Home off the range

Saturday, August 9, 2003

About 100 horses were kept in a few corrals at Flickerwood Arena Friday.

Most of them were skittish around people, and all were a little rough around the edges from a lack of grooming. But they all have potential.

For many, that potential -- and a cheap price -- is worth the risk of adopting a wild horse.

The horses will all be auctioned off for adoption today at 9 a.m. as part of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, a federally funded effort to control wild horse and burro populations in Western states.

The program is run by the Bureau of Land Management, part of the U.S. Department of Interior.

About 50,000 wild horses are given federal protection in 10 western states, particularly Nevada, where the adoption program began in 1971, said Rebecca Chase of the BLM.

The horses reproduce at a 20 percent annual rate, meaning the federal government has about 10,000 horses every year to find new places for.

And there are all types of horses.

"It's basically a Heinz 57 mixture of everything you can imagine," Chase said.

Chase said most of the horses have bloodlines that date back to the Great Depression, when farmers who could no longer keep their horses let them loose. So what's up for adoption are the mutts of the horse world.

But the horses do have their upside, Chase added.

While they are afraid of people at first, they have a clean slate so they can be taught however the owner wants to teach them.

She said the horses are generally strong and do not get spooked easily because they have lived in the wild for so long.

"These horses are very smart," she said. "Once you gain their trust, they'll do whatever a person wants."

That may take some time, however. And space.

The BLM has a few restrictions that must be met before a horse can be adopted. Among them:

All adopters must have a corral at least 400 square feet in size with an attached shelter.

Fencing must be at least 6 feet high for horses and 5 feet high for burros or horses less than 18 months old.

A shelter at least 12 feet by 12 feet must be attached to the corral so the animal can move freely between the corral and shelter.

Another must-have for adopters is time.

That is something that Fred Leadbetter of Fruitland didn't think he had enough of to justify adoption. But he visited Flickerwood Friday to check out the animals anyway.

"I have horses," he said. "But with one of these, it would take a lot of patience. I know some people who have adopted and the horses are real smart horses. If I didn't work, I sure would try it, but it would take a lot of time to do something like this."

Lori Obermann of Chaffee said she is considering adoption today. She has three horses, none of them mustangs, and often goes on trail rides to take her mind off her daytime job -- the management of 96 apartments.

Adopting part of history

She grinned as one horse took a drink of water Friday.

"We're mainly looking at geldings," she said. "For one thing, geldings don't have to be cut, and mares can be ornery sometimes. We saw one gray gelding that we liked and a white one. We've researched the BLM and we realize they can't be trained overnight. But it's a chance to adopt part of America's history."

Chase said most of the horses are bought for less than $200. The auction will be held around 9:30 a.m., immediately following a meeting that begins at 9.

Any horse that is not bid on at the auction will remain open for adoption until 5 p.m. on Saturday and until noon on Sunday.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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