The Bureau of Land
Management held a wild horse and burro adoption in Sedalia in
late June. Five burros and 46 horses were adopted during the
event, and three horses were placed into foster homes until adopters
With her tiny
right arm outstretched to its limit, a young girl reaches through
the fence and offers a fistful of hay to the 3-year-old chestnut
colt inside the temporary corral. The colt warily
The girl stretches
farther, leaning in until her right cheek presses against the fence’s
cold metal tubing. Again, despite his hunger, the colt takes another
Eight months ago,
the colt roamed free on federal rangeland in Nevada. Today, he stands
with 60 other mustangs at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia
awaiting adoption through the Bureau of Land Management’s
Wild Horse and Burro Program.
of people, the colt isn’t willing to let anyone
near him. Earning that first touch, and the trust and respect
it requires, takes time, patience and humor, says Tiffiney Smith
awesome to get that first touch,” says
Smith, who has adopted 14 horses and burros since 1998. “Once
you develop that trust and relationship, it’s amazing what
allow you to do. You can do anything with a mustang that
you can do with a domestic horse.”
As much a symbol
of the West as bison or pronghorn antelope, the wild mustang is emblematic
of American spirit and unbridled determination. Today, about
29,000 wild horses and burros roam on federal land in 10 Western
states. However, until
the mid-20th century, wild horses and burros were indiscriminately
slaughtered for commercial purposes.
prospective adopter writes down a horse's number before the
Sedalia adoption began. Horses and burros at the event were
adopted for as little as $25 and for more than $400.
had no protections, but then a lady from Nevada named Velma Johnston,
known as ‘Wild Horse
Annie,’ organized the schoolchildren of America
in a letter-writing campaign to Congress,” says
Bill Davenport, BLM public affairs specialist.
a direct result of that campaign, the Wild Free-Roaming
Horses and Burros Act of 1971 was passed.”
mustangs began to thrive under federal protection.
But now they faced a new threat — themselves.
no hunting pressure and few predators, the mustangs
risked depleting their food and water resources.
Instead of dying at the hands of a commercial hunter,
starvation or dehydration were now the mustangs’ enemies.
wanted to ensure that these wild horses are around for our children
and grandchildren to enjoy,” Davenport says. “So
the BLM started the wild horse and burro program
in 1973 with the idea of maintaining the integrity of the herds.”
keep up with a reproduction rate that would double the wild horse
herd about every five years, the BLM gathers up a few thousand
horses and burros from federal lands in Western states each year.
Most of these animals are then shipped to the East
“We run between
20 to 30 adoptions per year in the 31 states that are east of or
adjoining the Mississippi River,” says
Davenport, who is originally from Kirksville, but who now lives in
move them around each year trying to give
folks an opportunity to adopt these animals.”
|Even when placed in a corral, the mustang's desire
to run never waivers.
Since the BLM
program began, more than 216,000 wild horses and burros have been
adopted nationwide. According to Davenport, Missourians have adopted
more than 6,000 horses and burros, including the
14 that Smith has adopted.
Having just spent
the summer working with horses on a ranch in Colorado, Smith’s
interest in mustangs already was piqued when she saw an advertisement
for a BLM auction scheduled at the nearby Flickerwood Arena in Jackson
didn’t know what kind of addiction
they would start that day,” she recalls. “We only had
two other horses on the farm at the time, so we adopted two mustangs,
Miss Chips and Miss Willow. Once I learned how to hook up the truck
and trailer, (more mustangs) just started showing up.”
she’d had horses since she was 4 years old, learning
to work with her mustangs required
an entirely different training style.
cowboy methods that use fear and domination to train horses don’t
work with mustangs,” she explains. “That’s
how you ruin a mustang. You’ve
got to work with trust and build
a bond with a horse.”
such a bond requires time and
lots of it. From the day Smith brings
a mustang to the family farm,
she spends hours in the corral simply
talking to the horse, allowing it to
become comfortable with her and her
voice. Once the mustang allows that
first touch to happen, then Smith begins
exposing the horse to many stimuli,
from washing and brushing to new people
As a special education
teacher at Jackson’s South Elementary
School, Smith has found many
similarities between training mustangs and teaching. Just as a teacher must
employ different teaching styles to accommodate different learning styles,
a mustang trainer must be willing to try different techniques depending on
Tiffiney Smith adopted Elvis. A larger-than-average mustang,
Elvis exhibits the influence of draft horse genetics, but wild
horses descended from many breeds, including Thoroughbred race
horses and those turned out by Spanish conquistadors and the U.S.
is unique to each horse,” Smith says. “You
have to become an observer
and watch and listen to the horse’s
behavior. With Miss Chips,
it was quite the learning experience. She was very forgiving of my mistakes.”
says that even if you don’t plan to ride your mustang,
it’s important that
it be tame enough to be
led with a halter.
needs to be safe for your
vet and your farrier to
work on your horse,” she
While the majority of
wild horses are used
for recreational riding,
they are capable of much
more, Davenport says. “When folks are
willing to work with
them and train them, wild horses have excelled at just about any equine
discipline you care to name — dressage,
racing, endurance riding, even trick riding.”
Many people prefer
mustangs over domestic horses because
of their inherent toughness.
Genetic disorders and conditions
that have been bred into domestic
breeds don’t occur in mustangs.
|The BLM uses freeze marking to identify individual wild horses
and burros. The permanent, unalterable mark is placed on the left
side of the animal's neck.
breeds horses for one reason and one reason only, and that’s
says. “She doesn’t
make great big animals
when there’s not very much food, so these
wild horses typically
are about 15 hands tall, which is perfect trail-riding size. You’re
not ducking the branches or dragging your feet on the ground.
horses also are extremely strong. Their bones are a little bit larger,
their muscles are thicker and their hooves are like iron. And, they’ll
keep going when everybody else is ready to quit.”
that her mustangs don’t get sick as often, and they
are more sure-footed
than her domestic horses.
In addition to
adopting 14 wild
horses and burros,
Smith also has fostered
five other animals, which
she has brought to her
farm for shorter stays while she finds them homes. She says working with the
foster mustangs gives her a chance to feel the bonding experience that is such
a part of owning a wild horse.
fee for a wild
horse or burro
is $125, but an older animal
can be adopted for as little
as $25. Davenport says using
the auction format sometimes
means that animals with unique
characteristics go for much more
of wild horses are bay or sorrel, but a couple years ago
we had a blue roan, a horse with a blue cast to it,” he
being a burro, Buddy can be as stubborn as a Missouri mule.
He's the patron of Smith's "Band of Burros," which
also includes Daisy, Ellie and Noelle.
horse or burro,
you must meet
a set of adoption
minimum facility requirements
for fences, shelter and square
footage. Once approved, adopters
must care for their animals for
one year before they can apply
for title on the animal.
28,500 wild horses and burros are fed and cared for at short-term
and long-term BLM holding facilities at a cost of nearly $20 million
a year. While removing these horses ensures the viability of wild
horse herds in the West, it also demonstrates a large need for more
“You just have to look past the cuts, the scrapes,
the scars,” Smith
For more information on the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, call
1-866-4MUSTANGS or visit www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov. The BLM Eastern
States Wild Horse and Burro Facility at Ewing, Ill., is open six days
a week for walk-up adoptions. Call 1-800-370-3936 for directions and