Too Many Mustangs, Not Enough Homes
Because I live in Norco, California-- officially christened with the motto, "Horsetown, USA"-- the BLM figures they can find lots of horse lovers with horse property just waiting to adopt a mustang and stick it in their backyard. Uhm, not so much anymore.
Mustang adoptions here and throughout the country are far below the levels of past years. The main reason? Just take a look at the online and print ads offering horses for sale. Many people simply cannot afford the domesticated, broke to ride horses they have now. Adding another horse-- especially one requiring more care and more attention-- to the family herd is not feasible. Not only is the economy shaky, but feed costs are escalating. The high price of alfalfa, for example, was just one reason why several of the attendees at this particular BLM adoption were literally laughing at the informational brochure being distributed. The BLM estimated the cost of feeding a horse to be "about $1,000 a year" depending on "the region" where you lived.
I can tell you that would not be in the region of California, where this adoption event was being held. With hay selling regularly for $18-$20 a bale, the annual cost for feeding a horse is at least double the stated amount.
And then there's the training issue. I know that some of the regular readers of this blog have adopted BLM mustangs and are making great progress. A good friend of mine rides her mustang on the trails with me. And I'm aware that Wells Fargo (a large banking institution in the West) uses bay mustangs to pull their trademark stagecoach. And the U.S. Marines color guard uses palomino mustangs in parades and drills. Yet all of these successful mustang scenarios have one thing in common: The adoptee possessed a certain level of horsemanship skills.
Trust me, at the BLM event that I attended, many of the potential adoptees did not. In fact, it was somewhat frightening how very little some of them knew about feral horses. Some came because this was the only way they could afford a horse: At $125, they could just forego their Starbucks runs for a month and justify the purchase. Others wanted to "save" a wild horse from... what? It's not like the mustangs that roam the California high desert are in danger of being eaten by timber wolves.
As I roamed the backside of the holding pens I encountered some interesting tales.
One barn manager was told over the phone that a newly adopted mustang wouldn't just back out of the stock trailer and waltz into the corral at its new home. Instead, according to the BLM agent, the driver of the stock trailer would have to back right up to the open gate of the corral, sort of like the space shuttle docking with the space station, and then the driver would open up the back of the trailer and they'd all have to "shoo" the mustang into its new corral.
Then this question was posed: "But can we rope it to catch it?"
The quick, flat response from the BLM rep was, "No. You cannot rope these horses."
Later I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was helping his young daughter select a mustang. Ever since she'd read the book "Cloud" her dream was to own a wild horse. When I pointed out the fractious behavior of the mustangs that were currently being shooed through the chutes into an adjoining pen, their ears pinned, their tails tucked between their hind legs, and their hooves clanking against the metal rails, I could see the wheels turning in the dad's head: So, like, how do my 10-year-old daughter and I get a halter on such an animal so we can groom it and fuss with it and make it tame so it loves us?
You're probably wondering where I'm headed with this diatribe. It's this: I not convinced that the mustangs' welfare is always put first. Otherwise, the BLM would be more concerned about screening potential homes than just checking off one more mustang from the burgeoning herd of horses warehoused on what amounts to government feedlots.
I mentioned to the BLM spokesman who was overseeing this event that some of the attendees seemed ill prepared to handle or gentle a mustang. He said (in so many words) that it wasn't the BLM's problem. He motioned to a poster that listed a handful of requirements for adopting a mustang. They included a 20 x 20 corral with a 3-sided shelter. Nothing about prior experience handling a green or untamed horse or basic horse care skills. No proof required to demonstrate that an adoptee knew how much to feed a horse or when to summon a vet. As long as there wasn't any intentional neglect or outright abuse, the BLM was content to let the mustangs go to anyone who ponied up the small amount of cash and signed a form.
"Is that good enough?" I asked. "Should some of these people, perhaps, not be adopting a mustang right now?"
"There are people who shouldn't have kids who have kids," he said. "But this is America. We don't stop them."
Yes, he actually said that.
So there may be some people who, for various reasons, probably shouldn't be saddling themselves with the welfare and training of a mustang. But no one, apparently, is going to talk them out of it. At least no one from the BLM.
Somehow, I think the mustangs deserve more.