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Sublette County native speaks about riding her mustangs across the country

A woman sits on a horse on a beach with two horses on either side of her and a dog in front of her.
Courtesy of Lisanne Fear
Lisanne Fear with her mustangs and dog on the coast in California after finishing her cross-country ride.

A lot of Wyomingites have horses or at least have ridden a horse. Well, Lisanne Fear of Sublette County took it to the next level. She recently rode her five wild horses, also known as mustangs, across the country on the American Discovery Trail. It took her 14 months to ride 5,000 miles from Delaware to California.

Fear is a horse trainer who specializes in training wild horses, and she wanted to use the cross-country ride to raise awareness about wild horses in holding corrals across the country. She recently sat down with Wyoming Public Radio’s Caitlin Tan.

Caitlin Tan: Tell us just a little bit more about why this trip, and why did you feel like this was necessary for you and necessary for raising awareness?

Lisanne Fear: Yes, so for me, I've had my own battles with depression and being semi-suicidal, and severe anxiety and some PTSD issues. And so in a way, maybe I was trying to run away from my problems across the trail, only to discover that wherever you go, there you are, and kind of having to face some of those personal realities. But with all of that being said, I mean, my horse has saved me in more ways than I can ever put into words. And so I wanted to give back to them in the biggest possible way that I could, which is through inspiring more adoptions because I can inspire a lot more people than I can personally train horses. And so that was a lot of my motivation to give back to my horses that gave so much to me.

CT: And I want to touch on that here in a little bit. But just to give people kind of that understanding of your background, you grew up here in Sublette County, on a ranch, and from what I understand there were kind of some strict rules about what kind of horses could be out there. Maybe you could tell us a little more about that?

LF: So I grew up on a 55,000-acre cattle ranch here in Wyoming and my granddad was very, very much about the Quarter Horse, and, like, Quarter Horses without any white markings, because he wanted solid black feet.

Like, no horse when I was growing up was good enough for his granddaughter. So my mom kind of snuck out and bought me a horse, and it was a paint horse. We weren't even really allowed to keep it on the ranch because it didn't fit the quota being a grade paint horse, but he taught me a lot, and I'm so grateful. His name was Pecos. And I am so grateful for that horse.

But, I'd never been exposed to mustangs beyond them just being called ‘desert rats’ and just kind of inbred animals out there. And so I didn't know what they were, I didn't think much of them – I was just raised with that mentality. But come college, you know, as a really broke college student, I was willing to ride any horse I could. And this gal approached me and asked me to ride her mustang mare. And I said yes, and that changed my life. That mare was so sweet, so nice. My client told me to watch this movie called ‘Wild Horse Wild Ride.’ And I did. It's about the 100 day makeover challenge that takes place put on by the Mustang Heritage Foundation, where you get a completely wild horse thrown just randomly into your trailer, you don't know what you're getting. And they’re like, “Good luck, we'll see you in 100 days.” And that was my horse Phin. So he was the one that joined me on the trail. He's a super solid citizen. And it's just amazing what those horses are capable of in such a small amount of time. So granddad may have been a little wrong about the mustangs because they are super capable, and they're just absolutely incredible animals.

Three people sit on horseback with two horses on leads to either side. They are in front of the St. Louis Arch.
Courtesy of Lisanne Fear
Lisanne (left) with her mustangs and friends who joined her in St. Louis, MO.

CT: Well, and that kind of brings me to my next question is that wild horses do remain kind of a controversial subject, especially here in our part of the state. Some people feel like they need to be really strictly managed, whether that's through gathers or fertility control. Other people want to see less management. Can you kind of see both sides of those issues? Or how do you feel?

LF: I can definitely see both sides of those issues coming from a ranching background. I mean, I understand that things need to be managed. And in terms of our wild horses, they're the only large mammal that's out there in our range and on our land that we don't hunt. And by no means am I saying that we need a hunting season on horses, but the reality is the population still needs to be managed because horses right now, they don't really have any natural predators. Really, the only thing willing to attack a horse is a mountain lion and their population isn't super strong. And so how do we naturally better balance those populations in the wild?

I am a firm believer in management. The roundups, unfortunately, they have to happen. And the helicopters, that's actually the safest way. It makes sense. You can't send a cowboy out on a horse and expect to outrun a completely wild, well-conditioned horse, you know, with, like, a 250-pound guy up there. There's just no way that that makes logical sense. And so that's how it is.

There's a lot of different organizations out there that are really focused on better fertility control, which I think is a really good option. Right now, my foundation Mustang Discovery Foundation has just really focused on adoptions of the horses that have already been rounded up. Even if we were to stop the roundups today, there's still 63,000 horses that American taxpayers are paying to take care of and it's like, “What do we do with those that are still standing in the corrals?” And so that's where my focus is, is really getting those horses noticed and into great and loving homes.

The idea is that in three years we will have enough programs that are adopting wild horses and working on getting them to mild, whether that's prison programs, veteran programs, student programs or collegiate programs, that we’re matching the number being rounded up every year. And so that's kind of leveling off the numbers because right now things have really been increasing.

CT: Now that you’re back home, after all this experience, life experience, ups and downs, is it kind of bittersweet?

LF: In a way, yes. But I mean, I haven't really sat still long enough to kind of fully understand that I'm home. And I just got an offer to do a big ride in two years, starting in Alaska. They want to go down to Mexico and across to Florida and then up to Maine. So the opportunities keep coming, and in a way, I just never want to stop riding.

CT: So if you could leave our listeners with one takeaway message, what would it be?

LF: Go out and follow your dreams. Not everyone is meant to adopt a wild horse, nor should they, but everyone should follow what they want to do with their lives. Even if it's super scary. You might run out of money along the way, but just go out there and get after it because you never regret the chances that you actually take, you regret the ones that you don't take. So get out there and pursue what you want to do in life.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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