This week, Hidalgo, Sisco, Spurs, Slash, Ike, Chase, Kootenai and Okanogan (Oak, for short) are doing something that few of their ancestors have done in the five centuries since the Spanish left them behind in North America—they are going to work for lawmen. The eight are feral horses captured in the West last year and adopted by the U.S.
Border Patrol in Spokane, Wash., earlier this spring. After two months of fine-tuning by agent Joe McCraw, the last of the group has shipped out to Washington and Montana to begin their new lives carrying agents who are searching for illegal aliens and drug smugglers along a remote stretch of U.S.-Canada border between North Cascades National Park in Washington and Glacier National Park in Wyoming. It’s a partnership with benefits on both sides.
For the border patrol in Spokane, the mustangs represent potentially huge cost savings. The small herd was adopted from the Bureau of Land Management for a total of US$1,000, and gentled by inmates at Colorado’s Cañón City jail (one of five U.S. prisons where inmates currently work to tame wild horses) for US$7,200, a far cry from the US$5,000 the patrol might spend each season to lease only one ranch horse. For the mustangs, it’s a unique chance to be valued as more than pet food. Ironically, although in the minds of romantics they represent a true legacy of the Old West, cattlemen have always hated the wild horses for freeloading on grasslands, and horsemen have dismissed them as runty and unreliable. In the past few months alone, 40 mustangs have been shot and tortured in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Alberta.
Spokane Border Patrol public relations officer Danielle Suarez, who admittedly rides nothing spookier than an office chair, rhapsodizes about them. “These horses are durable, muscular and low to the ground,” she says. “They have good bones and good feet. We have some of the harshest terrain—mountain ranges, forests, wilderness areas—so they are a perfect fit.” Finally. M
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