It takes a certain person to really have the experience and the facility to be successful,” said Johnson.
Mustang Makeover, German style
Oregon wild horses live in some of the most remote places in America.
From the quiet, desolate range where they were born, it is hard to imagine that these symbols of the West would one day be sold for thousands of dollars, sent on a 9-hour-long international flight and finally be performing in a packed stadium.
“I just fell in love,” said Walter via telephone from Rackettown Mustangs last fall, where she was choosing her own Oregon wild horse to adopt.
Walter is from Giessen, a community about 30 miles north of Frankfurt in the middle of Germany, and said her heart helped her pick a 4-year-old black mare from the Beatys Butte herd in Oregon.
“Her eyes have touched me a lot and I want to give her a good home in Germany,” she wrote later via email.
The German makeover show was modeled after the popular Extreme Mustang Makeover events in America, where trainers compete for prizes and get 100 days to go “from wild to mild” with a horse.
Fifteen of the 16 wild horses used in the German Mustang Makeover were from Oregon.
Horse lovers like Walter need an expert intermediary trainer like Clark to acquire horses legally and get them fit to fly without compromising their wild characteristics.
“The challenge was to have them still wild,” said Clark, who retains a small German accent but also peppers her English with Western slang like “y’all” and “I reckon.”
“I will help everyone who wants to adopt, regardless whether here or in Germany,” she said.
Michael and Silke Strussione, creators of the German Mustang Makeover, said “people went crazy” for the Oregon wild horses.
The couple partnered with Clark and explained via email what it was like for the new German trainers to receive their horses from the animal lounge at the Frankfurt Airport. “You see them, you love them — they feel it, you’re a team,” wrote Michael Strussione. Preparations for the 2018 German Mustang Makeover, including the selection of new Oregon wild horses, is already well underway, said Strussione.
A wild horse from the South Steens herd in southeast Oregon runs near Frenchglen, Oregon, May 23, 2017. Photo courtesy Chuck Martin
From Europe, to Europe
Some American wild horses are descendants of domestic horses brought over by European explorers in the late 15th and 16th centuries. Over the last 500 years or so, the horses successfully adapted and become part of Western culture, hence the 1970s act of Congress protecting them and the immense overseas interest in these living, breathing symbols of America. “I think there is a certain kind of fascination with the great American West,” said Madison Shambaugh, aka Mustang Maddy, the professional horse trainer and wild horse advocate who was a featured guest at the German Mustang Makeover. “It’s expansiveness, beauty and wilderness is captivating, and to many, the mustang is a representation of this magical place,” added Shambaugh. The overseas interest in American wild horses isn’t necessarily a brand new concept, either. One ranch in Baker City, Oregon, has been sending wild horses to Denmark for at least a decade.
The team at Mustang Heritage Foundation said they have received interest from people in New Zealand and Argentina.
Also in the summer of 2017, a 5-year-old mare from Beatys Butte was trained in California, exhibited at an Extreme Mustang Makeover event outside Seattle, and purchased by a famous dog musher in Finland. “Oregon horses have been popular for years and years,” recalled Rickman of the BLM. “This is just the first one that is this big – this amount of horses,” she added.
Now it’s y’all’s turn
Back at the airport tarmac, as the cargo plane carrying Oregon wild horses to Germany was taking off last year, Clark streamed her farewell wishes live on Facebook. “I did my part, now it’s y’all’s turn in Germany!” she said. “Here they come!” The long process to get wild horses into good homes, or “forever homes” as Clark likes to call them, can take years. First the horses are gathered and given a medical inspection, then the adoption process begins, which in Oregon includes an online video showing each horse running in the BLM stables. The popular videos, viewed by thousands in Europe alone, coupled with the new Storefront program, are creating a digital marketplace of sorts and exposing new potential horse owners to wild horses.
Then Clark’s phone rings and the work begins. “She’s one of those people – she’s not just a trainer, she actually cares for the horses,” said Rickman. “The work that she’s done has been huge in helping us,” said Johnson of the BLM Eastern States Office, adding that Clark’s international connections have “opened up more people’s eyes for the potential of the animals.” It’s all about that “forever home” for Clark. She will train a horse as much or as little as her clients want, as long as she knows they will go to a good home. “That’s why we’re doing this – to know that these horses will have a loving home,” she said.