A horse with no name: The wild horse and burro adoption often includes animals like these, photographed in 2008 in Montana.
There are currently more than 36,000 wild horses and burros in more than 10 Western states. Because these animals do not have any natural predators, they are reproducing like rabbits. The land cannot sustain such a large number of grazing animals, not to mention the additional problems brought about by droughts, forest fires and human encroachment.
As a result, the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed the Adopt-A-Wild Horse & Burro Program in 1973. Each year, thousands of horses and burros are taken from the rangelands and are adopted by individuals who are willing to take care of them. In this way, the bureau is able to prevent the wild horses from overpopulating the range. This year’s adoption takes place Saturday, Aug. 22, at Cornell University in Ithaca.
“The point of the Adopt-a-Mustang program is that we have too many horses out on the public rangeland,” said Emily Watson, public affairs assistant for the BLM. “If there are too many horses, they end up starving or dying of thirst.”
Last year, the BLM dedicated approximately $27 million to the management of these wild horses and burros. Unfortunately, the recession and rising fuel and feed costs have slowed the rate at which the horses and burros are being adopted. “At one time, we were adopting 3,000 to 4,000 horses a year,” noted William Davenport of BLM Public Affairs. “With the economy down and the price of hay and feed, folks literally can't afford to adopt.”
Even though the financial burden of housing and maintaining a wild horse may be intimidating, the rewards of owning such an animal are many. “These animals are great and they are certainly an attribute to the herd, if you have more than one horse,” said Davenport.
Horses that have been adopted through this program have been trained to successfully compete in dressage and show jumping and they make excellent endurance and trail animals. “The domestic horses are bred for long legs,” continued Davenport. “Since these horses are wild, they are built to survive. They are thick-boned and thick-muscled, which makes them excellent endurance horses.”
No prior ownership of horses or burros is required to adopt; however, it is important to keep in mind the qualities that a wild animal possesses. “Adopters must be willing to devote the time to gentling the animal,” Davenport cautioned. “You have to remember that horses in the wild are prey animals, and they will see humans as a predator. When you put them in a corral, you take away their flight opportunity. You must develop a bond of trust with the animal. After that, they'll do whatever you want.”
Stacy Gutheinz, who lives in Durhamville, near Oneida, adopted Cowboy last December. “He's different from any domestic horse you could ever have,” she said. “But once they bond with you, it's like an inseparable bond. They'll do anything for you. It's completely worth it.”
Potential adopters must prove they are capable of taking care of the steeds. Individuals must care for an animal for one year before they receive a certificate of ownership from the federal government. Adopters must have an adequate corral (at least 20-by-20 feet, and fenced 6 feet high), shelter and a step-up trailer to transport the animal.
“The most important thing is to have a lot of time. That's the key,” said Terry Lewis, chief of the Office of External Affairs for the Bureau of Land Management. “Don't rush it and don't get discouraged. There is a network of people who have adopted in the past who are willing to give advice to people who are thinking about adopting.”
Locally, a wild horse and burro adoption will take place at the Oxley Equestrian Center at Cornell University, 220 Pine Tree Road, Ithaca. The horses will arrive in the morning on Friday, Aug. 21, and will be available for preview from 2 to 7 p.m. Adoptions will take place on Saturday, Aug. 22, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The maximum price of adopting a horse is $125. “Buddy” horses may be adopted for $25. There will be approximately 60 horses at this adoption. Mares, geldings, colts and possibly some yearlings will be available. Adoption is first-come, first-served. Call (866) 4MUSTANGS or visit www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov for more information. Call Emily Watson at (703) 440-1714 to be put in contact with a previous adopter.
Everyone is welcome to attend, even if it is just to see the horses. “Folks should just come out and bring their children, even if they aren't going to adopt,” said Davenport. “People need to understand that these horses are an American icon. This is how the country was founded, on the back of the horse. It is important that future generations understand that.”