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White: Take a step on the wild side and adopt a Mustang

Submitted photos##Mahima White teaching her Mustang, Apollo, adopted at 11 months old, to lie down, above, and cross a stream, below. Apollo is now 5.
Submitted photos##Mahima White teaching her Mustang, Apollo, adopted at 11 months old, to lie down, above, and cross a stream, below. Apollo is now 5.

Wild horses and burros are America’s Western icon, and they are currently filling federal holding corrals by the thousands.

These holding corrals have been operated and maintained by the federal Bureau of Land Management since 1971, when Congress passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. The act authorized protection of these animals and public adoption of them from holding corrals.

The horses, commonly known under the breed name Mustang, are rounded up in groups during what is know as “herd gathers.” The same is true of the burros.

They are removed from tracts of natural range when it reaches its maximum carrying capacity.

When herds grow large, they degrade the quality of the vegetation, diminish the availability of water and reduce the overall health of the population. Carrying capacities are established for various habitat based on how many individuals its resources can sustainably support.

Between the grazing of horses and other ungulates, resources are scarce on the dry rangelands of the West.

Wild horses and burros are protected from lethal population control under the act, so the federal government opted to herd excess animals into holding corrals. There, they receive quality food and care until they can be adopted out.

This is an ideal temporary solution for wild horse and burro population control. But the cost of care is becoming an increasing burden.

In March 2020, the BLM estimated 95,000 wild horses and burros were running free on public lands and 50,000 were awaiting adoption in off-range corrals across the country.

In effort to reduce the number being retained in corrals, horse trainers from all over have agreed to adopt animals, gentle them to various levels and place them in forever homes.

This is where people like me come into play.

I was raised with domestic horses in my barn. But I didn’t stumble into the uniqueness of wild horses until six years ago.

Since then, I have worked with many Mustangs — a name derived from the Spanish “mesteño” or “monstenco” for wild or stray. And I have made a dedicated effort to inform those around me of the exceptional nature that defines these creatures.

The notion of giving these animals a better life, a life outside of federal holding pens, resonates with me.

The Mustangs I adopt from BLM corrals are completely wild. The process of gaining their trust takes time, but with patience and understanding, a special bond gradually develops.

This process is rewarding, but it can also be challenging. It is defined by successes and failures that develop one’s horsemanship and identify ways each animal is unique.

Each horse and burro has its own physical attributes, disposition and identifying marking — a freeze mark brand on the left side of the neck.

The brand starts with a symbol representing “U,” which stands for the U.S. government, followed by symbols for the last two digits of the year the animal was born. Next come symbols for the six digits of the animal’s unique registration number.

A guide called the Alpha Angle Symbol Key is used to decipher the symbols. Most Mustang and burro owners love showing off their animal’s freeze mark brand, as a way of sharing with others that their animal was once wild but is now a very treasured individual.

I have a Mustang of my own named Apollo that I adopted when he was 11 months old. He is a 5-year-old gelding from Fallon, Nevada.

I have raised Apollo with careful training and copious amounts of love, and he has turned into an exceptional ambassador for the  breed. He won the Wyoming Mustang Association’s Mustang Ambassador of the Year award in 2021.

Apollo represents the breed both through his many accomplishments and through his distinctive personality. In fact, he  might just be the smartest horse I have ever met.

He is always looking for another horse to play with or some task to perform. His brain is always engaged.

When a task is presented to him, he gives it his full focus and executes it to the best of his ability. His ambition is symbolic of the boundless heart and soul of Mustangs, which is what makes them so special to their owners.

Though there are still thousands of Mustangs and burros in BLM facilities, organizations such as the Mustang Heritage Foundation make it possible for trainers to host incentive program adoption events. That way, hundreds of animals can be placed in a matter of  months.

An option for horse people who don’t want to participate in an adoption event is to adopt directly from a BLM corral. In either case, the fee for placement in a BLM-approved home is $125.

The Mustang or burro will remain under government ownership for one year to ensure the animal is being properly cared for. At that point, the BLM issues a title application to the adopter, the adopter submits the application and a title is mailed out within a few months.

The moral of the story is this: Mustangs are special. They are finally getting their time in the spotlight, and it’s well-deserved.

The next time you ponder life with a horse, take a step on the wild wide and adopt a Mustang.

Guest writer Mahima White is a 23-year resident of Yamhill County and an active member of the local agricultural community. She parlayed a B.S. in fisheries and wildlife sciences from Oregon State University into a successful career as a fisheries biologist. Having grown up with horses, she has developed a special passion for wild horses and burros, and for spreading awareness of their threatened plight in our country today. 

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