Amanda Ronan gives us an overview of the adoption system and the paradox it presents.
Viewed by many ranchers as an invasive pest and by activists as an iconic symbol of the American west, the free-roaming Mustang and burro has indelibly made its mark on society. I got the chance to see my first wild Mustang two days ago at a BLM managed auction in Lufkin, Texas.
Velma Johnston, a secretary of Reno, Nevada, began a campaign to protect the wild horse and burro in the 1950s. Tagged “Wild Horse Annie” by the media, Verna’s efforts eventually led to the landmark law, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Under the law the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service protect and manage the herds in their jurisdictions.
The primary tool of managing the herds is the adoption program. BLM quotes that it has placed over 225,000 wild horses and burros in to private care since the inception of the program in 1971. Several options are available when adopting, such as public auction weekends held nationwide, adopting directly from a BLM holding site, or directly over the Internet. Most recently adoptions are being held through the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Extreme Mustang Makeover Events.
Adoption policies appear basic but actually are very strict. To adopt you must: be at least 18 years old, have no prior convictions for the inhumane treatment of animals, prove that you have adequate feed, water, and facilities to provide a safe environment for the animal, and provide a home within the United States. Additionally you must have at minimum a 20 X 20 ft. space with 6 ft. high heavy duty construction fencing for an adult animal over 4 years old and a minimum of 5 ft. high for a 3 year old or younger animal until gentled. The cost for adoption averages $125. The BLM also requires a stock trailer with a rear swinging gate when transporting your horse home. If you meet these requirements you can then complete the mail-in Adoption Application or the Internet Adoption Application.
After adoption and successfully caring for the animal for a minimum of one year, the federal government will send you a Title Eligibility Letter allowing you to apply for a permanent Certificate of Title, hence making the animal your private property. With all this in mind, my daughter and I packed up and headed towards the George H. Henderson, Jr. Exposition Center. The atmosphere was extremely subdued, with only a handful of vehicles in the parking lot and one simple sign hanging on the entrance gate. We found a small trailer with BLM employees, discussing the Mustang Makeover Project trainers, who handed me various pamphlets about the adoption process and then directed me to the holding pens. There were six pens in total, holding about 8 animals each. Two pens held burros of various ages, two pens had adult horses aged 2 to 6, and the final two pens contained yearling horses. All the animals were divided by sex. There were an amazing variety of body builds and colors in the pens; roans, duns, palominos, bays, and a few striking chestnuts among others.
Considering I treat my horses like divas, regularly grooming them more than myself, these looked pretty rough. They were all shaggy-coated with untrimmed hooves, and most had some serious snot circling their nostrils and muzzles. Needless to say, they looked like the last few weeks of their lives had been traumatic. But while the burros all kept to themselves, turned away from us, the horses all seemed kind and in good spirits. The older groups eyed us cautiously from the back of their pen with perked ears. The yearlings were even more curious. A small bay filly not only came to the fence, but stuck her nose through the bars in an attempt to
sniff my daughter’s hand. It was a beautiful little moment.
The organizers stated that less than a dozen animals had been adopted but “that’s still a good weekend.” My daughter, three-years-old and completely unhindered by political correctness, asked the man why the horses were here. The man replied the basics, “These are wild Mustangs and they need owners.” To which my daughter somberly replied, “But they are not wild any more, because they are in cages.”
And that sums up the conflict. The BLM’s website advertises ‘Adopt a Living Legend.’ They market the Mustangs as wild and free, iconic of the Wild West, and yet the adoption process that will save the horse will inherently take away its very essence. Adoption into a loving, lifetime home is ideal but one wonders if it will always be second best.