WHEATLAND – Back in the 60s there was a TV program that showed not only the superior intelligence of horses, but introduced us to a horse that could talk. His name was Ed. He was a palomino with swag.
Nick Mantle knows something about horses with a bit of a “tude,” and instead of being frustrated at their childlike quirks and wild ways, he quietly watches their reactions, their eyes, their mannerisms and then listens as they speak to him by way of their reaction.
He then speaks back in a language of signs and space that the horse seemingly understands, or at least, learns. He seems to know what to do with each animal and knows that there are different personalities and each one must be treated on an individual basis.
As for how he gets to the place where he can train, he said, “We’re contracted with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to train and manage wild horses and manage the wild horse facility here. Our main goal is to get these horses gentle enough and in a position where the average person can go ahead and take them home and continue on with their educational training and get them off the range where they are running out of food and they are overpopulated, and get them into good homes.”
Mantle estimates there are as many as 20,000 wild Mustangs in Wyoming alone and many more in other states such as Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico. They don’t travel state-wide, but are in pockets across the state.
“If you go up around Rollins and you go down towards Muddy Gap and Jeffery City, you’ll see them all over the road,” Mantle says. “That is the main herd area, up in the high desert district.”
The Mustangs of these areas can be territorial and they can also herd up and even stampede. Mantle doesn’t advise approaching them in the wild.
“Nine times out of 10, they are going to run away before you even get close enough,” he said. “But there are stud horses that will come after you, especially if you’re mounted and on horseback out there. They’ve got a territory and a herd to protect and they can give you some troubles.”
Mantle described “stud piles” which are piles of feces that are piled up and down the highway marking a territory. That is how they mark their ground.
Although Mantle’s job is training and marketing to rehome the animals, one of his jobs is not gathering the wild horses off of the high desert. This is done by other contractors who go into an area and build a coral and keep it stocked with food. Since food is scarce, it is pretty easy to draw them into the coral. They leave the gates open for a week, and then when a herd has made its home inside the coral, the gates are closed and a gate and chute system is implemented to get them into trailers.
From there they are trucked to the holding facilities that the BLM has set up, usually in Rock Springs. From there they are vaccinated and tattooed on their neck which is basically their social security number. Then it gets a set of papers printed out which will tell where it’s from, when it was born and when its vaccines were completed. It is at that point that Mantle’s Wild Horses steps in and takes between 60 and 100 horses each year. Mantle does have a choice as to which horses he feels would be best to work under his training.
As to how the Mantles got into this kind of business, it took a lot of transient living for Nick as a child and he says that they moved 35 times when he was young.
“My dad came from a background where he ran guest stables,” Mantle said. “They were constantly breaking horses. They were buying, selling, trading, they ran about 2,000 head of horses and leased them out. When we moved here, he thought it would be a good idea for me and my brother to start out as a couple of young 13, 14-year-old kids to go get some Mustangs because they were cheap and we could get them green-broke and we could sell them. He started us on our own livelihood and we had our own income.”
Mantle said that they picked out a couple of horses and described how they fell and clamored and “debacled” their way through the training process as what he termed a “trial by fire.” They ended up selling their horses and training became a way of life.
Their dad, Steve then took his son’s endeavor to another level and bid on a contract with BLM which they won and the rest is a history that keeps rewriting itself.
Mantle went to college and got his degree in equine management and refined his training for performance horses and says that he had some incredible training mentors.
Mantle’s wife, Kayla was also gaining her education and unbeknownst to her, was preparing herself in the area of agricultural business at the University of Wyoming for her career as co-owner of Mantle’s Wild Horses. She was the missing piece to making the ranch both successful and fruitful.
“It’s rewarding work,” he said. “I meet the people who have adopted the horses that started, and they start sending you videos and photos. Kayla’s built a list of past people we’ve adopted and you see your product years down the road.”
The Mantles make their money off of marketing and rehoming the horses. The basic rehoming fee is $125, but in a situation where people are bidding on the horses, the price can be much higher. Each year, the Mantles have relied on Cheyenne Frontier Days to sell at least 20-22 horses.
“You can do adoptions through the BLM,” she said. “You can adopt these horses in different ways. It can be a competitive bid or a private adoption here at our place. With the COVID pandemic, things are looking a little bit different this year. As most people know Cheyenne Frontier Days was one of our major revenue sources and it is unfortunately closed for this season.”
The horses they would traditionally take to Frontier Days were a mixture of halter started and riding. They would adopt them out there in a live competitive auction bid on the last day.
“People from all over the United States would come to adopt our horses,” she said. “This year it’s going to look a little bit different, but as we say here in the west, ‘if you get bucked off, you get back on again.’ So it doesn’t do any good to be mad that Cheyenne Frontier Days is closed, we’re just going to have to figure out another way, whether that means we may have to do twice the amount of horses between now and then.”
Through it all, it may seem like a romantic life of a cowboy and his wife out on the lone prairie. But when you look at paying $100,000 for the hay bill alone, figure in the fact that each horse takes many hours of patient training, Nick is in the saddle all day circling the training barn again, and again. And yet again. It gets old. Not to mention that Kayla works a second job in addition to the full-time attention of the ranch and these wild babies that have no choice but to trust them for their care.
It can get overwhelming.
For a young couple facing sometimes impossible obstacles, they smile, they work hard and the bottom line is that they adore one another. It is a team effort from a couple that has succeeded together through good times, hard times, economic disasters and now global pandemic.
“I pride on the people of Wyoming,” she said. “We always figure it out. We work together and we find a plan and that’s what we’re going to do here at Mantle’s Wild Horses.”