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. More information is available on our educational website, The Magic Mustang Tamer and on our YouTube Channel, Mustang Camp.

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.



Taming a Wild Horse or Burro 

You need to be able to:

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. 

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