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THE OUTDOORS ALMANAC | MIGRATIONS

Wild horse? Try whispering

September 14, 2004

Modern mustangs -- feral horses and burros rounded up on public lands in the West and put up for adoption at $125 a pop -- are tough, smart and adaptable. Every year a handful of horse trainers teach new owners how to tame these animals, not through force or fear but by tapping into the creatures' innate curiosity. Methods aimed at building horse-human trust include clicker training (bestowing snacks or strokes cued by the sound of a hand clicker) or forming what's called a "Navajo circle" (surrounding the horse with people who gently make contact by slowly closing in on the animal). At the Wild Horse Workshop that starts Monday, about 50 horse whisperer wannabes work with trainers to learn how to handle their animals. "[It's the] only place in the world where participants can come for a week of working and learning inside the pens with skilled clinicians and a variety of real wild horses and burros," says Willis Lamm of Stagecoach, Nev., below, the workshop's president and co-founder. Up to 500 come to watch, some of whom "fall in love with a horse and take him home," says Frank Bell, a trainer from Ashton, Idaho, who has been teaching at the event since it began in 1998. The workshop, which includes public adoption of horses or burros on Sept. 25, will be at the Brentwood Oaks Equestrian Center in Brentwood, Calif., west of Stockton. Go to www.wildhorseworkshop.org. To adopt a wild horse or burro, call (866) 4MUSTANGS.

--Bobbie Lieberman

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