I recently watched a demonstration narrated by a representative from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and executed by a group of wild horses and burros. I couldn't have been more surprised and delighted at what I heard and saw.
The horses presented were absolutely gorgeous. They all had excellent conformation, amazing colors and healthy, alert demeanors. All were being handled by their adoptive "parents," and every horse was attentive and responsive.
The rep explained that wild horses are not of any particular breed, but exhibit some of the characteristics of certain breeds. Wild horses, or mustangs, are the descendants of animals that were released or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, the U.S. Cavalry, and American Indians. The horses live on the range, sometimes enduring a shortage of food, water and injury. At other times, because of a reduction in natural predators resulting from the encroachment of civilization, the horses thrive and reproduce in numbers the environment is unable to sustain. That's when the BLM steps in to round up some of the horses to adopt out to qualified people.
The rep told us how the BLM will gather a group of mustangs and carefully look them over -- not an easy task because these horses know nothing about people. The BLM actually returns to a wild herd the best of the group -- the horses who appear to be the healthiest, have the best conformation and the "flashiest" coats -- and take the rest of the group to holding areas to be prepared for adoption.
Now, to some folks this may sound like a total disruption in letting Nature take her course, but in fact, it's a very humane thing to do. The healthiest horses stay on the range to continue their natural existences. But some of the "gathered" horses are in bad shape, having broken legs, abscesses and other painful conditions. The horses that can be brought back to health are made ready to be adopted to horse owners scrutinized by the BLM to ensure the horse is going to a fine home with qualified caregivers. In fact, the adoption isn't even official until after a year of ongoing visits from BLM staff to make sure the horse remains healthy and well-cared for. There are horses, however, that don't get adopted. If they're suffering and in pain from injuries or illness, these animals are mercifully put down.
I was surprised to learn that mustangs must be inoculated before adoption because they'll be exposed to many diseases that they just don't encounter in the wild. You can adopt a horse through an auction process, and the fee is generally $125 -- I was amazed at this, given the incredible horses I was seeing at the demonstration. You can adopt a horse that the BLM has "bridle-broke," and you'll get help with trailer loading, but you have to train the horse yourself.
Another interesting fact I learned was that, although there are folks who think it's more humane to release a domestic horse into one of the mustang herds to "live free," the opposite actually occurs. Domestic horses are often unable to find water or enough food to keep them alive -- they've never experienced having to fend for themselves, and the rangelands are no picnic. It's one reason the mustangs are so hardy.
I learned that mustangs are smart and can learn a variety of jobs, from becoming trail horses and rescue horses, to being award-winning jumpers. And, I have to say, if the horses I saw were any indication, the ones that "didn't make the cut" in the gathering process must be incredibly beautiful and healthful, because the ones that did make the cut for adoption could be among the best horses I've ever seen.
If you're interested in learning more about the BLM's wild horse and burro program, go here: wildhorseandburro.blm.gov. If you ever see a horse, domestic or otherwise, being abused in any way, we were told to contact the BLM, as well. I don't work for them -- I'm just hugely impressed with what they do!