For hundreds of people who adopt Nevada mustangs, the mystique can quickly turn to frustration. "We're the people who come behind the adoption, after they get it home and go 'Oh my God, what do I do now?'" said Betty Retzer, director for Least Resistance Training Concepts, a wild-horse mentoring organization based in Dayton and Stagecoach.
Gentling a wild horse requires a completely different set of techniques than training a horse raised on a ranch. Owners need to leave behind preconceived notions. Often people new to horse ownership catch on faster.
"The horse says 'I didn't read that book and I'm not doing it that way,'" said Willis Lamm, president of the organization.
"The horse has ideas about what he's going to teach you too," Retzer said.
The owner and horse need to learn each others' language. In the wild, a flick of the ear sends a message to the herd.
"More is less. Give signals subtly," Willis said.
The mentoring begins with a little psychology - horse and human.
When someone calls for help "we go over and determine what kind of facilities they have, the personality of the horse. We look at the adopters," Lamm said.
LRTC volunteers are available to guide the way, but not to take over training.
"If you're going to adopt a wild horse or burro, you have to invest time. They're standing around in the corral all day and it isn't going to work if you spend half an hour a week," Lamm said.
Training starts with "gentling," desensitizing a wild horse to sites and sounds of human civilization that may be scary.
Humans don't always understand what is truly frightening to a horse, Lamm said. For instance, wild horses in the area are used to cars. But if a plastic bag blows across its path, it could jump in front of a car to get away. It's more afraid of the bag than the cars.
The concepts of Least Resistance Training Concepts involve breaking goals into tiny steps. Getting a horse into a trailer may start with lifting a leg on command, which starts with even smaller steps. Tools are simple, inexpensive and easy to find.
Clicker training uses cheap cricket clicking toys to teach horses to associate the distinct sound with desired behavior and rewards. Bamboo poles allow the trainer to condition a horse to being touched from a distance that is safer for the human and less threatening to the horse.
Owners need to understand the basic motivations of a horse - the fight or flight instinct, Lamm explained.
"Really important is, if you watch a band of horses out here, there's always a sentinel on watch," he said. "I don't want my horse on watch all the time, uptight. I'm on watch. Their nature is to be assertive if they don't see a leader."
A horse learns what it needs to survive - to respond to the environment - by 18 months old, he said.
"The cool thing about horses is they know how to disregard things that don't matter," he added.
The LRTC volunteers set up controlled situations that may be a bit scary but also stimulate a horse's curiosity. Lamm calls it an amusement park for horses.
To get a halter on a horse, they may set up a poker tournament in the corral with hay in the middle of a table.
"They're so curious, eventually they think maybe I need to find out what's going on over there," Lamm said.
Conditioning exercises give humans a chance to be silly. They may play Hokey Pokey or dodge ball around the outer edge of a corral with a horse in the center.
Least Resistance Training Concepts periodically offers formal programs such as "Handling Your Horse 101" and trailer-inspection clinics.
They also host fun activities that provide bonding experiences between human and horse. Following the March 12 horse painting clinic, owners took home original artwork created by their horses using nontoxic paints.
"If (the adopter) is having a good experience, the horse has a good experience," said Lamm.
For information about Least Resistance Training Concepts including scheduled programs, call Betty Retzer at 629-9197.