A mix of mustangs: Oregon horse ranch saves crowded people
CANYON IMNAHA – This isn’t the average horse you’ll find at Dawn and Eddy Medley’s ranch in Imnaha Canyon. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that there were a lot of horses running like mustangs all over the West.
âI love doing this because they (mustangs) have no choice,â says Dawn Medley, co-owner of Medley’s Mustangs. âThey lost their family, and that’s what these horses are for: family. I want to be able to connect them to a “family” and love them for as long as they live.
Medley’s Mustangs is an operation just downstream from Imnaha that helps train and adopt mustangs from overcrowded herds descended from once domesticated horses brought to the New World by the Spaniards. They have since returned from their domesticated state to become wild animals – and their numbers are growing like crazy.
âHerds can double in four to five years if they’re not managed properly,â says Dawn. âYou could have 1,000 to 1,200 horsepower where they say you can only handle 150 to 250 horsepower. Horses eat (the available forage) directly to the ground, unlike cows, where they will leave some of the grass. (The horses) are quite hard on the ground.
Roaming largely on land managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management, regular attempts are made to cull herds and find owners and trainers to take them as part of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program. The Medley’s nearly 18-acre farm is one where they currently have about half a dozen horses.
âWe originally started in September 2018,â says Dawn. âI became a TIP (Trainer Incentive Program) trainer and we had our first (mustang) in October, so through the Bureau of Land Management I’m basically a self-entrepreneur. The BLM partners with the Mustang Heritage Foundation and helps fund the program across the United States.
Overpopulation and slaughter
It is the rapid growth of herds that is a problem involving both government and horse lovers.
âThey can double in four to five years,â says Dawn.
For example, she says, in the Beatys Butte herd management area near Lakeview, the last rally was in 2015. The BLM rounded up 100 horses, pulled out 50 and brought back 25 mares using control. fertility. She adopted one in 2015.
In another herd, 1,500 were brought together in 2015 and only returned 100 to 60 stallions and 40 mares to breeding.
âNow, six years later, they’re bringing them together again,â she said, although she was not sure of the herd’s current numbers.
âThere are also a lot of horse advocates for wild mustangs, who say, ‘Hey, this is American heritage, a living symbol of the historic and pioneering spirit of the West. âBut you really have to think of it as overcrowding,” she said. “It’s like with people. You have to deal with it somehow or it’s just going to get out of hand. I don’t mean to say that I believe in massacre, but … “
Dawn said she knew of three horse slaughterhouses in Canada and five in Mexico. The last three in the United States closed in 2007 under pressure from animal rights groups. But was this the best solution?
âEven the loving horses you’ve raised since birth, people will take quarter horsesâ¦ and unfortunately there’s a bad reputation for the (BLM adoption incentive program) right now,â says Dawn. .
She finds herself divided on the issue of slaughterhouses.
âI can’t say ‘yes’ and I can’t say ‘no’ because of where my sensitive cords are. (For example) I have my Palomino here. He is 20 years old. What if he limps and injures himself? Do I want to send it to the pasture? Can I keep it financially? she says. âI mean, seriously, I have another guy here that I took from the county, to Joseph, he’s a pasture pet. He came to see me paralyzed after I did my assessment and he’s a native Painted Paint and unfortunately the person before me screwed him up. I can’t do anything with him so he just eats my pasture and is just pretty. Do I have the money and the time for this? No. But will I send it to an auction house? No I can not. It would probably, very likely mean a massacre for him, and it’s not fair to him, so my heart is telling me no. Now what other people do at their own pace is none of my business. Everyone has a choice and if they choose to do so, then it is their choice.
Dawn spends hours every day working with her mustangs to learn each other’s particularities.
âI troubleshoot what each horse will let you do,â she said.
The first difficult chore, once a mustang has been brought to where it will be trained, is to put a halter on it. Keeping up with it can also be a chore. A mare, CoCo, was an example.
“She’s still learning that contacts aren’t going to hurt her and what’s right and what isn’t,” said Dawn. “She lost her halter the other day and it took my husband about 10 minutes to put it back on.”
She must find ways to gradually get the horses used to being affected.
âWhen people try to put a bridle on a horse, the horse says, ‘Don’t touch me’. They are very sensitive here, âshe said, touching CoCo’s head.
Dawn always tries to relax her craziest mustang around her. Girlfriend was only two weeks away from nature.
âIt took me about a week to be able to touch her,â said Dawn.
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She often uses a long stick with a string on it, much like show pigs. It gets the mustang used to being hit.
“She’s the wildest,” said Dawn. âShe is the one who fears the most to be touched.
She coos and talks to Girlfriend, lets Girlfriend get used to Dawn’s smell to get Girlfriend used to her and calm down.
“This just teaches her that I’m not going to kill her,” she said. “When they realize I’m not going to kill them, they really start to take hold.”
Prepare for adoption
Under the BLM’s adoption incentive program, horses remain the property of the government and an adopter signs a one-year contract to ensure they take good care of the horse. Adopters must show that they have enough food, water, pasture, a trailer, and can pay vet fees.
Under the program, an adopter pays $ 25 for the newly captured Mustang and, in about two months, receives $ 500 from the government to help cover training costs. Dawn says that about two months before the contract is signed, the government gives an additional $ 500.
âIt’s an incentive to get more people to adopt more completely wild mustangs,â she says. “The government would really like you to take that $ 500 and send that horse to a trainer rather than just spend it – put it on the animal rather than for your personal gain.”
She charges $ 125 for a horse that goes to an adopter.
âIt might be the most expensive $ 125 you spend, but I have three and I’m never going back home,â she says.
What about the burros?
The Medleys stick with horses, they said, because true to their reputation, burros can be stubborn.
âI don’t really like them. I made one, âsaid Dawn.
“It’s donkey hour,” said Eddy. “You do it when they want to do it.”
Their lonely experience with a burro had positive effects.
âOur 6 year old did really well with the burro,â Eddy says.
âShe named it ‘Pop Tart’. It was cute, âadds Dawn.
Welcome on the beach
Medleys love what they do and where they do it. Their ranch is about 5 miles downstream from Imnaha and the 18 acres barely have a flat spot among them.
âIt’s almost all vertical,â Eddy said.
It was he who carved out the lion’s share of building the ranch before falling with a disability.
They have a garden and a wide variety of fruit trees. They also have a boar, a sow and a litter of piglets, as well as chickens and dogs.
Dawn’s two older children from her first marriage have grown up and gone, but her daughter recently made Dawn a grandmother. The two youngest, aged 6 and 9, help out on the ranch and go to school in Imnaha.
But for three years that they train and tame mustangs, the Medleys seem to have found their vocation.
âWe have one motto: take so many wild to gentle mustangs out of the corrals and find loving adoptable homes,â says Dawn. âPlus, watching something so majestic and ‘wild’ become your partner and become one with them,â she finds fulfilling.
–Bill Bradshaw / Wallowa County Chief