CHASE — When Leroy first arrived in Emily Wirth’s care, he wouldn’t let her touch him.
“I could lead him before I could touch him,‘ said Wirth, of Evart. “That’s the kind of horse he was at first.‘
It would be two weeks before the young wild mustang would let Wirth put a hand on him. Mustangs are the wild horses found in Western states.
Leroy came from the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Silver King Herd Management Area in Nevada. He arrived in December at D Bar D Ranch in Chase, Lake County, where Wirth boards him and another mustang, Gus, during winter months.
“He was still looking at me as a predator,‘ Wirth said of Leroy’s early days in Michigan. But Leroy soon wised up.
“They’re putty in your hands,‘ once they realize human touch is a nice thing, Wirth said. Leroy started asking for pats “literally the next day.‘
Tolerating human touch and respecting the lead rope are two of several things Leroy has had to learn before Equine Affaire, an upcoming equestrian conference in Ohio that will feature a “TIP‘ competition.
No, not horse-tipping.
“TIP‘ stands for Trainer Incentive Program. The Mustang Heritage Foundation pays horse trainers to gentle mustangs so they’re attractive to would-be adopters. The BLM, which manages the United States’s mustangs and burros (“wild‘ horses) also has an incentive program for adopters.
People competing in TIP challenges have 100 days to teach wild mustangs to wear a halter and follow a lead rope; pick up all four feet; and load and unload from a horse trailer. The horses don’t need to be rideable at the end of the TIP training; they do, however, need to be comfortable being handled by humans.
“I mean, nobody’s gonna want to adopt a horse that they can’t sneeze next to without it bolting or something,‘ Wirth said with a laugh.
Leroy and Wirth have about 60 days left before they will compete at Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio, between April 2 and April 5.
In the next 60 days, Wirth is hoping to work on Leroy’s “stranger danger.‘
“Our biggest challenge with him is going to be the people,‘ Wirth said.
To help him get ready for Equine Affaire, Wirth plans to put Leroy in a trailer and travel to new places to meet new people.
She’s also planning a “Mustangs and Mimosas‘ event at D Bar D Ranch in Chase (7064 East 64th Street) for Saturday, March 21 at 1 p.m.
People interested in adopting Leroy or learning more about adopting a mustang are invited to attend. Wirth expects that other trainers in the upcoming challenge will bring their mustangs as well.
Even if the event doesn’t find Leroy an adopter, the activity will be good for him.
Wirth’s first TIP competition, in Murray, Kentucky, was in August of 2019 with her mustang, Gus. Originally, the now-4-year-old gelding was supposed to be Wirth’s introduction to TIP training. She was going to get him gentled and then get him adopted out to somebody else.
But Gus isn’t so easy to part with.
“Horses like him don’t come around every day,‘ Wirth said of her decision to keep Gus instead of finding someone to adopt him. “Where they’re just super-willing and easy.‘
So, Gus, with whom Wirth placed fourth in the TIP challenge over the summer, is here to stay.
But other mustangs will come and go, and Gus gets some credit there.
“He’s really what made me want to do more of it, because he was so trainable and easy to get along with,‘ Wirth said.
Wirth is in the process of getting certified as a TIP trainer, which means instead of just competing in TIP challenges, she’ll be eligible to earn $1,000 from the Mustang Heritage Foundation after successfully gentling and finding an adopter for a mustang.
“I would like to rehome as many as possible,‘ Wirth said. (Learn more on her Facebook page, Worth it Mustangs).
One of Wirth’s objectives is to spread the message that, while training a wild horse from scratch isn’t a job for an inexperienced horse person, it’s not necessarily a professionals-only endeavor, either. Wirth, who competed in equestrian events growing up, is a skilled horse person but doesn’t consider herself a professional.
With the mustangs, the “gentling‘ process is mostly about good horse judgment and putting in the time.
“If you have an hour a day to spend with them you can gain a lot,‘ Wirth said.