Wild horses trained to help Border Patrol agents - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Wild horses trained to help Border Patrol agents

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WILLCOX, Ariz. -

It's a controversial way for government agencies to save money.

Wild mustangs are taken from their habitat and brought into captivity.

The horses are then trained to work alongside government officials. 

The Border Patrol buys these wild horses at a lower cost than thoroughbreds.

Even though the Border Patrol has access to some of the highest technology available, agents say horses are one of the most efficient ways to protect the border and always will be.

It takes plenty of patience to even get close to wild mustang Ethereal.

Agent Jeff Collup is the lead trainer at the Border Patrol horse facility in Willcox.

Ethereal is one of the newest mustangs to the training corral.

"What he has learned in the last week is how to cross his back foot in front of his other back foot," said Collup.

The Bureau of Land Management takes wild mustangs from over populated herds living in Wyoming, Nevada, even California.  Most of the horses in Willcox are from Wyoming.

Before horses like Ethereal are brought here, some are taken to a prison right outside Colorado Springs where they begin their training.

Border Patrol agents then select a handful of horses that are able to hold up in Arizona's rugged terrain.

The Border Patrol first started training and riding wild mustangs in 2010.  The Tucson sector was the last in the nation to adopt the noble mustang program.

"We were used to buying really good horses," said Bobbi Schad, who oversees the horse patrol unit.

But those thoroughbreds were expensive.

The Tucson sector merged with another government agency, the BLM and began purchasing discounted wild horses in bulk.

Horses have been a long time partner to Border Patrol agents.

It's a tradition that dates back to 1924 when the original group of Border Patrol agents only had horses and guns.

Today, agents have a variety of high tech instruments in their arsenal. Drones, motion detectors, helicopters and ATVs -- but an agent on a horse is just as useful as it was 90 years ago.

"They learn what they are looking for in the field," said Schad.

The horses learn how to search for smugglers.

"They know how to get and up mountains, in and out of washes, trees, brush.." added Schad.

Not everyone is on board with the wild mustang program like Gilbert horse rescue ranch owner Kim Meagher.

"I think the BLM should stop rounding up the wild horses.  The best thing we can do for America's wild horses is to leave them alone."

If horses have to be plucked from the wild, Meagher wants them to have a duty.

"If a mustang is in the system, if he is already rounded up, let's find him a job."

Today Ethereal is getting used to riding with an agent.  If he passes 90 days of training, he will be assigned to one agent to help protect the border.

When a horse retires, his agent can adopt him.  If the agent is unable to, other government officials can adopt the horse.

The Florence prison is working on implementing a horse training program for wild mustangs.

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