Last Chance Mustang is the story of Samson, a formerly free-roaming, still wild-at-heart American mustang that was plucked from his mountainous Nevada home and thrown into the domestic horse world where he was brutalized and victimized. After years of abuse, Samson had evolved into a hateful and hated, maladjusted beast until the day he found his way to a rural Illinois farm, an ill-equipped owner, and one last chance. Mitch Bornstein’s task was to tame the violent beast whose best defense had become offense. He had twenty years of experience fixing unfixable horses, but Samson would be his greatest challenge. Through the pair’s many struggles and countless battles, Samson would teach Mitch about the true power of hope, friendship, redemption and the inspiring mettle of the forever wild and free American mustang.
This interview with the author, Mitch Bornstein, gives the reader a sense of the book, the plight of American mustang and the brutal nature of the US government’s Bureau of Land Management roundups.
How did you and Samson first meet?
It started as another of the many requests that I receive each month asking me to evaluate a horse with problems. I had no idea that it would turn into the saga that it soon became.
Did you know about Samson’s issues?
Samson’s owner said that he was “really messed up.” But that was the extent of my warning. Typically everyone says that. Often, the majority of these issues can be dealt with in 2-3 visits, so in Samson’s case I wasn’t terribly concerned until I met him.
Do you think that Samson’s issues come from him being a captured wild Mustang or his experiences in the domestic horse world?
Samson’s freezemark tattooed on the side of his neck indicates that he was culled and captured from his mountainous Nevada home as a not-so-young six-year-old stallion. For decades now, the Bureau of Land Management roundups such as this have remained commonplace. Intended to remove the allegedly over-populating wild horses from our public lands, these helicopter led airborne assaults can last for hours, if not days. For any horse that experiences it, the event is traumatic. I think that Samson’s less than ideal first and subsequent interactions with humans certainly imprinted on his psyche. There is a definite right and wrong way to initially influence a wild horse. In Samson’s case, it was the wrong way. That said, there can be little doubt that Samson’s subsequent years in the domestic horse world as a brutalized victim account for a great deal of his problems and marked aversion to people.
Does horse abuse occur more frequently with undomesticated wild horses?
Many, many horse people get themselves in trouble by adopting a wild horse though lacking the skills to properly gentle it. But I think that horse abuse, or any animal abuse for that matter, has more to do with the owner than the animal. I have dealt with dozens upon dozens of born and bred domesticated horses who have been chronically abused by their owners. Unrealistic expectations, a poor understanding of how horses learn, and impatience often lead to frustration regardless of whether the horse is a wild Mustang or domesticated breed. Such frustration then often rears its head in the form of abuse. Of course, you also have that percentage of people who are simply abusive from the get go. And these are the reasons why I say animal abuse is a person issue—not an animal issue. If you are going to abuse the animal, then you shouldn’t own it.
What advice can you give to someone who is having trouble or feeling overwhelmed with their horse?
Take a step back. Give you and your horse a break. Right off the bat, that can do wonders. Evaluate your goals, ask yourself what you’re looking for, and then question whether you are asking for too much, too soon from your animal. Don’t hesitate to get help. There are resources now that were not available years ago.
What resources are you referring to?
The internet is full of articles, training case studies, lesson plans, videos, anything and everything a horse owner would need when working with their animal. In addition, it is much easier now—through the web—to locate a qualified trainer in your local area.
What would you say to someone that is thinking about adopting a wild Mustang from the Bureau of Land Management?
Stop. Think. Do your homework. They are amazingly gifted athletes and loyal companions, but they need to be started properly with care and patience.
Do you think Samson would be an entirely different horse now if he had received the appropriate level of care and attention and not been habitually abused?
Absolutely, but I can also say with certainty that Samson would have made any trainer earn every penny of working with him.
What would you characterize as the “wild horse problem?”
That is a phrase created and marketed by those individuals, groups, and corporations who seek to reap benefit from the lands that our few remaining wild herds still occupy. Last Chance Mustang discusses at great length the history of our wild horses and debunks the information, or in this case, misinformation propagated by Mustang critics. With livestock vastly outnumbering our wild horses on public lands, wild horse reproduction rates much lower than claimed, and scientific evidence that the Mustangs actually benefit the land, the facts do not support the mass removal of our wild herds.
What is the solution?
Even among wild horse advocates, there are a plethora of opinions how, if at all, to manage our wild herds. Selective culling, sterilization of mares, the use of PZP to control birth rates are just a few. First and foremost, the mismanagement, removal and stockpiling or our majestic, historically significant wild Mustangs has to stop. Independent, unbiased, and scientific fact based analysis and long-term strategy is the only way to move forward and preserve these American icons.
You don’t have a journalism background and this is your first foray into the literary world, so what led you to write this book?
By the time I met Samson, I had years of working with problem and abused horses who, through no fault of their own, found it difficult to interact with their human companions. After recognizing the true depth of Samson’s issues, I said enough was enough. I had helped horses on the small scale, it was time to help them on the large scale. At that same time, more and more wild horses were being removed and forced to live out their lives in government holding facilities. With Samson’s saga, I saw a story that could address both of these issues.
What is your hope for Last Chance Mustang?
My sincere hope is that Last Chance Mustang will demonstrate the true cost and evils of animal abuse while simultaneously educating all about the plight of our great, but disappearing wild herds.
If that’s the case, would you say that your book is geared mainly towards horse enthusiasts?
Absolutely not. Samson’s journey is a tale for all: horse and animal lovers, wild horse advocates, fans of historical nonfiction and narrative nonfiction, and those who root for the underdog. If you believe that hope and love can overcome even the darkest of circumstances, then Samson’s story is for you.
How would you sum up your relationship with Samson?
It would be very difficult to sum up my relationship with Samson in just one or two words. As Last Chance Mustang demonstrates, our relationship has taken on many different forms and evolved. During our first year together, it was quite the rollercoaster ride. And still, to this day, that oft remains the case.
Do you ever think there will be another Samson?
I have worked with many problem horses that have evolved into amazing companions, have truly adored each of these animals, and will continue my efforts to fix unfixable horses. But, that said, there will never be another Samson. He is one of a kind.