Volunteers from around the region who have adopted wild horses, or mustangs, showed off their animals' abilities Saturday during an adoption event sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management at Flickerwood Arena in Jackson.
"We want to show people these are usable animals," said Walt Gentry of Mount Vernon, Ill. "These horses will do anything you ask them to."
Gentry and his wife, Melody, adopted their first wild horse in 1991 and since then have adopted more than 30 wild horses through the Bureau of Land Management's program.
"I used to raise quarter horses, but my first mustang put me out of the quarter horse business," Gentry said.
He uses his wild horses in Civil War re-enactments, endurance ride competitions and for herding cattle.
"They won't even move when a cannon goes off," Gentry said.
Gentry said wild horses are healthier than domestic breeds and that most don't require shoes.
Shari Smith of Irondale, Mo., has trained her wild horses for vaulting, a kind of gymnastics on horseback. They are also trained in dressage, sometimes called horse ballet, made famous by the Lipizzaner Stallions.
Wild horses are good for trail riding because their survival instincts help them think their way out of dangerous situations, said volunteer Chris Jamison of Lamonte, Mo.
"There's a different bond you build with a mustang," Jamison said. "You have to earn their trust."
The Bureau of Land Management sponsors about 50 adoption events each year for wild horses collected from herds on federal lands in 10 Western states. The last one in Southeast Missouri was at Flickerwood in 2006.
"People like that they've never been handled. They're like a blank slate. They're not going to have any bad habits. They'll only learn the habits the adopter teachers them," said Randy Anderson, wild horse and burrow specialist with the Bureau of Land Management.
Of the 45 wild horses available at Flickerwood on Saturday 22 were adopted, Anderson said.
While the fees for adopting wild horses are low compared to buying domestic horse breeds, adoptions have declined in recent years because of the economy, Anderson said.
The fee to adopt a wild horse younger than 3 years old is $125; for horses older than 3 it's $25.
"The adoption fee is the inexpensive part," Anderson said. "Horses are a luxury, and they get expensive with vet bills, feed bills and farrier fees."
To qualify for wild horse adoption people must meet space, shelter and trailer requirements and not have a history of animal neglect.
People adopting wild horses are considered caretakers for one year, during which time the animal and its environment are inspected. After one year, the adoptee can apply for a title for the horse from the U.S. government.
The wild horses up for adoption by the Bureau of Land Management are removed from federal lands in an effort to control the population of herds, which double in size every four years, Anderson said.
"If we didn't do something to take them off the range, there wouldn't be enough grazing land or water for them. We do it to avoid starvation."
In addition to wild horse adoption events held across the country, people may also view and adopt wild horses online at www.adoptahorse.blm.gov.
Several of the horses at Flickerwood on Saturday had already been adopted online and were waiting for their new caretakers to pick them up.
3019 Larch Lane, Jackson, MO