From prison to border patrol
August 14, 2011
About a half-dozen of Nevada’s wild horses are on their way to the Mexican and Canadian borders after being tamed by inmates at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City.
Wranglers from U.S. Border Control visited the Stewart Work Camp at the minimum-security prison this week to look for horses to use in patrolling the areas along the borders where there is no road access.
Wild horses are particularly suited to the task, said Felix Morales, the National Horse Patrol manager.
“We recognize the mustang is a natural resource, they’re part of the American landscape,” he said. “They’re hardy animals and the landscapes they’ll be working in are very similar to where they came from.”
Border Patrol has typically worked with the Colorado Department of Corrections in Canon City, Colo., which has a similar training program, to get horses.
However, Morales said, the program is looking to expand and to find horses closer to the areas they will be serving.
Morales said the purpose of Thursday’s trip was to gauge the quality of the program and the viability of creating a partnership with the prison.
When looking for horses, he said, they take into consideration the horse’s temperament, conformation and response to basic commands among other criteria. They found seven horses that met the requirements.
“We found the program to be exceptional,” he said. “We will be coming back to adopt more horses.”
The success of the program is its structure, said Tim Bryant, ranch manager at the prison.
Horses rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management are brought to a holding pen at the work camp.
About 15-20 horses are selected at a time and inmates work with them one-on-one for 120 days before the horses go to auction. At that time, they are saddle broke and respond to reign and leg commands, including backing up and other skills.
Inmates selected for the program don’t need to have a background working with horses, but they do need to be resilient.
“This is a tough job,” Bryant explained. “They’ve been bitten and kicked and struck and thrown off. You need to be able to tough it out and get back on the horse.”
Inmate German Lechuga is a self-described “city boy,” but started working in the horse training program three years ago. Maybe it’s because his grandfather was a cowboy, but he took to it like a natural.
“It’s an addiction now I guess,” he said. “I can’t see myself not riding horses. I love everything about it. I know it sounds weird, but I feel like I have four legs when I’m on a horse.”
Bryant said the inmates spend a lot of time bonding with the horses, which makes training go more smoothly.
Alan Shepherd, the Wild Horse and Burro Program lead for the Nevada office of the BLM, said the partnership benefits everyone.
“This is a huge opportunity for the Stewart Camp, NNCC and Nevada BLM to promote our program,” he said. “They’re showing the American public how good these horses can be, and these horses are being of service to the American public.”
The prison typically holds a public adoption of the horses every four months, and will now train horses specifically for the Border Patrol, Bryant said.
Lechuga said it is an honor to train horses for the program, but the true opportunity is found in the process.
“I feel like the horses train us in a way,” he said. “We’re both getting trained, learning how to be good members of society.”