Mustangs have long been seen as symbols of the West. With their strong personalities and impressive endurance, these wild horses perfectly capture the independent and raw spirit associated with the New Mexico territories and beyond.
The public had the chance to own one of these symbolic creatures themselves this weekend at an auction held by the Bureau of Land and Management at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds in Tonganoxie. Thirty-two mustangs and four burros were available for adoption for the low price of $125 each.
The low adoption fee served as an incentive for people to consider owning a wild mustang instead of traditional domestic horses.
Like domestic horses, mustangs can be used for rodeo, riding, breeding and even dressage. However, they have “bigger hooves, bigger bones and their stamina and their disease resistance is usually higher than that of a domestic horse,” said Kathi Wilson, an adopter.
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Wilson said the biggest difference, and the factor that dissuades people from acquiring mustangs, is that they start off wild and untamed.
“When you first get them, they don’t even know what a bucket is, let alone grain,” said Wilson. “They don’t know when they’re untouched that you just want to pet and love on them. In their brain you’re going to attack them and kill them.”
Owners need to spend time training the horses and adapting them to life outside the range. Wilson said it’s the extra time needed to train and gentle the wild horses that actually results in in a more meaningful connection.
“Because of the quality of time and the amount of time I’ve spent with them to adapt to a human world, I’ve actually ended up with a better and a closer bond than with my domestic horses,” Wilson said.
The adoption rate was slow this weekend despite the large number of available animals. Most attendees attended the event for the chance to see the mustangs in person or were previous adopters who returned to check out this year’s catalog.
“We just wanted to come and see what they had here and support the group that’s putting it on,” said Jeff Roberts. “We have three of them now, and if we had more land we’d get more because that’s how nice these are.”
“We don’t have a high enough fence but we really like the painted horse,” said Robin Kern referring to the Palomino mustangs that her 7-year-old daughter, Mariska Bredlove, swore kept making eye contact.
Other industry issues weighed on attendees’ minds, which may have prevented them from partaking in the adoption process. Wild mustangs up for adoption are originally from Western states like Nebraska and Oklahoma where they are displaced because of growing population threats and a decrease in natural resources. In order to collect the targeted horses, officials use helicopters to round up the horses in a condensed space where it is easier to trap them and load them into a transportation trailer, a practice that has angered organizations like the American Wild Horse Preservation. Some argue the use of abrasive helicopters, especially for an animal known for its quick fight-or-flight survival response, can be traumatic on the horses.
“I think there isn’t a population problem,” Kern said. “Ranchers want land for their cows, or corporations want it for oil. Horses move around and find shelter or water. Cows do a lot more damage because they stay in one place.”
Crystal Cowan, a wild horse and burro specialist and volunteer at the event, said the practice is routine and in the horses’ best interest.
“Some people are against it and some people are for it. It’s really the most humane way to round up horses,” Cowan said.
All the lands that the horses currently roam on are legally provided to the horses, but “the problem is that land is very desolate, it’s not like here in Kansas,” Cowen said. “The public lands have a multi-use plan so everything must share the land — the cattle, the wildlife, the horses. They may have to walk 50 miles a day for water.”
The adoption ran on Friday from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The Bureau of Land and Management will hold its next auction in Rock Springs, Wyoming, on July 8 and 9.