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New Haven farm finds homes for wild horses

MUSTANGS AT THE Devil’s Garden Corral in California await transport to the Rising Action Mustangs farm in New Haven, Vt., a training and adoption facility for the wild horses. RAMS co-founders Madison Berry and Jasmine Foster domesticate these horses and help them find a forever home with a New England owner.  Photo courtesy of Madison Berry

NEW HAVEN — If you’re in the market for a mustang, look no further than New Haven’s Rising Action Mustangs farm, known as RAMS. Though, it’s worth noting that you won’t find any sports cars at the spread on East Street, if that’s what you’re searching for. 

The nonprofit farm, run by co-founders Madison Berry and Jasmine Foster, is a training and adoption facility for wild horses. Berry and Foster bring the mustangs from out West to find forever homes in New England. 

“Mustangs are incredible horses, they come in every shape and size and color you could imagine, they are brave and smart,” Berry said. “People don’t know that.”

Mustangs are free-roaming horses of the Western United States, descendants of escaped, domestic horses that were brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. They’re considered feral horses, as they live in the wild but were once domesticated and often retain that domestic heritage. 

JASMINE FOSTER WORKS with Rooster, a wild horse currently in training at the Rising Action Mustangs farm in New Haven. Foster and co-founder Madison Berry have trained around 30 mustangs like Rooster since opening their nonprofit training and adoption facility for the wild horses in 2021. 
Photo courtesy of Madison Berry

As of 2021, there were around 86,000 free-roaming mustangs living on nearly 28 million acres of public lands in 10 western U.S. states. Without any natural predators, the mustang population is growing and the land they’re ranging on is no longer able to support them.

“They’re overpopulated, a lot of the ranges that they’re living on are going through droughts, and a lot of them die each year from extreme thirst,” Foster said. 

Around 55,000 mustangs had been taken off the land by 2021 and placed in federal holding facilities, managed by government entities like the U.S. Forestry Service. 

“Long term, having a lot of horses in pens is not an option. So, having people who train and adopt them and are willing to give them a chance is really, really important as a solution long term for the environment and for the wellbeing of those horses,” Foster said.

At RAMS, Berry and Foster socialize, train and adopt out mustangs that were previously kept in federal holding facilities out West. Berry said these mustangs make for great horses, but their potential is often unseen. 

“That’s one of our biggest things, being a marketing face for mustangs. Getting them out there and promoting them and showing people not only are they incredible horses, but they can be affordable and there’s tons of them that need help,” she said. 

Berry and Foster opened RAMS in October of 2021, though they hadn’t originally planned to start a nonprofit. Their experience with mustangs began a year earlier, when the pair was looking to purchase some horses of their own. 

Both had a love for horses and experience in the horse racing industry. They were originally in the market for a couple of thoroughbreds, a breed of horse popular for their reputation as racehorses. 

“The horse market kind of popped off in 2020 and so we were looking at mustangs because they were more affordable, and that was something we had talked about doing at some point,” Berry explained. 

The pair were easy converts and quickly fell in love with the two mustangs they purchased in 2020. Foster said they both realized their experiences working in the horse racing industry had provided them with a lot of the skills they needed to train mustangs. 

Berry spent years working at Hinesburg’s After the Track, a nonprofit that retrains and rehomes former thoroughbred racehorses. Foster has a degree in animal biology and previously worked at the Ashford Stud in Kentucky, a farm that breeds thoroughbreds for racing. 

“We came from different parts of the same world and that gave us a surprising amount of baseline skills of teaching horses new things and resocializing a horse from one environment that they’re used to being in to another environment,” Foster said. 

Berry and Foster began training wild horses for people they knew, and the operation continued to grow as more people learned about the farm. Foster said that there are few mustang adoption facilities in New England, so people were excited to learn that someone in Vermont was training and adopting out the wild horses. 

“Word got out in the broader mustang community, which is really active on Facebook, that there was someone in Vermont doing mustangs. It just kind of snowballed from there and we realized early on that the nonprofit route was the way that we wanted to go,” she said. 

Over the past 14 months, the pair has helped train and rehome around 30 horses. Their farm gets its horses from a few different herd management areas in the West, but mostly the Devil’s Garden corral in California. They serve as a remote pick-up location for Devil’s Garden and have received most of their horses from that corral as a result of connections they’ve made there.  

MADISON BERRY WORKS with Merlin, a mustang she adopted in 2021. Berry runs the nonprofit farm Rising Action Mustangs with co-founder Jasmine Foster and domesticates wild horses so that they can find their forever homes. 
Photo courtesy of Madison Berry

READY FOR ADOPTION

Once the horses arrive in New Haven, Berry and Foster socialize and train them, getting the mustangs ready for adoption. Foster said that the length of this process differs with every horse, usually taking around two months for younger horses and as much as a year for older ones. 

“The older (mustangs) get, I like to say they’ve lived in the wild long enough that they know they don’t need you. So, they take longer to convince that the domestic life is a good one,” Foster explained. 

After the horses are trained, Foster and Berry work with prospective owners throughout New England and upstate New York to find the horse that’s right for them. Adoption fees range from $1,500 to $5,000 and are determined based on training level, athletic potential and operating costs. 

They said finding the right match is an important part of the adoption process and of making sure each horse finds its forever home. 

“I like to tell people that if you’re a horse person, there is a mustang out there for you,” Foster said. “I don’t think there would be a well-meaning person that has some horse experience that I would turn away, it’s just a matter of finding the mustang for you.”

Berry and Foster said it’s also OK if a match doesn’t work out. They take in horses from owners that have realized a mustang isn’t a good fit for them, and Foster said there are some horses that might not ever be ready for adoption and RAMS will continue to care for them at the farm. 

As of now, Berry and Foster are running most of the operations at the farm on their own. They have help from a few volunteers and are actively looking to train more people to help with chores like feeding, watering and grooming.

The pair is also hoping to expand their operations by creating a program that would allow for youth riders in the area to lease available horses for competitions. The effort is a work in progress, but something Berry and Foster are excited to get started. 

“We’d love to be able to have available horses for free or for super cheap for kids who otherwise don’t really have access to that,” she said. “The first time I see a youth rider riding one of our horses, it’s going to be exciting.” 

In the meantime, the duo is enjoying the work on the farm they’ve grown together and the progress they’re making with the horses they receive. Foster said watching each horse’s progression is what she enjoys most about her work at RAMS. 

“There’s something about whenever the switch flips from ‘you’re a wild horse and I’m a human’ to ‘we’re just pals.’ There’s just this beat where you realize that they’ve come all the way around, and it’s just really wonderful,” she said. 

 

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