Planning a long distance horse trek requires two things:
- A crazy sense of adventure.
- And an amazing team of horses that you can trust.
Taking my horses with me on a long distance trek adds a lot to how I have to plan – from choosing campsites and working out resupplies to figuring out where I can stop and allow my horses to rest. All in all, caring for my horses is my number one priority. I want them to stay healthy and happy throughout the six months that we will be out on trail. They need to be physically fit and mentally prepared to safely ride out on this trail.
I have two horses that I am currently getting ready for a border-to-border ride on the Pacific Crest Trail. If you have not heard of the Pacific Crest Trail, it is a 2,650 mile border trail that goes through California, Oregon and Washington.
Both of my horses are mustangs that I have adopted from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). I choose to ride mustangs because they are naturally great on trail. The mustangs live on land with very rough terrain and harsh weather conditions. Natural selection has worked its course to put out horses that can handle these conditions.
There are currently thousands of mustangs that are in holding facilities that need homes. The BLM is in charge of managing the herds. Currently, 50,000 mustangs are being held in short and long term holding facilities. On the range, the population estimates are currently at 80,000 mustangs (95,000 if we add in the burros). The BLM has determined a number of horses (AML or Appropriate Management Level) that should be on the range “to promote healthy conditions on the range.” This number is 26,770.
The current estimated population on the range far exceeds the BLMs Appropriate Management Level. This creates a problem and a lot of controversy. But to sum it up, there are thousands and thousands of horses in holding facilities that have been gathered that need homes, and when they are given a chance, these horses can become some of the best riding companions as they are extremely athletic and versatile.
Though, I have only been able to help a handful of mustangs out of the thousands that need it, I hope that my horses can show the world just how amazing mustangs can be.
Makani is a special horse to me. She was the first horse that I could call my own. We have been through a lot together, and I am looking forward to experiencing this trail with Makani as my lead horse.
I adopted Makani back in 2016 through the BLM online auction. The online auction is exactly what it sounds like – horses are listed online for approved adopters to bid on. It is kind of weird placing a bid on a horse that I have not seen in person, but it is a nice option for those who do not live close to a holding facility. The BLM also provides transportation of the mustangs to pick-up locations that may be closer for those who do not have holding facilities nearby. Many times, the pick-up locations are other holding facilities or even adoption events that happen across the US. I have successfully adopted two mustangs from the online auction.
At the time, I was still in college, and I had no intentions to own a horse until I graduated in 2017. But as many of you know, my friends and I started Limitless at the end of 2015 with intentions of riding the Colorado Trail in 2017. That meant we all had to get a horse ready for this trip.
There were a few things I was looking for in a horse:
- It had to be a mustang.
- I wanted a horse that was at least 6 years old.
- Preferable one that was born in the wild and ran for a few years before being gathered.
- Good conformation.
- At least 15 hands, because I am tall.
The problem with an online auction is that you are choosing a horse based on pictures, and if you are lucky, you may be able to see a video. You do not get to see the horse in person until pick up. Though, you can turn the horse down at pick up if something seems off. That brings up concerns on soundness and personality/herd dynamics. But it was a risk I was going to take, so I started looking at the online auction horses daily.
A few horses caught my eye, but I crossed them off of my list because of things that stood out in concern of soundness and conformation. My choices were very limited at the time, but then more photos of horses available for the auction were uploaded last minute. I saw a photo of a bay roan mare, and well… I fell in love.
This bay roan mare caught my eye because I loved the way that she trotted out in her pictures. She was 6 years old and was gathered from the wild when she was about 2. She was from the Little Owyhee Herd Management Area (HMA) in Nevada, and she stood exactly 15 hands tall. She was the horse I wanted to adopt. No question about it.
I remember the day of the auction I chose to skip my classes so that I could be home at my computer to bid. I was a bit nervous as someone else had started bidding on this beautiful mustang. Though when the time to bid expired, I refreshed the page to see that I had won the auction. This beautiful mare would be coming to Texas to get ready for some big adventures.
It took about six weeks before she was transported to a holding facility in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. I had two of my friends help out and make the trip all the way out to Oklahoma and back with my wild mustang.
I chose the name Makani’s Grace for her. She was from the Little Owyhee HMA, and “Owhyee” was an old English spelling for Hawaii. Knowing this, I chose a Hawaiian name for her. Makani means “the wind.” When I had mentioned her name to someone, I was warned about naming a horse after the wind because she would prove to be a challenge. Even though I do not believe her exact name was the reason for how difficult of a horse she was to train, I find it oddly coincidental that she lived up to the warning! The name definitely matches her personality.
I remember Makani let me touch her on the first day. I was excited and looking forward to the adventures to come, but Makani had other plans. The following day I tried to approach her from the left side and any chance of touching her again was lost. The next month consisted of long hours spent at the barn trying to make some progress with Makani. It took some time for her to take food from my hand, but I would feed her all of the alfalfa hay by hand. She preferred it over the coastal, so it was like a special treat for her. I then incorporated clicker training to teach her that a “touch” = “some yummy alfalfa” – progressing from a touch on the nose to the cheek to the neck and so on. Eventually, I was able to approach her from the front with both of her eyes on me without her running away and put a halter on.
Her progress continued, but it was like a rollercoaster ride. One day, she would do great, and then the next it felt like we were back at the beginning. She was extremely reactive, terrified of humans, and had a horrible bolting problem especially when she saw another human other than me. I don’t think anyone believed I could have her ready enough to go out on the Colorado Trail in 2017, but somehow we made it. Overall, she really did good on the trail! I was surprised at how she handled everything, but mentally, I do not think she was ready.
When it came to choosing which horses I would like to take on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was not 100% set on taking Makani. I was not sure if I could get her ready for this longer ride. Though, she had progressed even more since 2017, she still had her moments here and there, but I did not want to give up on taking her just yet.
She is an amazing horse out on trail, and we have come so far. Over the past year, I have decided to really focus on her training, spending a lot of time in the arena filling holes that we are now able to focus on. One of my biggest concerns was her being able to confidently lead another horse (the pack horse), but I think training her to pony other horses was the boost of confidence that she ultimately needed.
Makani is now ten years old, and she will be eleven years old when we head out on trail next year.
When plans started back up for a thru-ride on the Pacific Crest Trail, I knew that I needed to find a pack horse that would be used through some of sections where I would need to pack in more food and even water, at times.
Again, I was looking for a mustang that was at least six years old. I wanted a horse that could balance out Makani’s personality. I did not want to match Makani with a horse that was unconfident and spooky. I was looking for a horse that was brave and not very reactive. Originally, I was planning on going through a TIP trainer I knew, and when I first saw Malana’s posted ad on Facebook, I sent it over to a friend that was interested in purchasing a mustang for a long distance ride. I told her that I thought this mustang would be a good fit for a pack horse. She was stocky, had some basic handling, and had a “calm” look on her face.
Nothing came from that post, but I would occasionally see updates on Facebook of that horse. A month passed since the first day I saw her post, and this big, red mare still had not found a home. I reached out to the trainer that day, and I sent over my paperwork the following day. Malana was a sales authority horse, but she was still in the TIP program.
The difference between adopting a mustang from the BLM and purchasing a sales authority horse from the BLM is that the adopted horses come with a year long contract with the BLM before you receive the horse’s title and actually own the horse. The sales authority horses are usually referred to as “three-strike horses.” These horses have been passed up at adoption events three times and are now sold without a contract. You do not get a title for these mustangs, instead you receive a bill of sale.
My application was approved, and I made arrangements for Malana’s TIP trainer to trailer her to where I board my horses.
She arrived in November of 2019. I was told she was 15 hands, but she is at least an inch or two taller. Malana just so happens to come from the same HMA as Makani – the Little Owhyee HMA in Nevada. Even though they are from the same area, they are polar opposites. But that was exactly what I wanted!
There is not much more to add to Malana’s story just yet, but I am sure more stories will to come! I took my time training Malana under-saddle. I focused on her ground work and introduced her to being ponied around the trails. Though, she is the main pack horse, I would like to be able to ride her in some sections where I may only take one horse. This will allow me to switch out horses and give them more rest days.
Malana is now seven years old, and she will be eight years old when we head out on trail next year.
Makani and Malana are doing great together! I am now spending a lot of time training and conditioning them for next year’s adventure. I am looking forward to what is to come, and I can’t wait to show everyone what these mustangs can do.