Wild Mustangs Find Protection at Pennsylvania Horse Sanctuary

The Friends and Folly Mustang herd find the shade on a hot day this summer at the their sanctuary in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
The Friends and Folly Mustang herd find the shade on a hot day this summer at the their sanctuary in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
The Friends and Folly Mustang herd find the shade on a hot day this summer at the their sanctuary in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Chelsea Gammon has owned ponies, Thoroughbreds and sport horses, but it was a wild mustang from the Calico Mountain Herd in Nevada that won her heart and changed her life.

Gammon 33, named that adopted mare Folly. The horse was born in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Nevada holding facility after its mother had been part of mustang gatherings. Folly is now the queen of a small herd of mustangs in a sanctuary — Folly and Friends — in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

“I first learned about wild mustangs online and was amazed to discover that there were more than 50,000 of these animals awaiting adoption,” said Gammon.

In the last nine years, Gammon has adopted or trained more than 20 mustangs and cares for 12 at Folly and Friends. Some of her past adoptees have been leased to friends or went to adopted homes with other mustang lovers.

Gammon also has arranged for three group mustang adoption transfers from the BLM facilities for people in the Midwest, New England and Mid-Atlantic region. Her sanctuary is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that relies on donations and grants to fund its work.

Mustang sanctuary founder Chelsea Gammon with the mare who started it all, Folly
Mustang sanctuary founder Chelsea Gammon with the mare who started it all, Folly

Folly and Friends’ farm has open pastures as well as a sheltered area for bad weather. “These mustangs are accustomed to living outdoors in any kind of weather and don’t like to be alone so they naturally herd together,” she said.

Folly’s owner has become a go-to trainer for mustangs using a technique of taming and training she calls “gentling” that is a far cry from the more forceful methods of horse breaking used for years.

Folly is called “My Girl” by Gammon and, under her tutelage, has competed successfully in show jumping, dressage, and eventing, as well as developed into an extraordinary fox hunt field master leading other horses during hunts from fall through spring.

Before arriving in Pennsylvania, Folly went through taming for three months with Rich Garner at his Chesapeake, Virginia, farm and Gammon spent her weekends there working with the horse. She then brought Folly to Pennsylvania to get her started under saddle

Gammon has refined her “gentling” approach to taming and training with research from online sources, books and videos. She began her low-stress approach to training with her second and third adoptees, Luna and Soleil, and has continued to refine it with all the subsequent mustangs.

Chelsea Gammon, founder of Folly and Friends, a wild Mustang sanctuary in Pennsylvania, works with adopted Mustang, Seneca.
Chelsea Gammon, founder of Folly and Friends, a wild Mustang sanctuary in Pennsylvania, works with adopted Mustang, Seneca.

Gammon’s training strategy uses patience in early interaction with the relocated wild horses. She approaches a horse quietly multiple times, sometimes over days, until the horse accepts her presence and head touches. The next step, she explains, is to fit the horse with a special, soft halter with a lead which, after a couple of days of acclimation, she can use to walk the horse.

From these early drills, Gammon gains the trust of the horse, who no longer sees her as a threat and allows more touching and interaction until, over time, the horse will accept a saddle and be ridden. “It can take months,” Gammon said, “and usually does.”

Although mustang herds have been romanticized in Western movies, these horses are losing ground, Gammon said. The BLM is responsible for protecting the mustangs on nearly 27 million acres of public land across 10 Western states, land that is experiencing dwindling resources with overgrazing by cattle, disappearing waterholes and oil drilling.

Because many of these horses are literally starving, Gammon said, they have been rounded up for years by the BLM and offered for adoption to sustain the productivity of public lands.

Gammon advises horse lovers who want to adopt a wild horse to be prepared for the long haul. “You shouldn’t do it any other way,” Gammon said. “These horses need to be treated with care, kindness and respect as they are retrained to become a part of your family.”

The federal Bureau of Land Management identifies all mustangs gathered in the wild with a hair tattoo on the upper neck.
The federal Bureau of Land Management identifies all mustangs gathered in the wild with a hair tattoo on the upper neck.

Several of the mustangs Gammon has trained now have homes with friends who are riding them in competition, using them for trail riding or as teaching mounts for their children.

“At times it can be a handful, but in the end, being able to train and ride a horse born in the wild is so fulfilling. I hope to continue to grow Folly and Friends and be able to help more mustangs in the future.”

To learn more about Gammon and her Folly and Friends sanctuary, visit her website, follyandfriends.org.

Original Article