Mass Gentling Facility
National Wild Horse and Burro Mass Gentling and Research Facility (MGRF)
Tucumcari, New Mexico
Innovating for Animals
Mustang Camp, a NM 501(c)3 equine rescue
Pilot Project: Mass Gentling and Research Facility - Tucumcari
AUTHORS: Dr. Patricia Irick, Ph.D. and John E. Irick, C.P.A. Retired
CREATION DATE: 9/30/2018
Definition of Gentling
Gentling is the taming of wild equine in preparation for them to be handled by ordinary horse-owners.
Mustang Camp’s Vision for Gentling
To make significant numbers of wild horses and burros more adoptable through the application of modern training technology.
Reason for This Pilot
The Bureau of Land Management explains it this way:
“The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (the Act) charged the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service with the protection and management of wild horses (also known as “mustangs”) and burros on public rangelands in the Western United States. Because wild horses and burros are federally protected and have virtually no natural predators, populations double every four years. Today, the BLM manages more than 82,000 horses and burros across 31.6 million acres in 10 Western states; the BLM’s target population level is approximately 27,000 horses and burros. The Act requires the BLM to manage wild horses and burros in a manner that achieves a thriving natural ecological balance. As resource conditions and other factors warrant, excess wild horses and burros are removed from the public lands and placed in private care through adoption or sales. Animals that are not adopted or sold are cared for using public funds, which is approximately $49 million annually, and currently total nearly 45,000 animals.
The BLM has made excess animals removed from the range available for adoption since 1973 and for purchase since 2005 and has placed more than 235,000 animals into private care; however, prior years of a stagnant economy and other socio-economic factors resulted in thousands of animals not being placed into private care. The Program is taking a number of steps to increase adoptions and sales, including building on successful partnerships that facilitate an increase in the number of animals trained and placed into private care. Trained horses and burros are in greater demand and are more likely than untrained animals to be adopted or purchased by the public.
One of the identified barriers to increasing numbers of animals into private care is the need for additional locations and opportunities to select trained and untrained animals within BLM staffed events.” BLM, Request for Information, 2018
Solution To Problem
Mustang Camp seeks to add value to a significant number of wild horses and burros by training them to transition into a life with people, then finding adoptive homes to care for them. Our contribution is a training protocol based in current learning theory combined with a modern system of managing the training process. This is a potential break-through towards solving the problem.
Purpose of Pilot
This pilot project will demonstrate the commercial viability of mustang training and allow scale related problems to emerge and be solved at a manageable level on the path to deployment of a 1000 animal / year facility. This is our next step following 10 years of development where we proved the concept of a generalized and safe training protocol applicable to all equines. We are ready to venture into the issues of personnel training and retention, facility design, and large-scale process management. We are proposing to start a 200-horse training facility in the vicinity of Tucumcari, NM.
The original goal was identified in 2011 as “The Value-Add Model for Mustang Management”. We proposed a scalable mustang training and adoption “factory” that could be replicated anywhere. With each day of training, the horse becomes tamer and more tractable to human control. The value of the horse increases beyond the adoption fee and the potential adopter responds to the added value by adopting from the pool of gentled animals. We proposed this to the BLM in 2011.
We did not get funded to explore this idea at that time, but we did get access to animals through the Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF). At this same time we were already providing adoption and training services to the US Forest Service. We started taking BLM horses through the MHF in 2012. Our remote location proved to be a problem for both getting and placing animals, but we continued working and we tried seasonally relocating to meet demand.
Our biggest and most perennial problems centered around keeping experienced trainers, unpredictable fluctuations in the availability of animals, and cash flow. The actual training and adoptions were never significant problems. Over the course of transitioning almost 500 animals, we have a well developed and documented set of training and adoption protocols.
The American Society for Protection of Animals and the Albert Schweitzer Animal Welfare Fund helped us expand our facilities. When the MHF had to temporarily close their program, we became a licensed equine rescue with the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB) and started taking feral horses for training and placement. Our funding had to come from donations from supporters and help from the Humane Society of McKinley County - Equine Aid and the Animal Protection of New Mexico. The majority of our animals in training and adoption are currently coming through these state level programs.
The vision of the Value-Add Model was renewed when we saw there was a potential for the BLM to consider our program at a higher level. The BLM issued a Request for Information DOILFBO18003 asking for proposals to train 1000 horses in 2019. We knew we could do it, if we had the right facility.
No one has ever done this. No single facility gets 1000 horses, wild or trained, adopted within one year. The total number of all BLM adoptions is only 3,500 animals. It makes more sense to us, to do a pilot project for 200 horses. At that scale, problems can be identified, solutions found, and the process perfected before scaling up to full size when the time is right. We decided to seek other funding to attempt a 200 horse pilot project that will eventually become the nucleus of the full 1000 horse gentling and adoption facility.
Pilot Project Plan
- $370,000 in cash and material contributions is raised to initiate the project.
- A covered training facility is built in a more accessible location near good markets.
- Mustang Camp moves to the new facility and immediately starts training horses, initially employing 7 people.
- The Mustang Heritage Foundation supplies the horses through their Storefront program.
- Mustang Camp gets 5 horses per week trained and adopted, documenting the process for systematic improvement and replication.
Pilot Focus and Criteria
This pilot will answer several questions beyond simple economic feasibility.
- How will an engineered environment affect the number of days required to train a horse?
- What are the benefits to the efficiency of the process of paying trainers rather than relying on volunteers?
- How many marketing areas will it require to absorb five horses per week?
- Can the Wild Horse and Burro program provide a steady supply of quality animals?
Risks of the Pilot
The major risk to this pilot deployment is that the knowledge and drive to complete it reside principally in two individual people. The Board of Directors will need to focus on quickly building and implementing a succession plan for these key people, John and Patricia Irick.
The second major risk is that the BLM may have a change of policy or funding that terminates the availability to get horses or get paid to place horses. Mustang Camp has had several points in time where their plans were stymied by lack of animals. This risk is not controllable, even with a contract from the government to supply horses. The Mustang Heritage Foundation has indicated it will reserve 200 horses for us. Mustang Camp has developed relationships with other agencies and organizations to have alternative sources of animals, but this must be extended as much as possible.
Various kinds of accidents could happen in a system with so many moving parts. Sick horses, rattlesnakes, vehicle accidents, and tornadoes are not unexpected in an environment where many horses are being trained and transported on the edge of the prairie ecosystem. Extreme weather could also impact the availability of hay, impacting both cost of operation and adopter ability to care for their animals. The facility must have adequate insurance.
Success Criteria and Metrics
The Success Criteria and Metrics section defines the pilot’s success criteria and the specific measurements that will be taken to determine the level of success. The success criteria are as follows:
- The training system must yield no less than five horses per week. This should be evident by the time 100 horses have been processed in the pilot.
- The adoption system must place no less than five horses per week. An accumulation of trained but unadopted horses is a signal of failure of this component. At no time, should there be more than 20 finished sound horses on the property.
- $1200 received per horse must cover the cost of operations. The financial report for each month must verify the project is staying within budget.
- The intake corrals must not be empty of horses due to procurement problems. This criteria will be judged a success if at no time, the trainers are set back by a lack of fresh horses. Agreements for procurement will take place as far in advance as practical.
- Failed adoptions must remain below 15%. Failed adoptions jam the system and result having more horses to place. Horses returned from failed adoptions count as finished horses in our holding unless they require retraining.
- The BLM and MHF must be satisfied with adoption procedures and paper processing. The Board of Directors will inquire quarterly about our process with these agencies and direct improvements needed.
- After 200 horses, the Mustang Camp balance sheet must show more reserves than it started with.
- Employees are choosing to remain with the project, building a team of professional quality trainers. If after 200 horses, the trainers are eager for more, it will be a success.
- Key employees will have been identified to be incubated to take over management of the project.
If Mustang Camp fails to meet the criteria for success set out above and the Board of Directors is pessimistic about the possibility of rapidly improving or solving production problems, it shall return to the pre-deployment state of a smaller scale operation using volunteers. In the case of business failure, 501(c)3 animal charity assets are to be given to other non-profit licensed equine rescues.
Value to local community:
- Creates jobs
- Creates a Western-themed heritage-tourism opportunity for town
- Educational opportunity based in learning theory and animal training technology
- National and International volunteers, students, and interns
- Requires up to 30 tons of hay per month, creating a new hay market
- Requires service of local Veterinarians and Farriers
- Environmentally clean service industry adding value to resource
- All revenue comes from outside the community
- All expenditures are to the local economy
- Doesn’t compete with any existing business
BLM Wild Horse and Burro