MAKING FRIENDS WITH YOUR WILD HORSE OR BURRO
Information and graphics courtesy of BLM,
from their Getting
which is available at your area BLM Field
Even if you have no intention of training your horse or burro to ride, pull a
wagon, or do any other kind of work, every wild horse or burro needs to be
gentled sufficiently to allow people to work with and around him safely. In
general, wild burros are much easier to domesticate than wild horses. Although
the following guidelines pertain specifically to a horse, the same routine
should be followed with your wild burro.
Before you do anything, accept the fact that time and patience are the two
major guidelines here. Lots of time, and lots of patience. Chances are it will
be weeks not days, before you even pet your new horse, but when that moment
comes, you will know it was worth every minute.
Spend time around the corral to get the animal used to human activity. Plan
to spend time with him each time you feed him - and feed him through or over
the fence, for his peace of mind and your safety. Do not try to touch him
while he is eating. Instead, sit outside the corral and talk or sing to him
while he eats. What you say to him is not important, but how you say it is.
Keep your voice soft and soothing, and keep talking. Watch his ears. One or
both of them will point in your direction, indicating that he is
When you change positions or prepare to leave, move slowly and quietly so
as not to startle him. Because he is totally dependent on you for food and
water, it won't take him long to make that positive connection with you, and
your friendly conversation will reinforce that feeling.
Whenever you have time between feedings, visit him again, but don't take a
group of people, as that will confuse and frighten him. As he begins to lose
some of his natural fear of you, his curiosity may come to the surface and
inspire him to actually show some interest in you! Eventually he may stretch
his nose in your direction, flaring his nostrils and blowing his warm, moist
breath. Keep still, keep talking, and do not reach out for him. No matter how
loving your intentions, he will interpret this as an act of aggression on your
part. When he decides to venture nearer for a closer look, continue to keep
still and keep talking. After he's done this several times, he will regard you
as less of a threat - but still a threat.
At this point you can begin delivering his feed in person instead of
through the fence. Stay next to the fence so that you don't need to run away
from your horse. He will probably watch you from as far away as he can get,
but should he decide to charge you, drop the feed and immediately climb the
fence. Do not stop to discuss the matter with him. And do not raise your voice
to him. He probably won't charge you, so put his food in its usual place and
return to your conversation place outside the fence.
You can go back in the corral when he is through eating, or on one of your
between meal visits. When you are in the corral with your horse, never, never
take your eyes off of him. Talk to him in the usual way, and if he ever comes
even one inch closer to you of his own accord, praise him lavishly for his
You must keep your wits about you at all times when you are in the corral,
not only to keep from frightening him, but for your own safety. And remember
that climbing a fence, especially when you are in a hurry, requires some
physical dexterity on your part.
He should be tolerating your presence fairly well by now, so you can sit on
a lower rail inside the corral and talk or sing to him. He will eventually
come over if you continue to do this. If you want to approach him, lower your
head slightly and round your shoulders, and he will see you as less of a
threat If he continues to resist your advances, try bending over from the
waist, and always move slowly and keep talking.
If a halter and lead rope were placed on your animal at the adoption
center, you may want to get him used to standing still while you hold onto the
rope. This will give you some control over his head and front legs.
When you are close enough to pet him and he seems willing to accept you,
stay as close to his side as you can, always facing him, and slowly reach for
his neck or shoulder. Do not reach for his face or toward his hindquarters
Do not tap or pat your animal with your hand as it may startle him. A slow
firm rub with your hand has a quieting and communicating effect on your
animal. Scratch his neck gently and continue talking to him. Repeat this
process over and over, petting and scratching more of him each time, but be
extra careful when touching his legs and stomach.
Since your horse or burro will need to have his feet trimmed and probably
shoed in the future, get him used to having his feet handled. When holding up
his foot, grasping his hoof rather than his leg is less irritating to the
When you have gained the confidence of your horse or burro and established
a physical contact, you are ready to begin training your animal. At this
point, he is much like a domestic horse or burro and should be treated in a
similar manner. An endless variety of training techniques exists, but all
should be combined with patience, kindness, gentleness, and consistency. You
may wish to obtain the services of an experienced horse trainer, or there are
several books and courses on horse training available. Your local cooperative
extension agent or librarian may be able to assist you in learning more about
horse and burro training.
These guidelines were adapted from the National Organization for Wild American Horses' "A Guide for Living With an Adopted Wild Horse" by Ron Zaidlicz, DVM, and Penny Case.
This is not a BLM operated or BLM sponsored site. It
is run by private wild horse and burro enthusiasts. We are thankful to the
BLM for providing the information which is presented here. We also hope to
soon be posting information pertaining to HMAs in other states.