I have heard it said many times that there can be more variation within breeds of horses than between them.

I would say that that’s especially true with mustang horses. I have come across very gentle mustangs, as well as very paranoid, defensive ones. They can have a wide range of body types as well.

The first mustang I encountered was very defensive. It knew how to use its teeth, strike with its front feet and kick with his hind feet. He would have defended himself real well in the wild, but was not a very trustworthy horse for riding. I did get him broke to ride, and he was okay for experienced riders, but not beginners. There was a time he sent a six-year-old kid rolling across the barnyard when the boy got too close to his hind legs. The horse was a beautiful black color, but kind of scrawny with a big head, and big feet as a two-year-old.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

The owner brought him back to me as a five-year-old to tune him up after not being ridden for a year or two. He had grown into his head and feet, and was quite a good looking horse with his body more in balance with his extremities. But he was still pretty unpredictable. I was asking him to back up at one point and he came up in the air and struck at me with his front feet. I was backing up when I saw it coming, but he still caught the brim of my hat and ripped the front of it off. Since his owner did not ride him very much, I suggested he sell him to someone that would spend more time with him.

The next mustang I encountered was almost exactly the opposite in disposition. It was a gray mare that was very easy going. The worst thing about her was that if she didn’t want to do something, she would just stop and lie down. I had to gradually get her used to the work ethic so she was not overwhelmed with doing too much too soon. She ended up being a good family horse. It’s a whole lot safer having a horse whose only real fault is that it takes a good rider in order to get good effort from it.
About 10 years ago, a guy approached me about training three mustangs for him. I was able to train two of them. I told him to sell the other to a bucking stock contractor, because she enjoyed bucking more than anything else. She was real strange in that I had hard time to get her to look at me. Curiosity is what we use to learn in the most natural way. But she was not in the least bit curious about us humans. She was the closest thing to an atheist horse I have ever encountered. I consider atheistic thinking closed-minded, and that is exactly what she was. But a good bucking horse is worth quite a lot in the right place so she might have found her niche.

The other mustangs turned out all right, but one of them had what I call a human transfer problem. She was used to me, but if anybody else got on, she jumped out from underneath them. She did not really buck, but just jumped to the side fast enough to unseat a rider. The owner tried to get on her, and fell off and fractured some ribs. I decided to use her as an excuse to get to know other trainers in the area, because I knew she would have to learn to accept different riders. I took her to visit two trainers, and two trainers came to visit me at my place. One trainer did not get her used to him on a step-by-step basis, and he got unseated, but the other three trainers did not skip steps and they did all right.

I put a few more weeks on her, and she finally accepted her owner after introducing her to more humans and a little more time. The trainers who helped me get this horse comfortable with more humans were Bill McCloy, Mike Cooper, and an Amish trainer named Rubin. The last mustang bucked me off once, but never tried it again. Most horses are that way. It takes a lot of effort to buck, so if you get right back on, most of them cry uncle (except the real broncs, like the first mustang). This mustang did jump over a barbed wire fence when I got off, because she was freaking out over two Great Pyrenees dogs that were rushing at her from across the road. I had been in a habit of using those dogs to test my horses in training through the years. They were a great test until they got older and slower and finally moved away.
Back to the story. The mare was not hard to catch, but I had a hard time finding out how to get her out of the pasture because most of the gates were locked. I ride most all the time with a 12-foot lead rope tucked in my belt attached to a hand tied halter with no metal hardware. This helps me keep the horse with me if I get off or get bucked off.
My experience with mustangs showed me just how diverse their personalities (or rather, “horsenalities”) are as well as how they are built. Usually most of them have pretty good feet, otherwise they would not survive in the wild.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: rlhorse58@yahoo.com.