An attorney and horse trainer’s account of how he socialized, and ultimately befriended, an abused, psychologically damaged wild horse.
When Bornstein first met Samson the mustang, the horse had already earned a reputation as a “flesh-eating, fire-breathing monster.” His owner had rescued him from a trip to the slaughterhouse as a gesture of goodwill. However, she discovered that Samson was not only untrainable, but also dangerous to both humans and other animals. Bornstein quickly realized that a major part of Samson’s problem was that he had been misunderstood and abused by almost every human he had known. Rather than seek voluntary compliance, previous owners had used “bullwhips, lariat ropes, anger and pain” to school Samson to proper ways of behavior. The author knew he would have to earn the animal’s trust before he could ever hope to ride him. As he describes the yearlong-plus process of training—but never quite breaking—his fierce mustang charge, Bornstein also tells the story of wild horses in the United States. Descended from Old World equines brought to North America by the Spanish conquistadors, mustangs became one of the great symbols of the American West. But by the end of the 19th century, many settlers viewed them as a “scourge” that needed to be exterminated. Since then, ranchers, working alone and in tandem with government agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, have massacred or displaced thousands of animals “to stave off alleged rangeland degradation.” The author’s examination of the history of wild horses is informative but shallow; his sensitive portrayal of his evolving relationship with Samson is the highlight of the book. At the same time, that depiction is somewhat one-sided in that the author does not probe his own life and past to reveal the deeper personal lessons that Samson taught him about himself.
Flawed but occasionally moving.