Jiminy is a quiet horse, for a wild mustang.
So says Allegra Billie, who adopted him in late August as part of the Seminole 4-H Mustang Challenge and has been working with him every day since.
“When I first brought him home, I couldn’t touch him at all,” said Billie, 18, a senior at LaBelle High School and the current Jr. Miss Florida Seminole. “So I brought along Secret, my barrel horse, to make him feel safe and not alone.”
The mild mannered Secret did the trick and within two weeks, Jiminy allowed Allegra to touch him. It was a milestone for the mustang that prior to living on Allegra’s family land had no experience with humans.
“Slowly but steadily he allowed me closer,” she said. “At around the same time he let me touch him, I got the harness on him.”
The 4-H Mustang Challenge’s seven participants are getting their mustangs accustomed to human interaction as they train them to wear a harness and walk on a lead. The kids are responsible for feeding and watering the yearling horses daily. The final test of the program will be guiding their horses through an obstacle course during the 4-H show in March.
“The kids are all doing really well,” said Trina Hipp, mustang challenge club leader. “They spend time with the horses every day and are all progressing at about the same rate. Most can walk the horses, some can bathe them. The kids are learning to have patience and becoming confident.”
Over the last three months, Billie has introduced Jiminy to other animals including the family dogs, cats and chickens. She also bathes him regularly, an activity Jiminy is not fond of; after each bath he rolls in the dirt and Allegra has to start all over.
“Once I got the harness on, I took off his Bureau of Land Management (BLM) tag,” she said. “That was a big accomplishment and one of my main goals. I have it hanging in my room now.”
The BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program manages and protects mustangs on more than 26 million acres of public land in 10 western states, which includes the Wild Horse and Burro program. Since the program’s inception in 1971, more than 240,000 animals have been adopted by the program’s participants.
The first thing Billie does after she gets off of the school bus is to head out to the pen to brush, walk and feed Jiminy.
“I spend as much time as I can with him,” she said. “The time really flies by. There’s been a drastic change since I got him.”
Billie’s diligent attention to Jiminy has paid off; the horse is used to the harness and walking on its lead. Sometimes he even follows her without the lead. She said he has gotten better at a lot of things, but doesn’t like loud noises. Billie often brings out a radio and cranks it up to get him used to the noise. Without that, the loudest sounds around come from other animals, including a noisy pair of Sandhill cranes.
“I’m grateful for this program because I’m in love with this horse,” Allegra said. “The program taught me a lot of patience; I couldn’t just jump in. I love connecting to this horse on another level because I have to break him in. I’ve never done that before and I might do it again.”