The 1971 U.S. Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act placed the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management in charge of managing large numbers of wild horses and burros. Running wild on public lands, many unclaimed wild horses and burros descended from those possessed by Spanish conquistadors, miners, ranchers, the U.S. cavalry and Native Americans.
Federal law defines a wild, free-roaming horse or burro as an unbranded, unclaimed
horse or burro on public lands. Wild horses usually form bands and can form herds numbering in the thousands; wild burros usually live alone or form small groups. These animals have almost no natural predators. Their populations can double every four years.
The BLM has programs in place to manage, protect and ensure the animals’ health on nearly 27 million acres of public lands across 10 western states. Its Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program is multifaceted and involves a network of permanent off-range corrals, plus annual off-site adoption events.
Since 1971, the BLM has placed more than 240,000 wild horses and burros into private care through the adoption program. That year, 25,000 animals lived on public lands, and Americans adopted 9,700 animals. In 2005, there were 5,700 adoptions. In 2016, there were 67,000 wild horses and burros on public lands, but only 2,912 adoptions. Because of the decrease in adoptions and funding issues, the BLM now removes only as many animals as can be adopted.
Increasing wild horse and burro populations can significantly strain water and land forage resources and permanently damage the land. As well, the animals end up with serious problems including starvation, dehydration, illness and injury. Because they will travel as far as 40 miles a day searching for food and water, they typically end up on private property or on roads and highways where they can cause car accidents.
The adoption program is welcome news for those interested in acquiring horses or burros. On average, the minimum base adoption fee for a wild, untrained horse or burro is $125. For mares or jennies (female burros) with unweaned foals, the base fee is $250.
Prior to adoption, the BLM vaccinates and deworms each animal. Each receives a permanent, painless freeze mark for identification, along with medical care from a veterinarian. As well, each animal comes with records of medical history.
You can find the adoption form here. Per the BLM website, potential adopters must:
- be 18 or older;
- meet all requirements, including regulations for access to shelter, food, water and facilities;
- set up an appointment or plan to visit an off-range corral or adoption event;
- complete the adoption application and mail or fax to the local BLM office, or take the document to the adoption event;
- arrive at the appointment or event during designated hours; and
- make arrangements for payment, as well as picking up the animal or going to a drop-off site to pick up the animal.
Whether you want to adopt one or a few animals, the program is worth considering. Many of the adoptees become pleasure, show and work animals.
The qualities of these horses and burros include sure-footedness, strength, intelligence and endurance, making them great additions to ranches and farms. Burros are ideal as driving, packing, riding, guarding and companion animals.
If you’re thinking big, the BLM might be your answer. A 4,000-acre Oklahoma spread, the Mowdy Ranch, adopted 153 horses in 2014 and created a BLM Ecotourism Wild Mustang Ranch. The horses live on 1,280 acres. The ranch’s endeavors include marathons, Western events and an event venue.
Besides adoption, the BLM partners with groups and people in big and small ways. According to Jason Lutterman, public affairs specialist with the program, the biggest partner currently is the Mustang Heritage Foundation, which helped place nearly 2,000 animals into good homes last year.
You can also volunteer by contacting a BLM office near you. Opportunities include helping with adoption events and mentoring new adopters.
In 2005, Ford Motor Co., in collaboration with the BLM and Take Pride in America, established the Save the Mustangs Fund. Donations can be mailed to: BLM, Save the Mustangs Fund, 1849 C Street, NW, Room 5273, Washington, D.C. 20240. Donations are tax deductible and should be made out to “Save the Mustangs Fund.”
For inquiries, contact a BLM office near you, visit the agency’s website or call (866) 468-7826.
This story originally appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Hobby Farms.