View Full Version : Wild horses join the Corps

01-24-09, 08:00 PM
Wild horses join the Corps
By Robert Perea - The Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal
Posted : Saturday Jan 24, 2009 8:02:06 EST

Three young wild horses from rangelands along the eastern Sierra joined the Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard in January after four months of training by inmates at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, a long tradition between the agencies.

“We like to joke and say this is just going through boot camp, and once they’ve gone through boot camp, they start their service in the Marine Corps,” Gunnery Sgt. Pete McConnell said.

After four months training at NNCC, the horses go to the Marine Corps Logistics Base outside Barstow, Calif., where they learn to march in formation and participate in presenting the colors for parades, shows and other formal occasions.

“The next thing you know, they’re in the Rose Bowl,” McConnell said.

Before the Marines get them, the horses are gentled daily by the inmate volunteers under lead trainer Hank Curry, a prison supervisor. The inmates are without violent pasts and must have at least six months of good behavior with no citations.

Curry said the program trains the inmates as much as it does the horses.

“A lot of them are just learning to ride here and learning to handle horses, and they learn a great deal about themselves,” Curry said. “We’re not trying to remake the man, but if he’s seen the light, we’ll help him along the way.”

Inmate Mike Korte is training his third horse.

“It’s helped me with my patience,” he said. “There are certain people, I guess, who believe you can force a horse to do something. You can, technically, but the results aren’t the same. You end up with a horse that’s afraid of you instead of one that respects you.”

McConnell said the three horses taken recently were selected by the Corps last April and began training in August.

“We pick horses with the right constitution, temperament and color,” McConnell said. “The program Hank puts on is so vital to our mission.”

The Mounted Color Guard was formed in 1967 at the logistics base in Barstow. Since 1988, wild horses for the program have been provided by the Bureau of Land Management, and for the last several years trained at NNCC.

“In the mid ’90s somebody on staff broke the horses for us, but somehow through the years, the prison out here gentles the horses for us and it’s just a great program,” McConnell said.

McConnell said the horses must not be spooked easily by people or the fluttering of flags.

“We don’t have any room for wild horses,” he said. “We just look for some horses that can be calm. Having horses that understand how to do things the right way makes things easier.”

Curry said the inmates teach the horses to lope, walk, trot and take all leads and gaits.

“We want to get them gentle to where they’re easy to catch, saddle and get in the trailer,” he said.

Nevada prisoners also train wild horses for adoption. Trained horses are auctioned four times a year, including at the Wild Horse Expo in Reno each August.

Curry selects the horses for the program from among the hundreds brought in each year by the BLM.

“I select them by appearance, athletic ability and soundness, I guess you could say,” he said.

The three palominos joining the Marine Corps will replace two horses being retired after 18 years in the color guard.

“They’ve done their service to the Marine Corps and the country,” McConnell said.


01-24-09, 08:51 PM