Guest post – Tami Lewis

3 09 2011

TJ’s note: I met Tami Lewis last summer, when she and her daughter, Laura, visited Spring Creek Basin from Florida. Tami works with reassigned mustangs through a BLM contract in Florida and has seen the worst of the system. It was quite an eye-opener to talk with her about her training experiences, and coming up on our roundup and, particularly, adoption, I thought it would be helpful to have her talk about what she does. It was so cool to hear her relate the horses’ natural, wild behavior to the techniques she uses to connect with them during “training.” That’s almost too formal a word, I think. Some of the horses she works with don’t need “training” as much as they need a quiet voice and gentle hand to rebuild their confidence and give them a different view of humans than what they’ve learned since leaving the wild.

She was in the process of writing a book when I met her. Overcoming the Fear Factor has been published and is available at Amazon at that link. Although it deals mostly with horses that ARE overcoming their fear, it’s an essential read for how to avoid that altogether.


With the Spring Creek Basin round up just days away I wanted to share some thoughts based on my experience. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to observe the magnificent wild horses of the Spring Creek Basin.  I am preaching to the choir when I say that TJ Holmes is an exceptional  woman dedicated  to the welfare of these American icons and providing the tools for a fundamental management model conducive to their survival.

TJ and her Wild Bunch have created a program of herd documentation, immunocontraception, specifically PZP, as a viable, effective and humane method to decrease reproduction rates and have encouraged the future implementation of bait trapping for removal. There is not a more valuable resource for the BLM when considering the management plan for Spring Creek.

As a wild horse trainer, listed with the BLM, it has been my experience that the specific selection of wild horses to be removed yields far better success rates for adoption and is cost effective long term.  Wild horses removed in a less stressful environment with consideration to DNA, family bands and social structure are more successful domestic partners in a horse-human relationship than those removed under severe stress.

While wild horse rounds ups are typically bounded by deep emotions, involving many public stake holders, this is the time for serious consideration about the health, safety and welfare of these innocent creatures. I preach daily about anthropomorphism but love this analogy because it makes my point crystal clear. Imagine for a moment losing your freedom and being separated from your family and friends. For a herd animal this separation is devastating to its sense of security. As you know from this blog, mustangs live in bands with sophisticated social systems and are constantly interacting with each other. Now imagine being removed from your home and being placed in a crowd of strangers. Visualize being a child or a mother separated from her child.

When a wild horse is captured it will immediately view humans as predators. The more noise and chaos created by humans will paint a forever picture in the mind of the horse about humans.  I work with horses and humans to try and reverse the fear evoked by humans. Contractor behavior during a round up is paramount to the success of an adoption since these initial interactions with humans are everlastingly.

Wild horses respond to the slightest pressure and our human bodies are enough pressure to move a herd without uttering a word. Since horses live in a world of non verbal communication and synchronization, they can be moved effortlessly with a quiet, non threatening approach.  I hope that the BLM will do everything possible to ensure proper contractor behavior.

I want to share with you the story about my beautiful mustang mare, Dixie, who inspired my book. Dixie was born in 2004 in the wild at the Jakes Wash Herd Management Area Nevada. Dixie was rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management in 2007, at the age of three.

Dixie was held in a BLM holding facility for about two years before being adopted and taken to Florida. The person who adopted Dixie professed to be a trainer.  She applied an ineffective and harmful technique referred to as “rope and choke” to halter this beautiful wild horse. She used this method as a method of control rather than building trust between the horse and human. Imagine fearing for your life with your only known predator, a human, at the end of the rope.

The severity of the wounds indicated the degree of her struggle. Dixie was a lovely palomino mare that should have been on her way to bonding with humans, but instead we were working to reverse the fear evoked by humans.

Dixie was an extreme fear case that arrived at the Wild Horse Rescue Center with serious rope wounds around her neck, swollen hind legs with cuts and covered in lice. She was about 200 pounds under weight and would not allow a human anywhere near her.

Initially, Dixie was placed in a safe paddock next to another familiar mare where she could take in all of the barn activity. Movement, of any kind, sent Dixie snorting and running. Her head was always held high and tight, and her eyes were wide. The pressure of a human walking by her paddock was too much for her. Left alone for several days to take it all in, Dixie learned that she wouldn’t die. Since Dixie believed that she would die if a human got a hold of her, this step was a breakthrough. Without a proper step one, Dixie would have injured herself being in such an exaggerated flight state. Leaving her alone, to make her own assessment, on her terms, allowed desensitization to people and movement.

This has been a long process of proper training, love and respect for her wild horse nature. I can not say that our journey has been without challenges but this work is a life long passion for me. Dixie lives with me today and my hope is that she may become who she is meant to be.

Why do we hold a sense of reverence for these iconic, free-range animals to the point of great debate? Historically, since the genesis of man, humans have sought freedom. The desire for freedom resides in every human heart as it does in the wild mustang. We live in a country founded on the principles of freedom. The freedom that I speak of stands opposed to constraints. Constraints that hinder our own desire, bridle our innate creativity, growth, and joy. Pictures and stories of the wild mustang enchant us because we are envious of his power, nobility, and independence.

Please pray for TJ, her dedicated volunteers, the BLM and the wild horses of the Spring Creek Basin.



2 responses

3 09 2011
Linda Horn

TJ, thanks for bringing us this wonderful guest. And thank Tami for her eloquence and dedication. Craig (hubby) and I want to come to Cortez for the adoption. You may already have plenty of helpers, but, if you need two more, we’re ready and willing to do anything asked of us.

3 09 2011

Thanks, Linda. Actually, if I could get a handful of fliers to you about the adoption, could you post some around Farmington? I know the Browning Ranch offers adoptions, and maybe this would be overkill, but just in case … Oh, and I think I missed replying to another comment of yours. It has been crazy. About the older horses? Yes, I think that would be a great idea to have information about them at the Cortez adoption that people could maybe find them by Internet at Canon City! I’ll work on that as well! Thanks! I’ll email you about the fliers.

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