Wild horses

Wild horses from the Challis Wild Horse Herd Management Area are available for adoption.

Since 1971, the federal government has provided protection for thousands of wild horses on public lands. To keep the wild herds from getting too large, the Bureau of Land Management gathers up an abundance of these wild mustangs each year in the hope of adopting them out.

In 2009, several 4-H clubs in southern Idaho started helping out as trainers for these mustang yearlings. The goal was to provide basic training for the wild horses, and for the 4-H kids.

“The beauty of the program is that 4-H Club members gain horse handling and life skills, while the wild horses gain a basic handling foundation, which can lead to a success at their future home,” BLM spokeswoman Heather Tiel-Nelson said.

On Saturday, Sept. 12, 4-H Club members will present nine of their newly trained yearlings for adoption at the Bonneville County Fairgrounds in Idaho Falls. Beginning at 10 a.m., 4-H’ers will present their wild horses from the Challis Wild Horse Herd Management Area.    

Idaho has six wild horse herd management areas. The largest, at 167,848 acres (including 9,454 acres of state land and 1,116 acres of private land) is north of the Wood River Valley near Challis. Wild horses have ranged there for many generations, from sagebrush basins and riparian areas to steep mountains at 8,000 feet elevation. The Challis Wild Horse Herd Management Area’s more than 200 horses share the range with elk, pronghorn and mule deer, as well as grazing livestock.

Tiel-Nelson said wild herds growing unchecked can put a strain on rangeland vegetation.

“They have no natural predators and the herd can double in size every four years,” she said “They can really decimate a range. This happens across the West.”    

In 2019, the BLM gathered 295 wild horses from the Challis herd. Mares released back to the range were treated with fertility control injections.

“Approximately 185 wild horses will remain in the HMA [Challis Wild Horse Herd Management Area] following completion of the gather,” the BLM states on its website. “The BLM’s priority is to conduct safe, efficient, and successful wild horse gather operations while ensuring humane care and treatment of all animals gathered. The BLM and its contractors used the best available science and handling practices for wild horses while meeting overall gather goals and objectives in accordance with the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy.”

Since 2009 more than 500 4-H Club members ages 12-18 have trained over 300 wild horses for adoption, according to Tiel-Nelson. The horses, ages 6 months to 1 year, show up to the adoption auction willing to have their feet handled, capable of being led and comfortable being trailered. The horses will be led over and through obstacles. The animals will then be available for adoption through a competitive bid process, beginning at 4:30 p.m. at the fairgrounds. Bid prices over the application fee will be donated to participating 4-H Clubs.

Tiel-Nelson said BLM wild horse adoptions have fluctuated considerably since 1971, when there were more than 25,000 wild horses on the range. She said that since then, more than 200,000 have been adopted into private care. Tiel-Nelson said that in 2008 during the Great Recession, adoptions dropped from about 10,000 per year to a little over 2,000.

The BLM started a wild horse adoption incentive program in 2019, she said, offering $1,000 to “qualified” adopters willing to take a completely wild mustang. The program includes criteria for accepting a wild horse and providing it with a good home.

“You may not have the horsemanship or training for an adoption to be successful,” she said.

Those interested in adopting a 4-H-trained wild horse yearling should complete an application at blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/4710-010.pdf and email it to Challis Wild Horse Specialist Kevin Lloyd at klloyd@blm.gov or Rangeland Management Specialist Juley Hankins-Smith at jhsmith@blm.gov.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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