Rutgers' Young Horse Program Adds Mustangs to the Mix

Mustangs are the latest twist in the Young Horse Program at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.

Started in 1999 by Associate Professor Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, the program teaches students about handling, training, and nutrition of young horses.

The program initially used draft cross weanlings from PMU ranches. With the increasing expense of the PMU weanlings, Ralston chose to include mustang yearlings because, "they were the size of my weanlings and no wilder. Plus you can get a three-strike BLM mustang for $25. The other issue was my Premarin horses didn't need promotion anymore, but the mustangs do," Ralston said.

This year's program features four mustangs, four draft cross yearlings, and four draft cross weanlings.

"The mustangs are different in that they have more life experience," Ralston said. "They tend to be more aware and reactive. They are also smart and inquisitive and learn quickly. Working with the mustangs forces my students to be more conscious of their own behavior, actions, and reactions."

Mustang in Rutgers young horse program

A student interacts with one of the mustang yearlings.

The research will allow Ralston to find out more about mustang nutritional needs. "The people who have been dealing with mustangs insist they are more efficient, but nobody has documented it," she said. "We will compare the yearling mustangs to the yearling draft crosses and to data from other breeds to determine if they do indeed differ.

"In the long run we're hoping to show that mustangs are trainable, affordable horses that can be used in a variety of disciplines," she said.

The culmination of the program is when the horses are shown in hand at the Annual Ag Field Day Horse Show then sold at a private benefit auction.

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Rhona Melsky

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