MUSTANG – A LEGEND OF THE WEST

Part Two of Three

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse Corrals welcome the public, including bus tours and school groups. Wild horse facilities in ten western states operate at different hours so it’s best to check in advance with the facility nearest you. (http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/whbprogram.html .)

BLM SignFirst stop at the BLM Wild Horse Corrals at Hines, Oregon, on Highway 20 west of Burns, is the visitors’ viewing kiosk on a knoll overlooking 27 corrals or pens. Drive the self-guided auto route circling the pens.

Walk to the barn where freeze marking (branding) occurs. Wild horses with yellow, four-digit number tags dangling from their necks wait impatiently assembly-line style in six individual chutes. It’s difficult to hear anyone speak over the din of horses’ hooves kicking metal sides of the holding chutes.

A BLM employee shaves a strip of hair from the horse’s left hip and sprays the patch with alcohol. Another employee uses liquid nitrogen and a special branding tool to apply pressure on the hip for about 30 seconds. A second painless freeze mark is applied on the left side of the neck using the International Alpha Angle symbols to identify the registration organization, year of birth and registration number.

Outside in the pens, the animals are separated by age and sex, mares with foals, weanlings and yearlings, dry mares, and studs and geldings. Information sheets tacked on each pen list the HMA where the horse roamed, color and age. The eastern pens contain females, the western pens, males.

“See how the neck shrinks on an older horse?” our guide pointed to a 27-year old mare and her foal.” Her backbone would be filled in if she were in better shape. She has sacrificed herself for her foal. If the two are not adopted together, after weaning she will go to the Oklahoma site to eat grass until she dies. Look at that foal; it will be a good horse.”

We walked to the end of the alley between the pens to look at all the wild horses. Curious about us humans, they stared at us but kept to the opposite side of their respective pens. We stared in awe at these proud, wild horses standing straight and tall, heads held high. Whether in groups of three or three hundred, all the horses stood close together, shoulder to shoulder, running and pivoting as a choreographed ballet.

After every wild horse roundup, a veterinarian checks their health. The horses are vaccinated against diseases and wormed. Survival of the fittest accounts for wild horses having fewer health problems than domestic horses.

Adoption bids range from $125 for horses, $135 for burros, and $160 for mules. An individual may adopt up to four animals a year. Prospective adopters must provide a home for the animal with feed, water and shelter according to BLM requirements. After compliance checks, title is issued one year later.

Why adopt a wild horse?

“Mustangs want to learn, and they want to please,” our guide said. “Be gentle and patient. They make fine horses for cutting, reigning, barrel racing, jumping, pleasure and endurance riding.”

Next week concludes with Part Three citing advantages of adopting a mustang.

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About Lynne Schaefer

Lynne Schaefer has written two newspaper columns ("The Schussboomer" about skiing in California, and "Notes from Lynne's Journal" about Oregon wildlife); travel and garden articles for regional magazines copy for DVD tours of the High Desert Museum and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, both in Bend, Oregon. She has published three non-fiction books, A Traveler's Guide to Historic California, Christmas Trivia Quiz, and His Daughter's Remembrance.
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