Eeek! Friday at midnight I was informed there was a BLM Wild Horse, Mustang Adoption Event that weekend 8am – 7pm at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds near Tampa, two hours south of where I am in Ocala. On checking the details, turns out it was Friday and Saturday! So I got myself to sleep and headed out in the am. Luckily things were still happening when I got there about 11 the next morning.
People were enthusiastically perusing the pens full of burros and young mustangs. 120* wild horses and donkeys had been shipped in from the Piney Woods Wild Horse and Burro Facility in central Mississippi. There were yearlings, many excellent young mares and geldings, and also sale authority horses, those which can be bought directly, for a pittance, usually because they are considered harder to adopt. These are either older horses, or those which have “three strikes,” that is they have been passed over three times for adoption or returned. Perfectly good horses are often passed over simply because they don’t have “color.” That is they are sorrels
or bays and not the fancy paints and palominos. “Adopting” a horse means that you agree to care for it according to the BLM guidelines and if the requirements are met, after a year you can get the horse “titled,” meaning you are now the official owner and BLM transfers title of that horse to you. That title then needs to be officially transferred if the horse is sold, and stays with the horse for life. You can find lots of information about adopting a wild horse or burro here .
I met two excellent TIP trainers who work with the BLM and the Mustang Heritage Foundation to gentle horses for adoption. TIP stands for Trainer Incentive Program. The agreement with the TIP trainers is that within 90 days the horse be able to be caught, haltered, led, trailer loaded and have all it’s feet picked up and handled.
Trainer Luzette Kincaid Musen, who has also done numerous trainings with Buck Brannaman, the subject of the film, “Buck,” did round pen demonstrations with two horses that she had trained, Webster and Elam. She had a rapt audience. TIP trainer Ashley Rose, an excellent trainer also very involved in the program took home some eleven horses that will be TIP trained for their new adopters. For more information about the Mustang Heritage Foundation Tip program click here.
The event attracted a variety of folks with different expectations from wanting donkeys as pasture ornaments to prospects for their next mustang makeover. Many people were just curious about how it all works. Petra Hofmann-Scarborough and her ambassador burro, Einstein were on hand. She adopted him at an event last year and he charmed everyone.
I am always impressed with the BLM staff. Every single person I have met, and there have been many, are super personable, genuinely care about and work their butts off for these horses. It was a pleasure meeting Dan Russell, the adoption program specialist with a huge territory, and wrangler Kerry Frost (gotta love someone named Kerry) as well as the rest of the staff and wonderful volunteers.
The events are generally held at a fairground that has the necessary holding pens and chutes for loading. These are still wild horses and burros, basically never handled and still sporting their identification neck tags. After the paperwork is done and fees paid, people back their trailers up to the chutes and a wrangler like Kerry Frost will move the particular horse(s) out of their pen and into the chutes. Then they remove the tag and attempt to halter the horse for the first time. The doors of the chute on the trailer end are opened and with any luck the horse moves into the trailer. Sometimes it goes well… and occasionally not so much. Either way, these are super experienced handlers and they get the job done. The horses and burros get loaded and then are off to their new lives.
There were two special people at this event, Carlina and Hernan Velez. I eavesdropped on them as they asked Luzette about Webster and Elam, her TIP horses. First time horse folks, they had lots of questions. They were serious, but not fully prepared. I had a chance to talk with Carlina and asked who’s idea it was to adopt mustangs? She told me it was all Hernan’s idea. He had recently seen a demonstration of horses working with autistic children and became obsessed. When he heard about the adoption event on the radio it was all over but the cryin’. They already have chickens and other small animals, but this is a big step. Not only are they green horns, but their property doesn’t yet have the necessary facilities required by the BLM. In order to adopt a BLM mustang one must have, among other things, a minimum 20’ x 20’ enclosure with 6’ steel panels or board fence, boards fastened on the inside and a roofed shelter, with at least two sides against prevailing winds. If you are interested in the complete requirements click here.
I loved this couple because they were devoid of arrogance and hungry to learn. You can’t man handle mustangs. Having lived by their wits, they’re quicker and cagier than domestics. One or both parties will get hurt. Earlier a young Appaloosa that was a real nice mover had caught my eye. He was a three strikes horse that had been returned. Because the humans who initially adopted him over estimated their ability, they failed him. They let him learn and reinforced some dangerous behavior, including striking out. Fortunately someone here with more experience is willing to try and rehabilitate him.
Carlina and Hernan worked out a two month boarding agreement with Luzette while they get their compliance in place, which also gives them time to work on their horsemanship skills with an experienced trainer. They knew that they didn’t know, and weren’t afraid to ask for help. A bunch of paperwork later they were in the round pen getting their first lessons with Winston and Elam, who no doubt, will give them the education of their lives. You can see the joy in their smiles and I have high hopes for all four of them.
It was considered a successful weekend. 34 animals were adopted, 16 fostered and 30 sale authority animals were bought for a total of 81 out of 120. Still, almost 40 animals, all fine horses and burros, were passed over and will return to holding, having used up one of their three chances. Fingers crossed they will get another chance.
*Got corrected numbers on the event results:
Adopted Horses 19
Adopted Burros 3
Sale Burros 29
Sale Horses 7
TIP Horses 14
Platero Burros 3
Returned to Piney Woods 34 – Not bad.
Click on photos for full size images.