by: Amy Dumas
In 1971, after the largest letter-writing campaign at the time, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The Act offered protection from branding, harassment, and capture to wild horses and burros living on Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service lands in ten western United States. The Act also designated the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture with the responsibility to manage the herds within provided guidelines.
One of the duties assigned was to adopt the animals removed from the range to the public. The first adoptions started in 1984 and have continued through today. As the program grew, Congress granted the managing agencies the option to sell wild horses and burros in addition to adopting. Some confusion might exist in the public’s eye about what exactly the difference is between sales and adoption. We hope to clarify the issue.
The public has the privilege to adopt a wild horse or burro from the BLM. When you adopt, you are basically fostering the animal for a year to ensure that you are able to properly care for the horse or burro. The BLM wants to make sure that the animal has a good home and that you are happy with the animal. It also means that if for any reason, the animal is not working out, that you can return the animal to the BLM. We are aware that people’s lives can change, that the horse might not be a good match, or for whatever other reason and we can accommodate that by taking the animal back. However, after you receive certificate of title, which conveys ownership of the animal from the BLM to the adopter, the BLM can no longer take the animal. You could think of it as a one-year trial with the horse or burro, which is a pretty good deal for both you and the animal.
Adoption also comes with requirements which are there to ensure the animals’ safety as they transition to domestic life. The BLM requires a proper facility to ensure the animals’ safety. Adult animals require a strong fence at least six feet tall. Many people question this requirement. Keep in mind that a wild adult horse, fresh out of the corrals, may try to jump out of its enclosure if it gets spooked. Should a horse escape, then it is up to the adopter to retrieve the animal. Horses 18 months or younger require five foot tall fences, and burros four and a half feet tall fences. The fence needs to be made of strong and visible materials, such as pipe, boards, or standard prefabricated panels. Materials like electric fence or barbed or high-tensile wire are prohibited in the containment area. The purpose of the fence is to keep the animal safely enclosed until it is gentled, and at least halter trained, regardless of the height of the fence or age of the animal.
Each animal requires a minimum of 400 square feet, until it is gentled. Once it is gentled, we hope that the adopters will take the animals out of the corrals. We do not expect animals to spend the rest of their lives living in a 20 foot by 20 foot enclosure. Conversely, turning an animal in too large an area at first will make gentling the animal more difficult, or impossible.
As these animals still belong to the government for the first year, the BLM needs to know where the animals are located. Therefore, should you opt to take your horse to a trainer for more than 30 days, you should let the BLM know.
At the end of a year, adopters get an application for title which needs to be signed by a veterinarian, farrier, BLM representative or volunteer, and mailed back to BLM. Upon receipt of a certificate of title, the animal is considered private property and no longer is under BLM protection. If adoption does not suit your needs you can opt to purchase an animal.
If you are interested in training an animal with the intent of finding it a good home after you have trained it and perhaps make a little money, then a sale animal might be a better option for you. These animals are sold in a more traditional sense in that once you purchase the animal, it becomes your private property. The BLM does have an intent clause that states that you have no intention of selling the animal for commercial processing. Should the BLM learn that a purchaser of animals is selling the animals against the intent clause, the BLM may prosecute the person or cease any further business relationship with the person. BLM managers may deny people who do not intend to provide sale animals good homes.
On December 8, 2004, the Department of the Interior Fiscal_Year 2005 Omnibus Appropriation Act (PL 108-447, Division E, Title 1, Section 142) amended the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (Public Law 92-195) and directed the sale of wild horses and burros that meet specific criteria. Congress directed that animals older than 10 years old or have been to three adoptions are eligible to be sold. While sale-eligible animals may also be adopted, animals that meet the sales criteria must be made available for purchase. Animals become “sale-eligible” because of their age or the number of times offered unsuccessfully for adoption at adoption events, regardless of age.
All sale-eligible animals will be freeze marked with a three-inch U symbol on the left side of the neck when they are sold. In recent years the sales program has received a lot of public scrutiny. New policy was developed to provide additional assurances that animals will not be processed into commercial products. To read the sale policy in its entirety, please visit https://www.blm.gov/policy/im-2014-132.
Gentling and training a wild horse or burro is a very rewarding experience. It can be challenging, frustrating, exhilarating, or amazing, but you will most likely become a better horseperson, if you are willing to learn. Please visit www.blm.gov/whb or call 866-468-7826 for more information on how to adopt or purchase one of America’s treasured animals.