This weekend, three dozen wild mustangs will be auctioned off in South Jersey.
These are not souped-up muscle cars, we’re talking about actual wild horses, gathered from open ranges in the American west. One wild mustang was caught in California, corralled, dewormed, driven across the country to New Jersey, and then christened Pauly D, after the hyper-coiffed dude from MTV’s “Jersey Shore.”
The horse is probably ten years old, and had never been saddled, ridden, or even touched by a human hand.
“The first day, week, half month, Pauly was so different from any other horse. He was so wild,” said Amanda Brantmayer, a trainer in Bridgeton, N.J., who had just three months to domesticate him. “Normally, a horse is raised in captivity and he’s been played with since he was a baby, so you just have to teach it stuff, it’s not scared of you. Him, he was scared of everything.”
Brantmayer takes Pauly D through simple training activities at her Diamond Shoe Farm ranch. She is one of about 35 foster parents in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and Virginia breaking in wild mustangs for future adoptive parents. In just 90 days, they must train the horse to take a bridle, walk, trot, walk sideways, jump over objects, and generally become docile.
Brantmayer says that once Pauly D got used to people, he showed much more intelligence than an average horse. But he still a bit aloof.
“He won’t take treats,” said Brantmayer. “That’s been a really hard part of the whole process, because if you can get them to enjoy something that you have, you’re one up. And he doesn’t care. He could care less. “
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management keeps track of about 40,000 wild horses roaming free, mostly in the western states. For the health of both the land and the animals, the herds have to be thinned periodically. Culled horses are not killed, but “gathered” for domestication.
Those horses are having a particularly tough time now. Severe drought and rampant wildfires in the western United States have taken a toll.
“With what’s going on, we’ve had to gather more horses,” said Steven Meyer of the Bureau. “Now, with the economy, the adoptions are down. People don’t have the money to spend on horses. They’re an expensive hobby, especially in the East. People don’t have the funds.”
To get people excited about wild mustangs, the Bureau of Land Management partnered with the Mustang Heritage Foundation out of Forth Worth, Texas, to hold “Extreme Mustang Makeovers.” These adoption events are competitions where trainers show off their foster horses for prize money, and then they are auctioned off.
What a difference three months can make: the horses can trot, walk backwards on cue, do rope tricks, even jump through a flaming hoop.
“Some of them are just going to be amazing,” said Stormy Mullins of the Mustang Heritage Foundation. “Kind of like any contest, there’s a bell curve: few rise to the top, a bunch are OK, and a few not so good. The horses will appear gentle — and they are. They have only been trained three months. But they’ll look like a horse that’s been trained for years”
The Mustang Heritage Federation told Brantmayer that Pauly D was a 6-year old mustang, but after inspecting his teeth she believes the horse is closer to 12 years old. He also has a knot on his foreleg, likely from a scuffle with another horse.
Another trainer, Morgan Ilic, 22, from nearby Franklinville, N.J., accepted a 5-year old mustang she named Grumby, and discovered no health issues.
“He’s always trying to do what you want, even if he’s scared,” said Ilic. “That’s his only thing, is he can be a little scared. If he has someone working with him that’s confident in themselves and is a good leader, he’s perfectly fine.”
Since 2007 the Mustang Heritage Foundation has coordinated horse adoption showcases in 11 states, sometimes drawing thousands of spectators, but until now never in New Jersey. Wild horses tend to be west of the Rockies, and transporting them to eastern states is a burden.
The experiment in New Jersey is due to a perceived rise in horses in the region. Stormy Mullins says he is expecting about a thousand people to bid on the 35 horses at the event being held at Dream Park Equestrian Center near the Commodore Barry Bridge.