Saturday, November 18, 2017
Breaking News
Home » New West Network Topics » Travel & Outdoors » For Sale: The West’s Wild Horses
The Bureau of Land Management is holding adoptions for wild horses and burros June 24-25 in four Rocky Mountain states, following a June 18 sale in Rock Springs, Wyoming. The size, personality and usefulness of wild horses varies by region, Wheatland, Wyoming, rancher Steve Mantle says. Generally, they make excellent hunting or wilderness companions, or even roping horses on a busy ranch. “One I got comes from Colorado,” Mantle said, describing a stocky horse that stands 15 hands high. “I can heel on him. Can’t head on him. Start tons of colts on him. Probably the thing I’ve noticed the most about him is our north pasture, we raise about 300 head of prairie dogs. He will just hit a spot going right through that prairie dog town. He will not step in a hole.” Mantle has broken horses as a BLM contractor for 13 years. Together with his two sons and a summer hand, Mantle works with 60-90 new animals each year, and his ranch is home to 100-160 head at any given time. The ranch will host its Steve Mantle Annual Adoption on June 25.

For Sale: The West’s Wild Horses

“One I got comes from Colorado,” says Steve Mantle, describing a stocky horse that stands 15 hands high. “I can heel on him. Can’t head on him. Start tons of colts on him.”

Like Mantle, a rancher in Wheatland, Wyoming, you, too can own a wild horse. The Bureau of Land Management is holding adoptions for wild horses and burros June 24-25 in four Rocky Mountain states, following a June 18 sale in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

The size, personality and usefulness of wild horses varies by region, says Mantle. Generally, they make excellent hunting or wilderness companions, or even roping horses on a busy ranch.

“Probably the thing I’ve noticed the most about him is our north pasture, we raise about 300 head of prairie dogs. He will just hit a spot going right through that prairie dog town. He will not step in a hole.”

Mantle has broken horses as a BLM contractor for 13 years. Along with his two sons and a summer hand, Mantle works with 60 to 90 new animals each year, and his ranch is home to 100 to 160 head at any time. The ranch will host its Steve Mantle Annual Adoption on June 25.

Nationally, about 5,500 burros and 33,000 horses run wild on 33.7 million acres of rangeland, including 26.9 million managed by BLM in 10 states, according to official estimates. The sustainable population, however, is considered to be 26,600 and, according to the BLM, a healthy herd can double its size in as few as four years. Nevada is home to the most horses, estimated at 17,710, and the second-highest number of burros at 1,347. (Arizona has the highest wild burro population.) On top of that, another 41,000 wild horses are already being held in captivity. Roughly one-fourth of those are in corrals; the rest have been moved to pastures in the Midwest. Holding costs account for more than half of the agency’s total $63.9 million program budget.

In addition, the land reserved for wild horses has shrunk by 20.1 million acres in the past 40 years. The BLM says the reasons for the shrinkage range from lack of landowner cooperation to parcels that have been transferred to other agencies, such as the Forest Service or Park Service. Land management areas that do not provide access to water cannot be used for horses. Some areas posed disease risk or were considered poor habitat, and other sections were already home to domestic animals. Federal orders from courts and other agencies removing land from the BLM’s purview have also had an impact.

But selling off icons of the American West for profit doesn’t sit well with animal rights supporters, who say the practice is cruel and violates the intent of 1970s legislation implemented to protect wild horses and burros. For example, a May 20 statement from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which argued Western ranges should be capable of supporting as many as 2 million horses, insisted that BLM roundups cater to ranching interests at the expense of wildlife. It’s all about the beef market, PETA says, because the wild horses compete with ranchers’ animals for grazing.

“It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, I can guarantee you that,” Mantle said. Breaking mustangs provides a living for his family, but he’s also locked into a five-year contract that he bid on when diesel was $1.85 a gallon. Now his fuel costs are twice what he expected when he hauls or cuts hay, hauls horses or travels to fairs and shows.

On average, wild horses sell for much less than they are worth these days. At the Wyoming State Fair last year, Mantle saw horses going for an average of $860. Considering the investment of gentling time and associated expenses, though, each animal should be worth at least $2,700. He points to the crash of the horse market two years ago as explanation, saying no horse is going for full value right now. In the Western states, the recession forced too many people to decide they could no longer afford to care for their animals, and the horse market flooded. That caused the going price of horses to plummet and stimulated regional attempts to implement slaughter programs.

Mantle doesn’t think contractors like himself are perpetuating the problem, however. He views his typical clientele as distinct from the buyers at prominent sales and shows — older, lower income, impulsive, and disproportionately female. Most of his clients are women in their mid-40s to mid-50s, no longer distracted by career pressures or young children at home, who have a little extra money and a renewed interest in riding.

Horse adoptions he handles are unlike major sales where knowledgeable buyers tend to have a specific task in mind and come knowing precisely the type of animal they want.

“I don’t know of anyone who’s ever gotten a horse from a noted sale, who, in 90 to 120 days goes, ‘I guess I don’t really want this horse anymore,’” Mantle says. “I have a different clientele. A lot of adoptions based on pure emotion, especially back East. They want a piece of the wild, wild West. A mustang represents that to them.”

That romance-driven decision process can pose difficulties for adopters once the novelty wears off and the reality of caretaking sets in. Legally, the BLM still owns an adopted horse for the entire first year, Mantle says. During that time, the animal is “untitled.” It may be repossessed in cases of abuse, neglect or illegal use. Adopters who run into serious issues may return their animals, but frequently the problems can be solved with patience. Mantle runs periodic training clinics for adopters to help them get used to their animals and learn to handle them properly. He said he’s never personally had to take back an abused animal, but he does get returns for financial reasons, usually divorce or job loss.

Adoptions are strictly regulated, and bidders must be 18 or older with no previous record of animal abuses. Untitled horses cannot be sold for slaughter or used as rough stock. Corrals must be a minimum 20 feet by 20 feet, with no barbed wire or electric fences. The animals must be provided shelter appropriate for the local climate, and death of any animal within the first week has to be investigated by a vet.

A four-horse limit on untitled animals on the same property within a 12-month time frame helps discourage “killer buyers” seeking inexpensive horses for slaughter, Mantle says.

“It’s not worth it to them,” he said. But somebody will always find a way around the rules, Mantle cautions. “It doesn’t always work and never will. It’s like hackers on the Internet.” The limit is not absolute, either. Camps and nonprofits, for example, may be able to apply for more horses, but the process is subjected to much deeper scrutiny, including actual site visits to confirm legitimacy.

Kate Schwab is an intern at New West.

About Kate Schwab

Check Also

One Big Sky Center

Hammes Company Joins One Big Sky Center Venture in Billings

Billings, Montana is moving ahead with discussions on the One Big Sky Center proposal, which ...

2 comments

  1. It may just be that the BLM intends to take full advantage of the EHV-1 situation. They have been trying for years to find some “legal” way to dispose of as many wild horses as possible. Dozens of scheduled horse shows, sales and activities have been cancelled because of the outbreak, but why won’t the BLM postpone their plans???? This could potentially wipe out most of the wild horses in the west. Is there nothing to be done to stop the roundup?

  2. Marybeth Devlin

    Yes, BLM might very well try to exploit the equine herpesvirus outbreak. Just as soon as the first mustang came down with EHV-1, BLM could over-react — euthanizing en masse, “protecting” the herds by killing them. EHV-1 could, as you say, give BLM “legal” cover to wipe out the mustangs. Why else would the agency behave so recklessly and irresponsibly — planning roundups and other events that could introduce and spread the virus to both wild and domesticated horses?

    BLM must not be allowed to endanger the lives of any horses, wild or otherwise. BLM must not be allowed to jeopardize the livelihoods of persons employed in the horse industry sector. The “Oklahoma Horizon” program cited the economic impact of the equine-related business sector in the United States as $112 billion.

    BLM probably won’t behave responsibly, so the agency will need to be required to comply. I will contact BLM (again, for what it’s worth) and implore it, my senators, representative, and the President to intervene and stop mustang roundups and related public events. I have faith that the various horse advocacy organizations will soon target the issue.