10 Life Lessons from Mustang Camp

Here is a random list of life lessons I learned while hand-feeding wild horses at Mustang Camp a few weeks ago. Two of my older kids have spent extended time here, helping to tame these recently captured horses so that they can be adopted. My youngest daughter and I recently had the privilege of spending four days at Mustang Camp, helping with record keeping and initial hand feeding of a new group of 24 horses that had just arrived. (See a video of their arrival HERE)

You can learn more about this wonderful place HERE and HERE.

  • When you keep working through a whirling dust storm, you will spend the next few days picking little bits of hay and wind-driven-dust out of every imaginable place—your hair, your ears, your cleavage, your socks, deep inside your boots, and more! LESSON: walking through difficult times doesn’t end when the storm is over—there will be lots of remnants of that experience that will still need to be dealt with.


    Mustangs must be fed, no matter what weather occurs.

  • My job was to spend time with the new arrivals, talking with them, singing to them, and feeding them four times a day. I had to learn that although it didn’t feel significant (and I felt guilty about all the hard work others were doing with watering, feeding, and mucking pens), this really was “the most important job” at the Camp! LESSON: spending time with others and building relationships is more significant than you might think!

    spending time

    Sometimes spending time to build relationships looks like wasting time...

  • Although my kids and I are NOT “morning people,” it is not hard to get up early and work hard all day long when the work is interesting and meaningful. (You can see additional photos of Anna’s work assignments HERE) LESSON: when you hate to get out of bed in the morning, it might not mean that you didn’t get enough sleep…it might mean you need to find more meaningful things to fill your days…

    hard at work

    Early mornings and late nights are no problem when the work is fun!

  • It is important to not get distracted by all the horses eagerly chomping food right in front of you. The fearful ones in the back need fed also, which often takes more creativity. LESSON: see the big picture and don’t let timid, quiet ones around you “fall through the cracks.” Sometimes they need more attention than the ones who are bold, up front, or showing off.

    big picture

    Don't forget to look at (and enjoy) the "big picture."

  • Consistency is KING! The only way to tame wild mustangs effectively is by consistently giving positive reinforcement and by training little-step by little-step. (Jakob is excellent at this which is why he keeps being asked to come back to help with new horses.) LESSON: Although I love to be flexible and enjoy the stimulation of new things and places and people, there is still a need for consistency in my life, especially in dealing with others.

    consistency 1

    Jakob is the king of consistency!

zebra training

Zebra training is even more difficult than Mustang taming...but consistency brings results!

  • It is important to keep long-term goals in mind. No, one must not scritch the PolkaDot King on the nose, no matter how much he nuzzles and snuffs and checks out your hands—scritching might scare him and set back his training. LESSON: sometimes reaching long-term goals means giving up short-term pleasures…


    It is SO hard not to scritch the friendly ones...

  • Aggression might be because one is a bully and has a dominant personality. But aggression can also be the result of being ostracized, picked-on, or isolated by others for too long. It was interesting to watch interaction patterns between horses change over time. LESSON: look behind the bullying to see what might be causing aggression.

    groups dynamics

    ...wish I could have gotten a photo of the biting and kicking that sometimes occur!

  • When a foal is born to a young wild mare who has been starving and who won’t let the baby nurse, the baby has poor odds of survival. Unlike with a tame animal, the mother can not be handled or penned to help the baby nurse. Bottle-feeding colostrum (thawed from a supply bought from the vet) and milk-replacer help, but might not be enough. LESSON: sometimes no matter how much love we give and how hard we work, nature still takes its course.

    wee dibbuns

    We loved and took care of Wee Dibbuns for almost two days...

  • Wild mustangs are often incredibly fearful. Overcoming this fear is a main focus of using positive reinforcement to tame them. LESSON(s): When you run from fear, fear grows. When you face your fears over and over and over, fear gradually dies out. And when you face your fears side-by-side with a buddy, everything feels less scary!


    Life is easier when you've got a friend!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sharon
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 16:54:25

    Love the pictures & lessons!!! I expect a book to be coming from the Emmelhainz family re. lessons learned while working with Mustangs!!!


  2. Jo Blackwell
    May 01, 2012 @ 10:03:24

    Wonderful post, Jill – very thought-provoking.


  3. Trackback: 10 Life Lessons from Mustang Camp « Journey2Wonder « Equine Consulting

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