Kristen Fontaine, Wild Horse and Burro Specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, gentles a mustang.

Last chance for mustangs? Wild horses come to Swanzey


Submitted 4 months ago

The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will hold a wild horse and burro adoption event at Cheshire Fairgrounds, 247 Monadnock Highway, Swanzey, New Hampshire, on Friday, Aug. 24 and Saturday the 25th. 

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Wild horses, also known as mustangs, run free on federal lands in the West. To keep their population under control, BLM agents periodically remove the mustangs from the range and offer them to the public via adoption events. 

“The mustangs come in all different colors and shapes,” said Martha Malik of the BLM. “Most often, you can gentle the animals yourself. We have an experienced trainer there who will show you how to gentle them over the two days of the event.” 

The adoption fee for horses at these events is $125, although potential adopters can bid an individual animal’s price higher. 

Horses at adoption events are generally three years old and younger, with males being gelded (neutered) but mares intact and often pregnant. 

To adopt a wild horse, the buyer must be able to house the horse appropriately, with wooden or pipe fencing (not electric or wire) and adequate space according to BLM guidelines. The agency also requires animals be transported in a stock-type, step up trailer. Adopters take possession of the horses the day of the event, but must provide proof of adequate care from a veterinarian or farrier before the animal becomes officially theirs, usually within a year. 

“When people bring home a mustang, they are adopting a piece of American history,” said Malik. The horses are descendants of horses brought by settlers and Spanish explorers, mixed with escaped or abandoned farm horses and the occasional Army equine added to improve the wild herds. 

Federally protected since the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act  of 1971, America’s wild horses and their occupation of range lands have long been fought over by cattle ranchers, environmentalists, and horse lovers. The BLM removes wild horses and burros from federal lands, but is prohibited by Congress from using public money to slaughter them or selling them to meat buyers. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is currently proposing changes to the BLM budget that would allow the agency to do so. The BLM’s proposed budget for 2019 would reduce the numbers of wild horses on the range to 27,000 from current numbers – around 67,000. It would also allow the agency to sell to commercial buyers the 45,000 wild horses in its long-term holding facilities. 

Adoption events offer a few thousand of these animals a chance to become useful, cared-for domestic mounts. Horses that fail to be adopted after three events can disappear into long-term holding facilities, out of the public eye.

Wild horse advocates have launched a number of high-profile initiatives to bring the horses’ talents and capabilities to public attention, and people in the BLM itself are working to increase the number of adoptions. Some initiatives aim to increase the horses’ chances of being adopted by providing trainers incentives to tame and train them. 

The Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge, the basis of the documentary “Wild Horse Wild Ride” released in 2012, challenges horse trainers to humanely gentle and train the animals within a 90-day period. The horses are then offered for sale in a public bidding process.  

“Unbranded,” another documentary released in 2015, follows four young men riding mustangs from Mexico to Canada in an effort to highlight the toughness and talents of the wild horses. 

Peter Whitmore, of It’s A Pleasure farm in Orange, Massachusetts, will be the trainer at the Swanzey event. Whitmore has trained three mustangs for the Extreme Mustang Challenge and is a member of the Trainer Incentive Program, which encourages trainers to work with mustangs and then offer the trained horses for sale.

Also on the 25th, there will be a Youth Mustang Challenge giving young trainers (up to age 18) a chance to prepare a mustang for domestic horse life.

Yearling and burros may not always be available at the event, as this group of animals is traveling from previous adoption events and it’s not known how many have been sold yet. 

Wild horses are known for their sure-footedness, strength, intelligence and endurance. With kindness and patience, these animals can be trained for many uses. 

All animals available have been examined by a veterinarian, vaccinated, de-wormed, and blood-tested.

Potential adopters can come to the facility Friday, from 1 p.m. - 6 p.m. and Saturday, from 8 a.m. - noon and 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.  Applicants may submit applications at the site until the close of the event on Saturday. 

For more information about selecting one of America’s Living Legends, call (866) 4MUSTANGS (866-468-7826) or visit blm.gov.WHB.

-- GLYNIS HART

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