- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

CANON CITY, Colo. | It takes convict John Peterson four months of hard work to turn a wild, aggressive mustang into a saddle-trained horse.

Mustangs have returned the favor for Peterson, who is serving time for burglary at a Colorado state prison outside Canon City. He works in the Wild Horse Inmate Program, which prepares mustangs for private adoption and for use by the U.S. Border Patrol.

“This program has taught me patience, perseverance,” said Peterson as he scratched the black mane of Shorty, a bay-colored mustang at the East Canon Correctional Complex, 120 miles south of Denver. “You can’t rush these horses. … It’s a give-and-take type thing.”

Shorty is one of 6,500 wild mustangs the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rounds up yearly to control a burgeoning population on the open range. The horses are taken to BLM facilities across the country, including nearly 2,000 at East Canon.

Inmates in the wild horse program start out cleaning stalls and trimming hooves and can graduate to become full-fledged horse trainers.

“We put a lot of work and training into these horses. Gentle them down and show them that there’s a different way than they’re used to out there on the range, fighting for their food and everything,” said Peterson, a 44-year-old North Dakota native who says he has spent 23 years of his life in prison, mainly for burglaries.

The recidivism rate for horse trainers is half the national rate of 68 percent, said Brian Hardin, the program’s supervisor for the Colorado Department of Corrections. “The animals take the place of the family unit while they’re locked up,” he said of his inmates.

Demand for saddle-broken mustangs is high. Prison adoption fees are $1,025 per horse, compared with about twice that for outside adoptions, said Fran Ackley, the BLM’s wild horse and burro specialist. At East Canon, about 75 saddle-trained mustangs are adopted each year.

The U.S. Border Patrol recently adopted about 20 mustangs. Its Spokane, Wash., sector uses them to patrol rough terrain along the Canadian border. Its El Paso, Texas, sector adopted two in May and plans to buy more.

“They are like American legends. So what better use to put them than protecting America’s borders?” said Spokane-based Border Patrol Agent Danielle Suarez.

“You can use them at night. They’re quiet; they don’t have motors,” said Mr. Ackley.

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