Professional Horse Trainer Cat Zimmerman knows this about the wild mustang she is about to enter a holding pen with: The horse is a 6-year old wild mustang from Devil's Garden, California and the horse wearing BLM (Bureau of Land Management) tag number 7883 has never been handled by a human.
Zimmerman climbs up and over the steel fence in one smooth swoop and lands in the pen.
Outside the pen, Zimmerman has an audience of about 30 horse owners and fans who follow her on social media, attend her events and keep up with Zimmerman's Extreme Mustang Makeover competitions.
Zimmerman, 18, is a champion horse handler and has been working with wild mustangs adopted out by the BLM since the age of 13. She in the founder of CZ Mustangs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to training wild mustangs, retraining surrendered and rescued mustangs, and promoting the responsible adoption and care of mustangs.
CZ Mustangs also works with other organizations and venues to provide information and educate the public about the importance of protecting mustangs both in the wild and in captivity.
According to the BLM, the current nationwide estimate of the wild horses and burro population is 95,114. The BLM manages, protects and controls the population under the authority of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon.
The Sept. 26th demonstration of a first touch session is one way Zimmerman educates the public on how to work with a wild horse.
At first, 7883 is standoffish as Zimmerman begins her session.
"You never really know with these wild horses," Zimmerman explains and asks for a flake of hay.
For Zimmerman, every horse is different, so she says she tries to get a feel for their temperament at first.
"From what I've seen, she seems curious and brave," Zimmerman says and explains that every horse has a bubble. "Sometimes you can't get within 20-20 feet, sometimes 10 feet. You have to work your way through and slowly get closer."
She uses a whip handle as a stick and extension of her arm and reaches out to 7883 who sniffs the stick and then Cat walks away.
"Me walking away from her is a big release of pressure, and that's a big reward," Zimmerman says.
The process of reaching out and retreating starts to build curiosity for 7883. And after some back and forth, 7883 starts to get closer. Zimmerman uses hay in her hand as a treat and after some repetition, she extends her hand and 7883 lets Zimmerman touch her nose.
"It's all about timing and getting the hang of how they react and what they need from me," Zimmerman explains.
Most mustangs have only had human interaction when being captured, driven into pens, receiving brandings and being delivered vaccines through a chute, Zimmerman says. "She's going to have to learn that it's not all that scary, intimidating stuff that she's been through.
"You sure are cute," Zimmerman says to 7883.
"You've got to tip toe around them a little bit," Zimmerman comments. "Wild horses have their mind set on surviving," Zimmerman reminds the crowd as she backs away which is a behavior a predator would never do.
Throughout the demo, Zimmerman speaks softly and repeats "good girl" affirmations. Twenty minutes into the session 7883 decides to lay down and take a roll in the warm sand.
A lot of people are shut down to getting a mustang older than 2 or 3 years old, Zimmerman says because they think the horse won't be able to settle down.
"This mare is 6 and she's pretty quiet," Zimmerman observes. "She knows what it's like to be put in government holding. And now, her whole world is changing."
To learn more about Zimmerman's organization or about upcoming events click here https://czmustangs.com/
Follow Zimmerman on Instagram here https://www.instagram.com/czmustangs/
CZ Mustangs on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/czmustangs
View all comments