Mustangs Overpopulated in Wild Need Homes

Adopting a wild horse is a dream of many small-scale farmers but is not a decision to be taken lightly. Keep these thoughts in mind before making an adoption decision.

by Dani Yokhna
Woman in a cowboy hat and pink shirt rides a brown Mustang horse on a desert trail
Courtesy Jennifer K.Hancock/ Mustang Heritage Foundation
Jennifer Earnest of Silt, Colo., rides a Mustang named Claude at the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Navajo Nation Extreme Mustang Makeover in Tsaile, Ariz.

As of February 2011, approximately 33,000 wild horses were living on rangelands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in 10 western states—the ideal management number for this land is 26,600. Add this to the additional horses at BLM holding facilities, and you can see a critical need to place these horses in new homes.

Since 1971, the BLM has adopted out more than 225,000 American Mustangs and burros, according to statistics provided on its website. People cite numerous reasons for wanting to adopt a Mustang through the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Program, such as owning a piece of American history, providing a home for a horse in need and forging a bond with an undomesticated animal.

Mustang can give its new owner all of this and more, granted the match between horse and owner is a good one. Because many Mustangs adopted through BLM programs have never made contact with humans, hobby farmers need to think critically about horse adoption before following through with a decision. Here are some pros and cons to consider regarding Mustang ownership:

  • “[Mustangs] are extremely intelligent because they have had to survive in the wild,” says Davida Carnahan, BLM’s public affairs specialist. “They have very strong legs because of the terrain. They’re very sure-footed.”
  • “Anyone who loves horses, lives in the U.S. and has the proper facilities can adopt an American Mustang, but prior horse experience is also important. Mustangs are very intelligent horses, and inexperienced adopters are more suited to finished horses,” says Jennifer Hancock, marketing director for the Mustang Heritage Foundation, an organization that facilitates Mustang adoptions.
  • Training wild Mustangs takes extra time and patience. “They are quick studies if you have first laid the foundation for mutual trust,” Carnahan says. The MHF has programs that help connect adopters with trainers who have experience working with Mustangs through the Extreme Mustang Makeover events and the Trainer Incentive Program.
  • “I’m told [Mustangs] are extremely loyal,” Carnahan says. “Some of our adopters tell us they have relationships with their horses that they have not had with a domestic horse.”
  • Safely keeping a wild Mustang on your farm is different than keeping a domesticated horse, so your facilities need to be considered. “The [BLM facility] requirements are slightly more relaxed for gentled Mustangs versus wild Mustangs. The requirements are designed for the safety of the Mustangs,” Hancock says. According to the BLM website, Mustangs require a facility with a minimum of 400 square feet of space enclosed with a fence at least 6 feet high, constructed of heavy-duty poles, pipes, planks or small-net woven wire. The Mustang also needs a shelter that has at least two sides and a roof.

Hobby farmers who would like to adopt a wild Mustang from the BLM, must submit an application so the agency can ensure a good owner/horse match. The BLM will review facilities for keeping your new horse and your ability to humanely care for it. One year after adoption, the BLM checks in again to see if things are going well before turning over ownership papers.

If you go through with the decision to adopt a Mustang for your hobby farm, it’s comforting to know you’re not alone in dealing with special challenges of owning a once-wild horse. “There are many people in the Mustang community ready and willing to help new adopters,” Hancock says.


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