How retraining helped a formerly wild mustang and an introverted horse find their niche in life
The personalities and backgrounds of Scarlett and Wire couldn’t be more different. Yet, after receiving a solid education at Horse Haven, the four-year-old mares have found a home together — one that couldn’t be any more perfect for either of them.
When Scarlett was brought to Best Friends in 2015, she was truly wild. The young mustang was one of nearly 100 feral horses living at a wild horse sanctuary that was closed. She and one other horse were saved from going to auction after caregivers there appealed for help from other rescue groups.
Unlike Scarlett, Wire’s lived with people all her life. When she arrived at the Sanctuary a little over a year ago, she was tame and already used to being ridden. But because the introverted quarter horse lacked confidence and needed more training, her tendency to be full of anxiety made her an unreliable riding partner.
Scarlett gets an education at Horse Haven
Although Scarlett wasn’t tame (and had many fears to overcome during her first year of living with people), she was friendly, extroverted and interested in humans. Thanks to Horse Haven’s natural horsemanship training program, which puts the relationship with the horse first, Scarlett learned to interact with people in a safe and comfortable way.
True to her open, inquisitive nature, she came around quickly. Instead of running away, she learned to look at people for help and guidance whenever she became afraid. That simple change of behavior was huge, because it fast-tracked Scarlett’s relationships with people and her ability to learn from them. Scarlett learned to carry a saddle and to follow other horses on trail rides. Eventually, she took her partnership with people to the next level by having a Horse Haven trainer ride her.
Wire: Retraining a horse for riding
Though Wire had experience working with people, she’d never learned to feel comfortable with someone on her back. With someone in the saddle, she would tense up and refuse to move forward. Before she could accept a rider again, she needed to overcome her anxiety and build a trusting, cooperative relationship with people.
Using natural horsemanship methods, Horse Haven trainers helped Wire better understand human body language and intentions. That way, when someone asked her to do something, she could choose a response other than freezing. Wire also got used to a saddle again. Once she was comfortable working with her trainers on the ground and wearing properly-fitted riding equipment, they began riding her.
Both Scarlett and Wire made steady progress during their time at Horse Haven, becoming more confident and developing successful partnerships with trainers. By the time KC Johnson and her daughter Jessica began looking to expand their herd of horses, both mares were more than ready for homes of their own. But no one guessed that the reserved, self-contained Wire and the spunky, outgoing Scarlett would get adopted into the same home with a perfect person for each of them.
Educating people about commercial horses
KC and Jessica recently moved to southern Utah, where KC co-founded a small business. She and Jessica also volunteered at Horse Haven to enhance their own knowledge and deepen their practice of natural horsemanship training.
The goal of KC’s business (Border Towns Horse Company) is to make a difference in how horses are used as commercial animals. For example, she says that in her experience many commercial trail riding operations train horses to walk in a straight line, nose to tail. In that situation, she says, “The horse has no emotion. They’ve lost their dignity and passion, and they become robotic.”
KC is trying to raise awareness and educate people about horses by creating positive experiences with them. “We want people to come in and have true encounters with horses,” she says. “You can show people a lot about horses in a one-time experience. Horses don't need to be abused as commercial animals. They have a lot to offer if people know how to reach in and get it.”
Scarlett and Wire join the herd
Although KC already had a dozen education horses at her ranch — most of them rescued mustangs — she wanted to adopt two more rescued horses to round out the herd. She chose Wire. “We love her mind and the way she thinks,” says KC. “She’s suitable for people new to horses to interact with.” And as it turns out, Wire’s reserved and calm personality is a great match with KC.
Jessica, who is more outgoing than her mother, chose the extroverted Scarlett. “Scarlett is gentle, but she has more zip-a-dee-doo-dah to her than Wire, and an incredible desire to play,” says KC. “Instead of letting that go to waste, we’ll capture it by making her a liberty horse.”
What does that mean for Scarlett? It means that KC and Jessica will teach her some fun tricks and give her the freedom to show them off to people who want to learn about horses. Meanwhile, Wire will work closely with KC’s guests to help demonstrate how people can have a partnership with a horse that’s based on trust and mutual respect.
“The horses are a very important element of what we do, and they get a lot of care. We make sure their experiences are good, as well as those of the people they are working with,” KC says.
For two horses with so much to learn when they arrived at Horse Haven, finding a place in this herd is more than a happily-ever-after. It’s proof that a formerly wild horse that needed a little retraining can learn, grow and help others do the same.
Photos by Ann Hepworth