Mustang Match-Up


BLM Mustang auctionTara Selheim watched her two young children feed carrots to some curious mustangs. The afternoon spent at a recent BLM adoption event in Norco, California, was more of an educational field trip than a horse buying excursion.

“Oh, we’re not here to adopt one. That’s out of the question for us,” the mother explained. “But I thought this would be an opportunity for my kids to see horses that grew up in the wild because, who knows, they may not be around forever.”

That was a common sentiment among visitors who browsed though several pipe pens filled with plump yet scruffy mustangs. Most people merely came to see the symbols of the American West. Few were there to actually take one home. Of the 50 mustangs available this particular weekend, only 20 were eventually adopted. Even more disconcerting, the BLM’s goal for 2008 was to find homes for about 4,500 wild horses and burros. They’re little more than halfway there, and the BLM’s fiscal year concludes at the end of September. Reasons for the lack of adoptions include a shaky economy, rising feed costs and the public’s growing realization that starting a mustang under saddle is not for the average backyard horse lover.

Karen Beddie said that her daughter, 13-year-old Brittany, would love to adopt a mustang. But the family already owns several horses and there simply isn’t room for one more. Besides, Beddie knows that taming a feral horse is beyond the current capabilities of her daughter. She underscores that sentiment by revealing, “I put Brittany through a year’s worth of riding lessons before I let her get a horse. And even then it was an older pony.”

If Selheim and Beddie were familiar with the challenges of managing a mustang, many of the attendees were not. Though a pair of colored yearling fillies—one buckskin, the other roan—seemed docile enough, their demeanor was misleading. Several potential adopters seemed surprised to learn that the sweet-faced fillies, along with all of the other mustangs, were basically untouched by human hands.

“The only time they’ve been handled is when they were put in a padded squeeze chute to be vaccinated, de-wormed and branded,” stated Art DiGrazia. As head of the Wild Horse and Burro Program for the California Desert District, he also serves as a mentor to those who’d like to adopt a mustang.

When some interested horse lovers offered that they’d worked with PMU horses, and therefore felt equipped to handle a mustang, DiGrazia was quick to clarify the difference. “These are not like a PMU horse that has been around people most of its life. You can’t really compare them.”

BLM Mustang auctionTo help prevent cases of adopter’s remorse, DiGrazia tries to educate the public at each adoption event he oversees. “I spend about 45 minutes telling people, ‘Here is what you’re getting yourself into’. One of my main points I try to get across is that this is a scared horse and it requires two things: time and patience.”

As DiGrazia imparts knowledge on how to gentle an adopted mustang, the BLM continues to struggle with what to do with the mustangs it still has. There has even been talk of euthanizing some of the horses considered “unadoptable” such as older stallions currently warehoused at BLM facilities.

“That would be a shame,” commented Janet Schaeffer, who had paused to evaluate the conformation of a flashy sorrel. “I’d rather that the BLM came up with a better conservation plan to manage the herds.”

When asked if she was considering adopting the sorrel, she quickly replied, “No. Right now, with hay being so expensive, I can barely afford the horse I have.  But maybe,” she added, staring wistfully at the red horse, “someday. It might be an interesting project.”

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Cindy Hale
Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show...


  1. It is so sad, and i wish i could adopt one as well, but as they stated, it is not easy to train a adult horse from scratch!

  2. I wish I could adopt a mustang too! (If I could afford it and had somewhere to keep it) It would be alot of work but all the same it would also be a great way to help and learn so much!

  3. I have a BLM Mustang. He such a great horse, but he does get a bit “bratty” every so often. He’s the smallest horse, but HE is the King of the pasture! Great horses.

  4. One thing I find rather weird is that the BLM staff seem surprised when visitors & onlookers overlook those of the mustangs that are more weary of people or aren’t very friendly towards them like your normal run-of-the-mill horses who will walk right up to you. I think instead of BLM going & euthanizing all of those of the mustangs that they brand “unadoptable” or are simply just “not manageable” should give them a fighting chance & give them a REAL chance in having a great loving home with someone. If BLM does end up euthanizing mustangs as they have thought about now, it’s NOT going to solve anything what-so-ever or atleast not for long,because there will always be MORE to come. Besides there are more lives being taken than what are being attempted to be saved in return,that’s plainly just NOT FAIR to the mustangs. Euthanasia is pointless unless an animal is so old,sick,or injured that it can’t walk or eat. Having wild mustangs that have been so important to us in the past & to most in present day,then to have BLM say or even think about euthanizing any one of those magnificient mustangs is an unbearable thought to me. I think they NEED to make some kind of,or more efforts towards saving the very mustangs that BLM has taken upon themselves to find good loving homes for & provide a stress-free life,like every horse,wild or not deserves. BLM is simply giving up because times are hard at the moment.& yea I don’t know their personal situations with it all.But just because times get hard for them once or twice for a while,doesn’t mean taking a completely healthy & well horse’s life is going to simply vanish it all forever. {•.It will solve nothing.•}

  5. I took care of a BLM mustang, a little dapple gray kid called Cody, for more than 3 years. I never rode him, nor really had the intention to ride him. He taught me more life lessons on the ground than any other horse has from their back. I sometimes find it is sad that we are ingrained with the idea that horses are meant only for riding, and competition, but I believe there is more to them than that. I do know that riding a horse only strengthens your bond with these beautiful creatures, and we experience things that we could never otherwise. But if I were a horse, truly, especially feral with the knowledge and natural love for the wild, I could think of nothing better than having a human buddy, for the company, and a large patch of grass, for the road…

  6. I would LOVE to adopt a mustang, If I could, but mom says that we already have “to many horses!” (but I don’t think we have enough!) if I could I would!

  7. I would absolutely love to own a mustang since they are so hardy and have a “great story”. I would also love the challenge of working on training the horse, since i love to develop that special bond with the individual horse. I bet that a mustang would be a great horse that, once you create that bond, will be something amazing. And in reference to the part about euthanizing “untrainable” horses… the correct handler has to be chosen totrain them with enough experience. There really are those kinds of people out there, the horses don’t need to be killed because it’s easier than finding the right trainer. And for the older stallions who are ‘true’ wild mustangs.. why not use them to breed and keep the purity of the wild mustangs blood line?

  8. i have adopted a cremello mustang before and before i even took it home i was in a 20foot pen with her for 3 hours and she came up and allowed me to brush her all it needs is time

  9. and if i didnt have mares i would adopt a stally i would adopt any horse that they would murder or how they put it euthanize i bought my mustang thinking id have just a horse in the yard but i found a person to train her

  10. Erika there are a lot of horses ready for you to adopt that are about to be euthanized, which is so sad because then they are a complete waste in death as they were in life…how sad ignorant people are, they mean well, but create situations way worse than the one they try to “fix”…what’s your contact info? I can have 12 on the way to your house tomorrow…


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