Charles Nebel gently stroked the coat of a mahogany mustang named Babs on Thursday at the Wild Horse Program next to Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center. The sound of gunfire from a nearby firing range punctuated the quiet, but the horse didn’t flinch.
Mirroring her trainer, Babs remained calm, ears forward, eyes blinking, feet firm. Nebel spoke soft words of praise as he brushed her, cleaned her feet and fitted her with a saddle and bridle for the day’s training.
Ninety days ago, Babs was completely wild, rounded up off public land by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Nebel, 51, her trainer, is serving a sentence for drug offenses. He had no experience with horses before joining the program 4 1/2 months ago. Together they have discovered a calm within themselves and each other, setting each of them up for new lives.
On Saturday, when the Wild Horse Program holds its adoption event, Babs will join the Mounted Patrol Unit of the Sacramento Police Department.
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“She can have a chance to help me, help Charlie and help the community,” said Sgt. Jared Kiser, the officer who will patrol with her in downtown and Old Sacramento. He visited Babs on Thursday to drop off her new food so she could get used to it before the move. The Mounted Patrol Unit has supported the Wild Horse Program for two years. When one of their horses retired, officials decided to adopt an inmate-trained wild mustang.
“We could pay a lot of money on a fancy horse that may or may not work out or we can put our minds together and give her a chance,” Kiser said. Babs was selected because of her calm disposition.
Nebel led her through “first touch” in the gentling process to eventually being tame and accepting a rider. He takes her through obstacle courses, loads her in and out of a horse trailer, rides her and gets her accustomed to new things. Nebel choked up when he talked about saying goodbye to Babs. As a repeat offender, his outlook is now changed.
“It was kind of a rough exterior,” Nebel said of himself before training Babs. “Now, working with Babs it’s kinda like broken through all that. It’s given me another way of thinking and feeling.”
The Wild Horse Program is often described as a win-win situation. Nebel gets to be out of the gray of the RCCC dorms and chain link fences. In the process, he is providing the community service of training a police service animal, which gives him a sense of accomplishment. After release, he could pursue a career training horses or working as a horseshoer, a field where previous inmates have found success.
The Wild Horse Program has adopted 55 horses total since it began three years ago. Eleven more horses will be up for auction this Saturday at the ranch. The public is invited to attend, with meet and greets starting at 9 a.m. and bidding starting at 11 a.m. For more information visit www.friendsofR3C.com
Babs will have more training to do with Sac PD before she is ready for patrol, but Nebel is happy with where she is headed.
“They love her just as much as I do, and I’m glad she’s going to a good place,” he said.