A mix of mustangs: Oregon Horse Ranch saves overpopulation

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IMNAHA CANYON – It’s not your average horse you’d find at Dawn and Eddy Medley’s ranch in Imnaha Canyon. In fact, not long ago many of the horses were mustangs all over the west.

“I love this because they (the Mustangs) don’t have a choice,” says Dawn Medley, co-owner of Medley’s Mustangs. “They lost their families, and that’s what these horses are about – family. I want to be able to connect them to a ‘family’ and love them for a lifetime. “

Medley’s Mustangs is an operation downstream from Imnaha that helps train and adopt mustangs derived from the overpopulated herds descended from once domesticated horses brought to the New World by the Spaniards. Since then, they have returned from their domesticated state to become wild animals – and their numbers are growing like crazy.

“Herds can double in four to five years if not properly managed,” says Dawn. “You could have 1,000 to 1,200 horses that they say you could only manage 150-250 horses. Horses eat (available forage) right down to the ground, as opposed to cows where they leave some of the grass behind. (Horses) are pretty hard on the ground. “

Most of them migrate on land administered by the Federal Bureau of Land Management, and attempts are made regularly to kill the herds and find owners and trainers to take them in under the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program. The Medleys’ nearly 18-acre operation is one of those that they currently have about half a dozen horses on.

“We originally started in September 2018,” says Dawn. “I became a TIP (Trainer Incentive Program) trainer and we got our first Mustang in October, so I’m basically a self-employed through the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM works with the Mustang Heritage Foundation and helps fund the program across the United States. “

Overpopulation and slaughter

It is the rapid growth of the herds that creates a problem that affects both the government and horse lovers.

“They can double in four to five years,” says Dawn.

For example, she says, in the Beatys Butte Herd Management Area near Lakeview, the last gathering was in 2015. The BLM collected 100 horses, removed 50 and brought back 25 mares using fertility control. In 2015 she adopted one.

In another herd, 1,500 were collected in 2015 and only 100 – 60 stallions and 40 mares were brought back into the range.

“Now, six years later, they are collecting them again,” she says, but does not know how the herd is current.

“There are also many horse advocates for the wild mustangs who say, ‘Hey, this is American heritage, a living symbol of the historic and pioneering spirit of the West.’ But you really have to look at it as overpopulation, ”she says. “It’s like with humans. You have to do it somehow, otherwise it will get out of control. I don’t want to say that I believe in slaughter, but … “

Dawn said she knew three horse slaughterhouses in Canada and five in Mexico. The last three in the US were closed in 2007 under pressure from animal rights groups. But was that the best solution?

“Even the loving horses you raised from birth, people take Quarter Horses … and unfortunately there is currently a bad rap for that (BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program),” says Dawn.

She is divided on the subject of slaughterhouses.

“I can’t say ‘yes’ and I can’t say ‘no’ because my heart aches. (For example) I have my palomino here. He’s 20. What if he gets lame and injured? Do I want to send him to the pasture? Can I keep him financially? ”She says. “I mean, seriously, I have another guy out here that I took from the county with me, in Joseph, he’s a grazer. It came to me crippled after I did my rating and it is a domestic paint and unfortunately the person in front of me screwed it up. I can’t do anything to him so he just eats my pasture and just looks pretty. Do I have the time and money for this? No. But will I send it to an auction house? No i can’t. That would probably, most likely to him, mean slaughter, and it’s not fair to him, so my heart says no. Well, I don’t care what other people do in their free time. Everyone has a choice and if they choose, then it’s their choice. “

Dawn Medley shows how 4-year-old CoCo was tamed enough to pet her at Medley’s Mustangs ranch on Thursday June 10, 2021.Bill Bradshaw / Wallowa Country Chieftain

Taming friends

Dawn spends hours every day working with her mustangs and learning the idiosyncrasies of each one.

“I study what each horse makes you do,” she says.

The first difficult task once a Mustang is brought to its training place is to attach a halter. Putting on the bridle can also be a hassle. A mare, CoCo, was an example.

“She’s still learning that touching doesn’t hurt her and what’s okay and what’s not,” says Dawn. “She recently lost her halter and it took my husband about 10 minutes to put it back on.”

She has to find ways to gradually get the horses used to the touch.

“When people try to bridle a horse, the horse says, ‘Don’t touch me.’ They are very sensitive up here, ”she says and touches CoCo’s head.

Dawn is still trying to get her wildest mustang to relax around her. Girlfriend was only out of the wild for two weeks.

“It took me about a week to touch her,” says Dawn.

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She often uses a long stick with a string on it, similar to what she does with show pigs. It gets the Mustang used to being touched.

“She’s the wildest,” says Dawn. “She is most afraid of being touched.”

She coos and talks to girlfriend, allowing her to get used to Dawn’s scent to get girlfriend used to her and calm down.

“It just basically teaches her that I’m not going to kill her,” she says. “When you realize that I am not going to kill you, you really start to settle down.”

Preparation for adoption

As part of the BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program, the horses remain government property and an adopter signs a one-year contract to ensure that the horse is properly cared for. The adopters have to prove that they have enough food, water, pasture and a trailer and that they can pay veterinary fees.

As part of the program, an adopter pays $ 25 for the recently captured Mustang and will receive $ 500 from the government in about two months to cover training costs. Dawn says the government will give another $ 500 about two months before the deal is signed.

“It’s an incentive to get more people to adopt more mustangs that are completely wild,” she says. “The government really wants you to take that $ 500 and send the horse to a trainer instead of just spending it – put it on the animal instead of your personal gain.”

She charges $ 125 for a horse that will go to live with an adopted child.

“It may be the most expensive $ 125 you spend, but I have three and I will never go back in the house,” she says.

What about offices?

The medleys stay with horses, they said, because donkeys can be stubborn according to their reputation.

“I don’t really like her. I did one, ”says Dawn.

“It’s ‘donkey time,'” says Eddy. “You do it when they want to do it.”

Her lonely experience with a donkey had some positive effects.

“Our 6-year-old did really well with the donkey,” says Eddy.

“She called it ‘pop tart’. It was cute, ”adds Dawn.

At home in the range

The medleys love what they do and where they do it. Their ranch is about 5 miles downriver from Imnaha and the 18 acres barely has a flat spot below them.

“It’s almost all vertical,” says Eddy.

He’s the one who did the lion’s share of building the ranch before collapsing with a disability.

You have a garden and a large selection of fruit trees. They also have a boar, a sow and a litter of piglets, as well as chickens and dogs.

Dawn’s two older children from their first marriage have grown up and gone, but their daughter recently made Dawn a grandmother. The two younger children aged 6 and 9 help on the ranch and attend school in Imnaha.

But in the three years they’ve been training and taming mustangs, the medleys seem to have found their calling.

“We have a motto: to get so many wild to mild mustangs out of the enclosures and to find loving adoptive homes,” says Dawn. “Also, to see something so majestic and ‘wild’ become your partner and become one with them,” she finds fulfilling.

–Bill Bradshaw / Wallowa County Chieftain

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