Wild Horses: Adoption
Soon after Congress passed the law protecting wild horses in 1971, their numbers began to increase. Twenty-five thousand became fifty thousand, with no end in sight. Ranchers and environmentalists joined in protest, claiming the horses were destroying fragile public land. In the heat of the controversy the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) came up with a solution: 3 or 4 times a year, the BLM rounds up thousands of excess horses, brands them, and puts them up for adoption. Once charged with wiping out the mustang, the government now advertises the advantages of owning one.
There are no more wild horses roaming the plains of Nebraska. But each year hundreds are shipped to here from wild ranges in the west. People gather in Elm Creek, Nebraska to put in their bid on a piece of the American West.
These mustangs are shipped here mostly from Nevada by the BLM in an effort to reduce herd populations. The goal is to limit the number of wild horses roaming the federally-managed lands of the west to fewer than 40,000 by encouraging public adoption of these wild horses.
From Nevada, the BLM trucks horses to adoption centers all over America, like the one here in Elm Creek, Nebraska. Since the program began in 1973, Americans have adopted over 100,000 wild horses.
It costs the bureau more than $1,500 to prepare a single horse for adoption. But you can own one for just $125.
It's a cheap gamble, and everyone at an auction is eager to play. Some of these horses will never get used to captivity, but others will adapt more easily. You never know what kind of horse you're going to get. That's why it's a gamble.
Don Shaw has successfully adopted horses from Elm Creek:
"We adopted a mare and a colt 14 years ago about, and she broke out great. They have no bad habits if they haven't been around people very long — you don't have to fix the bad habits. They saidif they got any, they know where they got them from, and you're the only one to blame. So, that's one thing I liked about that."
It will take more than a year before Don tames his wild horses, because you can take a mustang from the wild a lot easier than you can take the wild out of a mustang.
Shaw has some tips on taming the adopted horses:
"You talk to them before you stick your head around the corner. You just don't pop your head around the corner, because that is what a predator does. Anything that sneaks up on you and sticks their head out is a predator. You just don't do that. So you talk to them, they know your voice. It's the first thing that they know so talk to them and yell at them or anything you want. They know you're coming — got their attention. Then they see you coming, and they put your voice to this body. Then they're not afraid of you no more. And you start from there, and you work your way up."
Though Don recently had his stallion gelded, it's still dangerously unpredictable.
When Don adopted his stallion, he had doubts about whether he'd ever be able to ride him. At first, Don's horse seemed uneasy in captivity. However, now the mustang trusts him enough to let him on his back. An animal that's been wild for too long may never adjust to life in a corral.
Adoption seems to be working now as a way to control the wild horse population, but is there another way to take horses from the wild without taking the wild from the horses? Do you think adoption is the best option for dealing with wild horses?