By Pat McNamara
March 2020
Photo Credit: Pat McNamara

22 wild horses and 20 burros were shipped into to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds for a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse and burro adoption event, held March 13 – 15. The animals were sorted into pipe corrals for the public to view and possibly adopt. These animals came from the public lands in California and Nevada, according to Lead Arizona State Facility Manager John Hall. Hall, who has been doing this for 11 years, oversees the adoption process with the help of volunteers. They work as a team to do the paperwork and answer any questions the public may have.

A final count of the animals adopted at the March event in Sonoita were nine horses, two of which were started in training and 15 burros, four of them started in training. The burros usually are adopted out much faster than the horses at BLM events, according to Hall.

Also present for the event were inmates of the Arizona State Prison in Florence where a program has been established to gentle some of the animals to make the adoptions a bit more suitable for the general public. Mike Lundberg, a retired officer from the Department of Corrections, who has overseen the program for five years, selects the inmates who apply to care for and train the animals. Those who work with the horse or burro use a quiet, ‘natural horsemanship’ method and train the selected animal for five months before offering them as ‘ gentled’ and ‘green broke’ to the public. These inmates offered demonstrations with the animals they have trained to demonstrate how they have been trained.

BLM oversees and facilitates these events to help alleviate the overcrowding of horses and burros on public lands in western states. These animals are considered feral, as they are descendants of horses and burros who escaped or were released by the early Spanish explorers in the 1500s. Horses and burros were vital to the survival of ranchers, miners, American Indians and the U.S. Cavalry throughout the history the west. Those animals who escaped thrived, with herds multiplying unchecked for five centuries.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burros Act of 1971 was formed to entrust the BLM with managing and protecting the horses and burros on the nation’s public lands in ten western states and to keep them from overpopulating. These animals have no natural predators, so overpopulation leads to starvation as well as the destruction of habitat for native species. “The BLM monitors the herd size, health, land health, vegetation quality and water availability and when necessary, removes the excess animals for the range to achieve balance.” according to a pamphlet from the Wild Horse and Burro Program.  

The horses and burros are rounded up and placed in facilities throughout the country to be offered for adoption to the public. Those who are interested in adopting must apply and have acceptable facilities available for the animals. The adoption program has been one way to help with the overpopulation but more needs to be done to help with the herd management. Sterilization has been another method applied, but all solutions to this problem are expensive, and it is a constant challenge to maintain the proper management of an ever-growing herd.