About 50 onlookers gathered around the fence at Paradise Stables in Mount Airy to learn more about America’s wild mustang and liberty training, a format that is done inside the ring without touching the horse.
Trainer Hannah Catalino showed off her work with two of her mustangs — Baghera, a gruella-colored mustang she adopted from the Bureau of Land Management’s Sulphur Springs, Utah, facility and Rosette, a chestnut pinto adopted from a Nevada BLM center.
Last Friday’s event was one stop on a trip that began in Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware on Sept. 26. Catalino and fellow mustang trainer Lisanne Fear will ride 5,000 miles across the United States — from Delaware to California — in an effort to raise awareness about the plight of the mustang, and to see 5,000 mustangs adopted along the way.
“We thought, 5,000 miles, with 5,000 mustangs adopted from holding pens was a good way to go,” Lisanne said. “It’s a big goal, but even if we don’t reach 5,000 mustangs, every mustang that finds a home is a good thing.”
The pair — who has already passed the 100-mile mark — plans to end their trip in about a year. Lisanne said they could have made it in about eight months, but they will be slowed by many stops like the one at Paradise Stables. Both girls are trainers for their title sponsor, the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Trainer Incentive Program, or TIP, and are recommending adoptions through TIP.
“In the TIP program, trainers get the horses to lead, tie and load on a trailer, and then they are adopted at a base rate of $125,” Lisanne said.
“We wanted to showcase and stress that you don’t have to get a totally wild mustang,” Hannah added.
Hannah and Lisanne both say they could not have done this without assistance from Lisa Diersen of the Equus Film Fest. After she met the girls at the Art of the Cowgirl Festival in Montana, Diersen said she was compelled to help them put together a ride that would make a difference. Since then, she has brought on sponsors and organized events along the way to promote the mustang. Rotating film crews are on the trail alongside them, with a large documentary in the works and a series of mini-documentaries along the way.
Starting in Delaware, Diersen said the pair will end their ride just north of San Francisco, in wine country, loosely following the American Discovery Trail.
“They are riding America’s horse on an American trail,” Diersen said.
Although horses have been a part of North American history for millions of years, wild mustang bands began to form in the western United States during the 16th and 17th centuries. They are said to be descendants of horses that escaped from working ranches. With few natural predators, their population grew. The United States government became involved in 1971, passing a law that transferred their management to the Bureau of Land Management. Since then, BLM roundups regularly capture wild mustangs and adopt them out, using about $60 million in taxpayer dollars annually to reduce the population.
At the Mount Airy event, Hannah first worked with Baghera, riding him under saddle, but with no halter, bridle or headgear. Using clicker training, she had him drop his head, walk, trot and canter, back up, and then side pass, clicking the clicker to give him an audible affirmation when he did what was asked and stopping him for treats as well. Next, Hannah asked her mare, Rosette to join them. Rosette, loose in the pen, came alongside on command, mirroring everything that Baghera was asked to do.
The crowd watched intently.
“Hannah said [Baghera] is in the beginning stages of training,” remarked Barbara Reynolds of Frederick. “And that was surprising. To see him respond to her commands even without the help of a bit or bridle was just amazing.”
Reynolds had come to the event for two reasons.
“I used to live in Colorado where they had mustangs and I never had a chance when I lived out there to learn more about them, so that was part of the reason I wanted to be here today, to learn about their history and their availability. The second reason is that I started to do liberty work with my horse and I wanted to see a demonstration from someone who really knows what they are doing.”
In the end, Reynolds admitted the demonstration made her more interested in the possibility of adopting a wild mustang.
As spectators clung to the fence, Hannah asked Rosette to circle Baghera, first at a walk, then a trot, and finally at a canter. The mare followed her every command. Next, she unsaddled Baghera and asked both mustangs to lay down in the ring. After they followed her request, she asked them to sit, and they did just that.
“There is this mystery of the western mustang,” attendee Susan Corfman of Poolesville said. “I am interested now in going on the BLM website and learning a little bit more about their history. For me, one horse is enough, but I’d love to be more involved or supportive and to make a donation.”
Mattie Gregory felt the same.
“I know many riders who have adopted mustangs in the past and most of them have done just great, so I love to see this and to support this program and anything that helps more mustangs get adopted.”
She said was impressed with Hannah’s gentle way.
“There is a love connection there. They are making it easier, so maybe more people will adopt,” she said. “I hope to adopt a mustang one day.”
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Mount Airy residents Karen Durilla and her husband, Frank, watched from lawn chairs outside the fence.
“It is wonderful what these ladies are doing in bringing awareness to the mustangs and to trying to get more people to adopt,” Karen said. “It is good to be able to watch this and see how they work with a horse that [at one time had] never been touched by humans. It was surprising that she was riding [Baghera] at liberty. She has incredible horse skills. She made it look so easy, and we know it is far from that.”
The night before the demonstration, Paradise Stable held a special screening of the new mustang documentary film “The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses,” from Executive Producer Robert Redford.
Barn owner Elizabeth Tate said she regretted that she was on a planned trip across the United States and could not attend these events at her own stable. She said someone from the Maryland Horse Council had asked her to host the girls and their mustangs. After speaking with her barn manager, she learned that her staff and additional volunteers were enthusiastic about making it happen.
“It is a really clever way to promote the plight of the mustang. It is ingenious. I hope it catches on. Even if just one adopts, that is a good thing,” Tate said.
The next stop for the mustang girls will be at Fox Lea Farm and Mini Horse Rescue in Dickerson, Maryland, where Hannah will hold a liberty horsemanship clinic this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The full schedule of stops and events is listed on the Equus Film Festival Page at www.equusfilmfestival.net.
Follow the journey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mustangdiscovery or learn more at www.mustangdiscovery.com .