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Photo Essay: Gentling mustangs is a family affair for the Mantles

A wild horse is reflected in the lenses of a man's sunglasses.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
Steve Mantle, pictured, has been gentling horses since he was a kid. His dad and his grandad taught him all he knows. A little over 25 years ago, Mantle was offered a chance to work with the Bureau of Land Management to gentle wild mustangs before they go to auction. "I thought it was a joke at first," said Mantle. "But I've made a good living, a good life, doing what I love to do."

Steve Mantle has been working with horses since he was a kid. In 1996, Mantle bought the ranch where he and his family live and work. But he didn't plan on gentling mustangs for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) when he went to Colorado to adopt two mustang colts in 1998. During that visit, a BLM representative approached Mantle about training mustangs for adoption, and he agreed.

Since then, the Mantles have prepared more than 1,500 mustangs for adoption. The Mantles spend between eight days and eight weeks with each horse. A little less than a year ago, Mantle handed down the business to his son, Bryan Mantle. Bryan continues to gentle mustangs, while his wife, Katie, handles the business side of the endeavor.

The BLM is responsible for monitoring mustang populations across five million acres in Wyoming alone. Because mustang herds can double in size every few years, they can cause excess stress on ecosystem in dry areas, at times depleting the natural resources they need to survive.

There are more than 73,000 mustangs on BLM lands as of this report. Removing them from those lands has been a contentious practice. Not only are they cultural icons for many who live in the American West, but some Indigenous groups believe the mustangs are sacred animals.

The interior of a barn. A man leads a horse by rope.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
This is the first time Bryan Mantle, a mustang "gentler," worked with this young mustang. Mantle said that he gives the horse plenty of room to move in order to build trust. Mantle inherited the business from his dad, Steve Mantle, close to a year ago.
The interior of a barn. A man reaches out to touch a young mare, but the horse pulls away. A second man watches from the background.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
After working with the wild horse for about 20 minutes, Bryan Mantle (right) moves closer, attempting to touch it. But the horse pulls away. Steve Mantle watches from the background.
A man holds his hand against the jaw of a wild horse. The horse nuzzles into the man's chest.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
This photo was taken about 40 minutes after Bryan Mantle began working with the wild horse. Mantle said that the horses, which are captured in the wild, undergo physical examinations, vaccinations, and branding before being transported to the Mantle Ranch in Wheatland. "Their interactions with humans aren't very positive to this point," said Mantle. "But they crave a good scratch on the bridge of their nose. Once they let us do that, they're ready to find their homes."
The silhouette of a man riding a horse
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
Mark Alps rides a young mustang in the barn. Alps, 22, has been working with the Mantles for two years. "But I've been working with horses since I was old enough to walk," said Alps.
Three horses looking into the camera's lens.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
These curious mustangs approached me while I snapped pictures of them. There are 48 mustangs roaming the Mantles' 1,980-acre ranch in Wheatland, Wyoming.
A horse seen through a hole in the stall.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
This mustang peeked at me through a hole in the stall's wall.
Portrait of a woman wearing a cowboy sweater
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
Katie Mantle, Bryan's wife, handles the business side of mustang gentling. In this picture, taken after a lunch of meat and rice, cauliflower salad and cheesy bread, she discussed which horse they should offer to a client from Tucson, Arizona.
A sign that reads "Mantle Ranch" before a blue sky. A dirt road cuts through the grass.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
This sign greets visitors to the Mantle Ranch, situated southwest of Wheatland, off of I-25. The Mantles have called the ranch home since 1996.
A horse's eye is seen in close-up, as a man rubs the horse's flank.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
Mark Alps rubs the flank of a mustang he calls "Susan." Alps, 22, has worked on ranches from Sierra Vista, Arizona, up to Wyoming. He worked on West Lake Ranch, in Cody, for Kanye West along the way.
A man watches the action off frame right.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
Steve Mantle has worked with horses since he was a boy. He's been gentling mustangs for the Bureau of Land Management for more than 25 years. As he moves closer to retirement, he handed the business down to his son, Bryan.

David Dudley is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, WyoFile, and the Wyoming Truth, among many others. David was a Guggenheim Crime in America Fellow at John Jay College from 2020-2023. During the past 10 years, David has covered city and state government, business, economics and public safety beats for various publications. He lives in Cheyenne with his family.
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