11/27/06 — A new home off the range

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A new home off the range

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 27, 2006 1:45 PM

WARSAW -- At 14-months- and 9-months-old, Dakota and Cheyenne are just like any other youngsters. They have their own personalities and mood swings. They play and they love their parents. They also can be a little stubborn, and they don't always listen.

One day they will let Jim and Sheila West McLean put their halters on and the next day they won't. And right now, there's no way they are going to be led around their corral.

"They really are sort of like children," Sheila said. "Each one is a little different. They each learn differently."

Dakota and Cheyenne are wild American Mustangs -- or at least they used to be wild. Now, they are being gentled in the corral next to the McLean's home.

Adopted earlier this month in Kenansville through the federal Bureau of Land Man-agement's National Wild Horse and Burro Program, the pair have been living with the McLeans for about three weeks.

"We knew we wanted younger horses because we knew we could handle them," Sheila said. "We've been very pleased with our addition to the family."

Already they have been accepted as part of the herd.

"They're used to being in a herd all the time," Jim said. "The thing about these wild mustangs is that when they bond to you as part of the herd, they're your best friend.

"They seem to be very eager and accepting of being handled."

Dakota has been a little more accepting of the halter than Cheyenne, but there are days when he still wants to prove he has a wild streak, Jim said.

"Animals are funny. Every little thing affects their mood and new things are kind of exciting to them and strange to them," he said. "You just have to teach them it's not going to hurt them.

"The ultimate goal down the road is that they will be gentled enough to ride."

Fortunately, because the horses are so young, it will be easier to gentle the wildness out of them -- a plus, he said, since it was the first time they had ever adopted mustangs.

However, it's not their first experience with horses. Both of them grew up riding and caring for their family animals and just a few years ago, bought two quarterhorses -- Scarlett and Sugar.

The adoption program simply caught their attention.

"We saw it advertised in the paper and it looked interesting so we went over there," Jim said. "I don't think either of us really planned to come home with a horse."

But once they got to the Duplin County Events Center, they couldn't resist.

"Dakota was the smallest horse there," Jim said. "Most of the horses stayed away to the back of the pens when the people were around, but he just walked between them all and came up and actually ate out of my hand. I thought if he had enough gumption to come eat out of my hand ... I told him I'd see him again."

After bidding on him, though, the McLeans thought they were done buying horses for the day. But then they found out they could get a buddy for Dakota for only $25 more -- hence Cheyenne.

Both mustangs are from the western United States -- Dakota, a gelding, from a herd in California and Cheyenne, a mare, from a herd in Nevada.

"We wanted to give them western names," Jim said.

"And we always liked the names Dakota and Cheyenne, so now we have two little babies named Dakota and Cheyenne," Sheila added.

Both horses were adopted for $150 -- a very reasonable price, but definitely not the last cost involved.

"The purchase price is actually the lowest cost of the process," said Karen Malloy, a wild horse and burro specialist.

Still, it will be another year before the McLeans actually take ownership of Dakota and Cheyenne.

"We're just caregivers for a year, but they're our horses," Sheila said. "They're definitely our pleasure horses. We'll have them forever."

The reason for the delay in ownership is to make sure the owners can handle the responsibility. It's a strict adoption program, and each owner must meet numerous requirements before they're even allowed to take the horses home.

"We want to make sure folks are properly able to deal with a wild animal because that's what they are," said Bill Davenport, director of public affairs for the Bureau's Eastern States office.

At the Kenansville adoption, 68 of the 80 wild horses were adopted, as well as 15 burros. All of the animals come from the western United States where, because the populations are so strong, the bureau culls the herds at least once a year and holds multiple adoptions across the country.

"We know folks want these animals," Davenport said. "We want to give people the opportunity to have an American legend -- the American Mustang."