How to Train a Wild Mustang or Donkey

(or train a zebra)

Our mustang and donkey/burro training protocols are based in the theories of Applied Animal Behavior. We study all effective ways of training, but have gradually come to use mostly positive reinforcement because it gives the best results for producing a friendly animal (no matter what the starting age is.) Use this page to get a glimpse into our protocols. See the materials also on the Training Tidbits series.

Taming 101

Oxen taming provides a model we can use.

The taming of oxen, as studied by Dr. Drew Conroy, provides the best understood model of animal taming. Conroy breaks taming into two basic processes: initial acclimation to humans and capture/restraint training. During the initial acclimation the goals are: 1) to calm the animals; 2) to reduce their flight distance; 3) to make them realize they need not fear humans; and 4) to let them become familiar with their trainer. During the second process the animals learn to accept touch, handling, and to accept restraint. When mustangs are given the same type of training, the need for special facilities at the adoptive home is diminished. The wild horse quickly becomes as tame as a domestically raised horse, ready to be trained to ride or drive.


  1. Low threshold for flight
  2. Tense in the presence of humans
  3. Intense fear
  4. Resists restraint


  1. Little propensity for flight
  2. Relaxed in the presence of humans
  3. No anxiety
  4. Accepts restraint

Taming a Wild Horse or Burro

You need to be able to:

  • catch the animal.
  • halter the animal.
  • lead the animal.
  • groom the animal.
  • handle the hooves of the animal.
  • tie the animal.
  • get the animal into a horse trailer.
Mustang Training: Principles

During the initial acclimation phase of Mustang Camp training, we use respondent conditioning as the most direct method of calming the animal and setting its attitude towards humans. We want to form an association in the horses mind between us and pleasure. When they see us, we want them to expect positive things. During our second phase of training, the animal learns all the basic human interaction that is needed for basic horse-keeping. We teach using a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement during the basic skill training because in the future of these animals, adopters are most likely to use pressure/release methods to work with their mustangs. An animal learns to learn.

If the horse has been held under adverse conditions and already has a negative opinion about people, the initial acclimation may take too long using only positive reinforcement. It may be necessary to break down the barriers and reformulate the animals’ understanding of humans through other techniques.

✓ Check list of skills you need to know how and when to implement in order to succeed:

☐ How to use respondent conditioning to set an animals expectations.

☐ How to use appetitives and aversives to provide appropriate consequences for behaviors.

☐ How to use habituation, systematic desensitization, and counter-conditioning to control fears.

☐ How to avoid problems and accelerate learning by managing latent learning.

☐ How to avoid problems associated with flooding and learned helplessness.

☐ How to keep training records.

☐ How to break tasks into tiny lessons that keeps the animal succeeding.

We divide our 26 Tasks into four zones. Each Zone trains for a specific objective.

  • Zone One: the goal is relaxed handfeeding, limited touching, and ability to be moved to new places.
  • Zone Two: the goal is a horse that can be touched, groomed, and haltered.
  • Zone Three: the goal is a horse that understands how to respond to pressure, can be led safely, and can stand tied.
  • Zone Four: the goal is a horse that can be put on a horse trailer, whose hooves can be cleaned, and can be led through obstacles.

This video provides a broad overview of the end goals for each of our 26 tasks. This doesn't show how to train, but rather gives you an idea of what the end goal is. Some of the animals shown are not quite perfect.

Which zone would you like to go to?

To get a PDF of our Training Record Booklet, fill out the form on this link. It should immediately send you the file if your email address is correct.

For additional resources, check the