May 19, 2008 in City

Wild mustangs learn new tricks

By The Spokesman-Review
Photos by J. Bart Rayniak photo

Tony Mangan, of Spirit Lake, checks out horses Sunday at the BLM Wild Horse Adoption, part of Ride the West Horse and Ranch Expo 2008. He adopted two mustangs. “They start with a clean slate. They have no opinion, no habits. They’re a little afraid. You have to get your way into their confidence.”
(Full-size photo)

In a little more than two months, Jaime Thomas took a wild mustang and turned it into a calm trusting horse that she can ride like any other.

She’s competing in an event known as the Western States Mustang Challenge, where 100 trainers are taking 100 wild mustangs and getting them ready in just 82 days for competition next month in Sacramento, Calif.

“It’s hard to say what draws me to mustangs,” Thomas said Sunday during a break in the annual Ride the West Horse and Ranch Expo at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center.

For the second time in three years, the Bureau of Land Management brought wild mustangs to the show and offered them for adoption to the public. Seven of them were taken by area horse lovers.

Thomas trains mustangs as a hobby, and the mustang competition gives her a chance to test her skills against some of the top trainers in the country.

These wild horses that roam the West are different than domestic horses in that they can become very loyal to their owners, Thomas said.

“You can’t dominate them. You have to work with them,” she said as her trainee stood calmly next to her.

The trick, she said, is “to get inside their heads so they learn how to trust you.” Mustangs have to break through the fear that humans will harm them, and once they do “they bond up to you like you wouldn’t believe.”

“He trusts me so much,” she said. “I found that with all of my mustangs.”

She owns nine horses. Seven of them are mustangs.

In addition to competing in the Western States Mustang Challenge, Thomas is planning to compete again this year in the Extreme Mustang Makeover in which 200 trainers from across the country will train, or “gentle,” 200 mustangs in 100 days for a $50,000 prize at Fort Worth, Texas. Thomas said she made the top 10 last year.

On Sunday the branded mustang at Thomas’s side had been with her 68 days and was gentle enough to stand among onlookers, sniffing their hands.

“He’s beautiful,” said Sandy Christensen, of Mead, who was considering the adoption of a mustang.

After the mustang competition June 6-8 in Sacramento, Thomas’s horse – likely a descendant of Army cavalry horses – will be put up for adoption and could command $8,000, of which Thomas will receive a share to offset the costs of being in the competition.

Thomas operates the Nomad’s Rest Ranch, a mustang training facility near Auburn, Wash. She can be found on the Web at

Another expert giving demonstrations Sunday was Samantha Harvey, of the Equestrian Center north of Sandpoint. Like Thomas, Harvey specializes in an updated form of training that emphasizes building a respectful relationship rather than using bits and spurs to get a horse to comply. She even whispers to her horses, she said. The style of training is known as “natural horsemanship.” Often, she works with horses that have not been properly socialized, she said.

The idea is to encourage the horse to want to work with you rather than forcing it to do things. “We don’t catch a horse. They come to us,” Harvey said. “Horses are incredibly honest.”

Harvey can be found on the Web at

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