Mustangs Join Marines in Special Forces Training Program

Years ago the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) traded its horses for trucks and all-terrain vehicles. But now in California a herd of 18 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mustangs are helping train Marines to travel places that motorized vehicles just won't go.

Alan Shepard, state leader for the BLM's Nevada Wild Horse Program, said the agency has a relationship with the USMC that dates back to the 1990s. The USMC receives some of its horses through BLM programs.

"In fact, almost all of the horses in the USMC color guard are BLM mustangs," he said

One such program involves the Northern Nevada Correctional Center. Under the center's long-term agreement with the BLM, inmates train wild horses brought to the correctional center's short-term holding facility, Shepard said.

Currently, 18 mustangs acquired from the BLM and trained at Northern Nevada Correctional Center are training with USMC Special Forces troops in California, said USMC Spokesman Sgt. Dorian M. Gardner.

The mustangs, along with domestic horses the USMC purchases from a variety of vendors, take part in a 16-day training program designed around a 12-soldier Operational Detachment Alpha team. Some of the soldiers involved in the training are experienced riders, and some are not, Gardner noted. A civilian trains alongside multiple Marine instructors, but all program directors report to a USMC officer.

The training allows participating soldiers to preserve energy while transporting themselves and gear into conflict areas. On horseback, team members can also maintain a certain level of stealth when they travel into territories controlled by enemy forces, Gardner said.

"During the war in Afghanistan, service members may come across terrain that is not accessible by motor transport, in which case they may use ATVs, but with a heavy load, pack animals can provide aid when transporting gear and are more able to traverse that terrain," Gardner said.

Participating soldiers also learn to choose animals best-suited to use by special forces personnel.

"Students are taught how to procure good, local stock in a country and how to assess horses and determine if they will meet the standard," Gardner said.

Gardner said mustangs are especially suited to the training program.

"They grew up wild, and they know how to forage, and they are a bit tougher for the task," Gardner said.

Mustangs that participate in the program are not sent overseas for duty. "They are used strictly as a training aid aboard the base," he said.

The program is a win-win situation for both the BLM, because it provides homes for mustangs, and the USMC, Shepard said.

"(The horses) are training folks to go into battle," Shepard said. "These horses are a tremendous resource to those to defend all of us."



About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More