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Backcountry trails lead horses to D.C.

Tue., Dec. 9, 2008

Patrol mustangs to be in inaugural parade

Mustangs that ran wild less than two years ago will be part of next month’s inaugural parade for Barack Obama.

The formerly wild horses are part of the U.S. Border Patrol’s mounted unit, which operates out of Colville, Metaline Falls and other Inland Northwest locations. The unit received an invitation to bring eight of its mustangs to Washington, D.C., next month to march in the parade with the agency’s honor guard and bagpipe and drum team.

For the unit, the invitation represents a chance to show off a successful program that blends environmentally friendly practices and criminal rehabilitation: The horses are trained by inmates.

“We think it’s a great success story,” said Danielle Suarez, the agency’s spokeswoman for the Spokane Sector.

The agency adopts horses captured and auctioned off, for $125 each, by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The mustangs are trained by prisoners in a rehabilitation program with the Colorado prison system at a cost of about $900 each.

“We think that not only did they tame the horses, the horses tame them,” Suarez said.

The trained horses are sent to Border Patrol stations in the Spokane Sector, which covers Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana.

“It’s some of the most rugged and remote areas of all of North America,” Suarez said.

The horses can get into some backcountry areas more quickly and economically than motorized vehicles. In areas such as Glacier National Park, which restricts motor vehicles, horse patrols are used to minimize environmental damage.

The agency has 17 horses stationed across the northern tier.

Horses from the sector have marched in Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and Spokane’s Lilac Parade. The agency is expected to pick which eight horses it will send to Washington, D.C., in the next few days and begin training them.

Horses that spend most of their time in the backcountry need to get accustomed to walking on paved streets with potholes, Suarez said. They also will get acclimated to crowds.

Preliminary plans call for them to train in Colville and be shipped in trailers to Washington, D.C., in mid-January.

The biggest logistical challenge will probably involve the horses’ riders and handlers, Suarez said.

Parade organizers have made arrangements for all the horses to be boarded in Maryland, Suarez said.

But their riders are on their own, and lodging is getting scarce for what’s expected to be a heavily attended inaugural celebration.

“We’re just happy to be in the parade,” she said. “We’ll stay anywhere.”

Jim Camden can be reached at or (509) 459-5461.

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