Teens learn life lessons in Mustang Project

March 21, 2014 • Local News

Captain Jackson, a wild mustang who was caught near the Jackson Mountains in Nevada, is currently part of the Mustang Project at Assurance Home in Roswell. (Randal Seyler Photo)

Mine That Bird is probably the most famous horse in Roswell this weekend, but there is a new resident at Assurance Home who might be just as big a hero in his own way one day.

Captain Jackson, a wild mustang who is undergoing gentling training as part of Assurance Home’s Mustang Project, has been in Chaves County since March 9, and he is in the process of becoming a therapeutic animal.

“It has been a while since we had a new mustang here,” said Ron Malone, Assurance Home executive director.

Assurance Home is a 16-acre facility for severely abused and neglected teens that has been a Roswell fixture since 1979. The home has been at its current location on 18th Street since 1982.

The Mustang Project brings in partially tame wild mustangs from Colorado, and the [auth] children at Assurance Home help gentle the animals. Eventually, the mustangs are donated to therapeutic riding facilities across the country, where the mustangs become healers for disabled children and adults.

In the process of gentling the horses, however, the teens who interact with the animals also learn lessons about trust, respect and life in general.

“Back in 1990, Frank Bell, who is a real-life horse whisperer, started rounding up mustangs from Montana, Colorado and Nevada, and taking them to the prison in Canyon City, where the prisoners would break the horses and then sell them.”

In 2000, The Mustang Project started purchasing partially tame, or “green broke,” horses from the prison system and bringing them to Assurance Home in Roswell, where the kids would work with the animals and make them more gentle and suitable to serve as therapy horses.

Over the years, the Mustang Project has produced about 12 therapy horses, Malone said.

“I had become familiar with therapy horses several years ago,” says Lee Kyser, director of the Mustang Project. “Then one night at dinner, I was talking on and on, for about an hour and a half, about therapy horses. That is when I realized how passionate I am about the program.”

The attention the Mustang Program has garnered over the years is impressive, with films, books and numerous TV and magazine articles featuring the program at Assurance Home.

Still, the program takes time — up to 4-5 months per horse — and the interaction between the children and the horses changes not only the animals, but the children who work with them as well.

“We have horses come in here, and they have no choice over where they are, or where they are going,” Kyser says. “But we work with them and try to give them the best life they can have, and we treat them with respect.”

Not all horses make it to become therapy horses, and in the past, the program has had problems finding therapy programs that could afford to buy the horses. Now, thanks to a sponsor, the horses are donated to therapy riding facilities once they are properly trained.

In a lot of ways, the children in Assurance Home are like the wild horses, and the interaction between the youths and the animals often changes the attitudes of both participants.

“Bell realized back in 1990 that when Colorado inmates worked with the horses, their behavior improved,” Malone said. “Here, when we have our kids work with horses, they develop self-confidence and they can overcome their fears.”

Kyser agrees. “When a kid learns he can control a 1,000 pound animal, they build confidence.”

Kyser retired from the Roswell Independent School District and had joked that he wanted a career where he could wear jeans and be surrounded by kids and horses.

“I talked myself into this, I wouldn’t have believed such a job would be here,” Kyser said. “I have just been really blessed.”

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