Jennie Sloan and Stephanie Gentilini have always had a love for horses.
So it didn't take long for the two friends to realize they wanted to help the wild mustangs that are rounded up on government lands.
They recently formed the Sunshine State chapter of the American Mustang and Burro Association, a group that advocates adoption of the animals, particularly the horses.
Group members visit equestrian events to tout the advantages of buying one of the mustangs that once roamed the West.
Mustangs aren't for beginners, but they're also not as difficult as some people think.
"They aren't these crazy, wild bucking broncos that you might think they are," said Sloan, who's from Keysville.
Wild mustangs and burros descended from domestic animals that were set free or escaped. The roots of some herds originated from Spanish explorers hundreds of years ago.
The horses are an enduring icon of the Old West, chapter members say.
"They are a symbol of our American heritage," said Gentilini, the chapter's president. "If I can be a voice for them then I will not only say something, I will scream for them."
Gentilini, a Riverview resident and administrative assistant, said she fell in love with mustangs when she had the chance to ride one as a youngster. She didn't get one of her own until a trainer she knew convinced her to take in Morrie at an Extreme Mustang Makeover, where wild mustangs are trained and offered for adoption.
The local chapter is just getting started, and its members have adopted only a handful of mustangs. Sloan, the chapter's secretary, recently leased about 4.5 acres to keep two or three rescued mustangs. Eventually, she would like to see the organization lease 200 acres so it could take in 30 to 40 horses.
Wild mustangs are a bargain, Sloan said. The federal Bureau of Land Management, which manages the herds, charges $125 for a wild mustang, and will throw in training for free, she said.
Chapter members distribute information on how to adopt at horse shows.
So far, the group has had a lot of positive response, Sloan said.
"My phone hasn't stopped ringing" from people who want to help, she said.
The Bureau of Land Management estimates that approximately 31,500 horses and 5,800 burros roam rangelands it manages in 10 Western states. The agency regularly rounds up animals due to overcrowding and sends them to short-term corrals or long-term pastures. More than 225,000 horses and burros have been adopted since 1971, the agency said.
Sloan likens the horses to a "blank canvas" because they are not used to human contact. At first, "they don't want you in their world."
"They don't even know what grass is or a bucket is when you get them," said Sloan, a nurse who also teaches riding lessons.
But they are surprisingly easy to train -- if you approach them with a lot of patience, she said.
"Once they trust you, the rest is usually pretty easy," said Sloan, who has also adopted a wild burro she named Festus.
The lack of human interaction has an upside because the horses have never known cruelty, Gentilini said.
"When you earn their trust the bond is amazing," she said. "They can do anything."
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