Comet, a dark brown mustang mare, swished her recently groomed tail as she trotted around a show ring at the Murieta Equestrian Center on Saturday, stirring up dust for a crowd of curious bidders and spectators.
She was one of seven in a unique crop of horses that was adopted this weekend – all the products of a Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center program that teaches inmates to train mustangs, horses formerly living in the wild.
A few more mustangs are now in homes thanks to the center’s wild horse program, launched in fall of 2014. Inmates spend 40 hours per week training wild horses in 120-day cycles. It’s a win-win for trainer and trainee, said ranch manager Joe Misner – the inmates learn valuable lessons, and the horses get enough training to be fit for adoption.
The Bureau of Land Management has placed about two dozen of the wild horses it’s responsible for protecting with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department to use in the program. Since then, 15 have been placed in permanent homes, including those adopted Saturday.
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Inmate training programs help the bureau reduce the number of wild horses in holding facilities – currently about 40,000, said BLM spokesman Jeff Fontana. There are six inmate training programs in the nation, but the RCCC program is the first in which the bureau has partnered with a county facility.
Adoption fees began at $150 for halter-trained horses and $350 for saddle-trained horses. All seven mares that were up for adoption Saturday were sold, one for a high bid of $600.
Mustangs are naturally sturdy horses because their legs and feet are accustomed to wild terrain, Misner said. With the right training, they have the potential to be excellent trail horses.
Inmates feel a sense of self-worth knowing that these horses would be in holding facilities if not for their help, he added. The inmates also learn to control their emotions and show compassion for the animals, who are sensitive to human behavior.
About six men are training in the RCCC wild horse program.
“Yesterday was a pretty hard day for the guys, knowing these horses might leave,” Misner said. “But there’s a sense of pride because they know not a lot of people can do this.”
Michelle DeVita, a bidder from Penn Valley, said she thought the mares all looked friendly and seemed to have a good foundation of training.
“It looks like they’ve done a lot of desensitizing to people,” she said. “It will ultimately lead to these horses finding good homes.”