Bringing a horse in from the wild

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May 6, 2012 - 7:00pm

If your kids have been bugging you to get them a pet, here's an idea: why not adopt a wild horse? After all, few things teach responsibility better than taming a mustang.

At least, that's the message of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Like your local animal shelter's pet adoption drive, the Bureau is trying to find a few good homes for wild horses and burros by holding adoption events around the country.

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management
Wild Horse & Burro Program

Bureau of Land Management trainer Steve Mantle brought Apache, a horse available for adoption, to the 2012 Big Wyoming Horse Expo in Douglas, Wyo.

The bureau recently brought more than 30 wild horses and burros to the Davis county fairgrounds in Bloomfield, Iowa, hoping to place the wild horses and burros with good owners. Most of the animals quietly munched on hay, paying little attention to the families and kids coming up to stalls.

"If they have good food and clean water, they're happy campers," said Dave Berg, a specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM. "And out in the wild, they do not have good food and clean water that readily available."

With his black cowboy hat, weathered face and piercing blue eyes, Berg looks like he wandered out of a Western film. Except, instead of a film about taming the Wild West, this movie would be about saving millions of acres of land from too many mustangs.

"They overpopulate the ranges and then they destroy the ranges," Berg said. "So that's why we have to keep the population under control."

Right now, it's way out of control, by about 12,000 excess horses, according to the BLM. They say it's killing the grasslands and horses and other animals are dying of starvation.

For years, the BLM has been rounding wild horses up for adoption, often by people like Jessie Houston of O'Fallon, Mo. At fifteen, O'Fallon is a pro with mustangs. She tamed her first one years ago.

Photo via NDomer73/Flickr

Wild horses roam Steens Mountain near Frenchglen, Ore., on BLM land.

"I was 12, I think," O'Fallon said. "I've seen girls as young as 8 train a mustang."

Don't be fooled: taming a wild horse is grueling work - and dangerous, too, as O'Fallon learned when she competed in an event for mustang trainers. The crowd and the noise was just too much for her horse and he bolted out of the ring.

"He took off with his feet flying," O'Fallon said. "He didn't mean to kick me but he did. He kicked me in the stomach."

Still, O'Fallon got right up and finished showing the horse.

"Yeah with my horses, I don't want them to get away with that stuff," the gritty O'Fallon said. "Even if I'm hurt, they're not going to get away with kicking me and then just leave the arena. They're going to have to finish what they started."

The Bureau of Land Management is hoping a lot more people with O'Fallon's tenacity will adopt a wild horse. But in a bad economy, fewer people can afford it. These days, there are too many horses on the market already and not everybody wants to sign up for the challenge of taming a wild one.

The BLM holds adoptions around the central and western states, including a couple of stops in Kansas, scheduled for this summer. At the Douglas County, Iowa, event, only about half of the animals were adopted. The rest go back to a holding facility in Nebraska.

Alex Deshatler of Milton, Iowa, did go home with a new horse. His mom, Vicky, says their family has had horses in the past. Still, she knows this one is going to be a lot more work.

"It is. And it may not be realistic, but I'd like to try," Vicky Deshatler said. "And it's worth it, if it's going to keep the breed going, keep the horse alive, then it's worth everything you're willing to put into it."

With thousands of excess horses and adoption events underway around the country, horse lovers are hoping many more people will feel the same way.




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