Wild Horses and the Inmates Who ‘Gentle’ Them

Wild Horses and the Inmates Who ‘Gentle’ Them


There’s a term in the horse world known as “gentling.” It refers to working with a wild horse until it becomes responsive to a trainer’s commands, meaning that it no longer wants to kick you in the face. If handled properly, it even bonds with its trainer.

Gentling happens every day at the Silver State Industries ranch in Carson City, Nev, a 1,100-acre property east of the Carson Range in the vast, harsh high desert south of Reno. Up to 2,000 wild horses are corralled there at any time; a good number are trained for adoption.

The ranch is part of the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, a medium-security prison that also houses minimum-security inmates. Twelve to 15 inmates, most of whom have little or no experience with horses, work under the instruction of a cowboy named Hank Curry. It is the inmates who do the gentling.

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“Gentling” refers to working with a wild horse until it becomes responsive to a trainer’s commands. Sometimes the trainer and the horse bond.

Credit
Ryan Shorosky for The New York Times

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Above, John Harris, an inmate, beside his bunk at the prison camp. Right, Mr. Raley aboard his friend Hijack.

Credit
Ryan Shorosky for The New York Times

John Harris, an inmate who is taking part in the program, grew up on a family farm in Northern Iowa, so he wasn’t a stranger to livestock. A mustang is not a barn horse, however. Often they are terrified, skittish and incredibly strong willed from having survived in the wild.

“One time I fought with a horse for two hours to get him to walk three feet to a post,” Mr. Harris, 38, said, “I was worked up. The horse was worked up.”



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