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TIP Horse: The Training Incentive Program for Mustangs.

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The Bureau of Land Management mustang sale was an interesting experience. They corraled the horses at the Lamar Dixon Center, which gave us a chance to check them out and speak with some volunteers. They emphasized the TIP-trained ones, which made me wonder what being a ‘TIP’ horse means.

A TIP horse is a mustang taken from public land and sent through a training program established and managed by the Mustang Heritage Foundation. TIP horses cost $125 and are halter trained. Anyone can become a TIP trainer and earn $1,000 for training mustangs.

Mustangs represent the free and wild spirit of the American West. Sadly, these majestic creatures endure extremely harsh conditions on public lands. The Training Incentive Program (TIP) provides a way to preserve these animals through training and adoption.

Picture of a mustang eligible for the TIP horse program.

What is a TIP-trained horse?

The management of wild horses in the US is often frowned upon for its quality. Luckily, programs like TIP provide an effective way to bring such horses under private care, control their breeding, and allocate more public land for livestock.

A TIP-trained horse is a mustang or wild horse that has been taken in from public lands, acquired by a trainer to be “gentled,” and then sold to a private owner.

According to a 2021 estimate, over 86,000 wild horses and burros roam public land in the US. The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the animals by keeping them in public holding areas or offering them for adoption.

The Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF) is a charitable, non-profit organization that trains wild horses and burros for adoption and raises awareness regarding their care. Since 2007, MHF has trained and secured over 20,000 wild mustangs and burros and saved an average of $162 million of taxpayer money every year.

The Training Incentive Program (TIP) is one of MHF’s programs for marketing and placing wild horses into private care. It was started in 2007 and currently has trainers in 40 states across the US, who have collectively helped find homes for nearly 14,000 wild animals.

The TIP program goal is to ensure ‘wild horses’ well-being and safe ownership, who would otherwise have to endure harsh conditions and likely early death. It’s also a great way for horse lovers to gain training experience, make new connections, and enjoy a decent hobby.

How to become a TIP trainer

You might choose to become a TIP trainer for the earnings, but the program is also a fun and admirable hobby for many riders. There are currently over 1,150 TIP trainers.

You can become a TIP trainer by submitting an online application here or by visiting an MHF office. You need an MHF annual membership to become a trainer, which has a minimum cost of $35/year and a maximum one-time cost of $1,000.

The MHF and BLM have set specific criteria for becoming a TIP trainer. You must:

  • be 18 or older
  • have experience with training horses
  • have at least 400 square feet of corral space
  • have a six feet high fence
  • provide adequate feed, water, healthcare, and other holding facilities for the horse
  • have no legal record of inhumane treatment of horses
  • have a suitable horse trailer

Once you have applied, MHF will reach out to you in one to two weeks. If accepted, you will visit the nearest BLM location to pick your horse. Be careful to choose a horse you are optimistic you can train and sell for adoption.

Depending on your training experience, you can train one to four horses at once. You are given 90 days to TIP train a horse and find someone to adopt it.

A wild horse will be considered “gentled” or TIP-trained once it can be made to halter and lead, pick up its four feet, and load/unload into a trailer. Though there are several ways to advertise your horse, you can also join the official TIP Facebook page to look for adopters.

The adopter will submit an application form (available at the official MHF site), and you will be paid once the application is approved. The adoption amount is paid to the BLM.

Note that to continue to be a TIP member, you need to gentle at least one horse every year.

How much does a TIP trainer make?

TIP training doesn’t pay much per horse, and the upkeep may cost close to the reimbursement for beginners. However, regular TIP training makes for a good-paying hobby for experienced trainers and those wanting to learn.

A TIP trainer is paid $1,000 per horse by the MHF once all the training requirements are met, and the adoption is secured according to the MHF policies. Note that the trainer pays for all expenses relating to the horse.

If the TIP trainer is unable to meet all training requirements, then upon approval, they will be reimbursed $500. Typically a TIP horse isn’t difficult to train or adopt, you just need patience.

Picture of wild mustangs

Why should you get a TIP-trained horse?

The primary motivation behind programs like TIP is to find safe and friendly homes for wild horses and relieve the government of the finances required to hold and manage wild horses.

If you’re a horse-lover, you may have wondered whether it’s worth getting a TIP horse. After all, these horses were raised in the wild and may be difficult. However, there are many benefits to owning one of these animals. Here are just four reasons why you should get a TIP-trained horse

For instance, mustangs contained in large herds breed very quickly and often increase by one-fifth every year. Excessive horse population can lead to diseases, fatal starvation due to scarce forage, and further management problems.

The BLM uses specific capture methods like bait trapping and helicopter trapping to prevent overpopulation. However, these methods are known for causing stress and injuries to the horses. According to a 2013 estimate, almost 9% (or 56) of the wild horses died during the capture process.

  • You have an opportunity to own and train a green broke horse. Buying a horse can be expensive, a TIP horse gives you an opportunity to own a mustang that is halter broke and ready for saddle training for only $125.
  • Feel good about yourself for contributing to the conservation of animals. Mustangs are a part of American heritage, if humans don’t step up these animals suffer and die.

Buying a TIP horse is a viable solution

A solid solution to the problem of wild horse management is to gentle the horses and distribute them to private owners. Though organizations like the MHF have secured homes for thousands of horses, the number of wild horses is still very high.

For example, in 2017, the expected number of newborn foals from wild horses was around 10,000, and only one-fourth of these were expected to become adopted. By 2021, there were around 72,000 wild horses and 14,000 burros in rangelands.

By buying a TIP-trained horse or, better yet, becoming a TIP trainer yourself, you contribute to the security of wild horses. TIP has collectively placed over 14,000 animals in private care in fifteen years.

Besides that, TIP-trained horses have a standard price of $125, which is relatively cheap. In contrast, the cost of common horse breeds falls anywhere from $3k to $10k on average.

Gentled mustangs, in general, are a good breed for beginners and hobbyists. They have friendly personalities, don’t require strict care, and have varying physical characteristics to choose from. If you’re interested in learning more about mustangs, I encourage you to check out my article on the subject.

Where can I find a TIP horse?

There are TIP trainers in 40 states across the US. You can contact them through the TIP adoption webpage or the TIP Facebook page.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of TIP horses to choose from. You should thoroughly check the horse before buying. Pay attention to the medical record, conformation, motion, temperament, injuries, size, and bad habits like cribbing or head shy.

I also like to ask the seller what training techniques the horse is familiar with. With TIP-horses, many trainers are willing to further train the horse for extra payment (after you’ve purchased the horse through MHF).

After the purchase, you aren’t granted the title for the horse until one year of ownership. You are also prohibited from taking the horse outside the US until one year.

What is the Mustang Tip Challenge?

The Mustang Tip Challenge is an in-hand-only training challenge where competitors have 100 days to gentle and train a wild mustang. The winners receive prizes and cash. Non-TIP members can also compete in the Challenge.

There’s a limited number of horses to choose from in every Challenge, so it’s best to pick early. You will have to pay the standard $125 for your horse.

Anyone can host a TIP challenge. You can find TIP Challenges across the US here. You should contact the event manager for the specifics of each Challenge.