The Adoption Program
Wild horses are protected from human hunters, eliminating their greatest predator. Other than an occasional mountain lion attack, there are no natural predators. If not controlled, the mustang herds would grow so big they would overwhelm their range:

  • Leaving horses vulnerable to starvation, thirst and disease,
  • Crowding out other wildlife,
  • Using up resources needed by ranchers’ herds and
  • Causing even more problems as housing developments continue to spread into horse country.

The BLM manages wild horses and burros in 186 herd management areas in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Each year, the BLM captures thousands of wild horses on BLM or U.S. Forest Service administered land in the western United States and puts them up for adoption. Some 227 horses were adopted by Nebraskans in 1998 and 190 were adopted by South Dakotans. Thirty-two horses went to the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.

The program is not without controversy. Ardent wild horse supporters would like to see herd numbers grow. However, the BLM plans to reduce the total nationwide from the estimated 39,000 mA horse!ustangs now. The bureau has determined its AML - Appropriate Management Level - is 23,000. The BLM hopes to reach this level by about 2005. Some ranchers say even that is too much.

Early in the adoption program, the BLM reaped a lot of bad publicity. The bureau decided to waive adoption fees for those willing to take 100 or more horses. Scandal ensued when investigations discovered that most of these horses went to slaughterhouses. Some adopted mustangs were cruelly abused. Now, the maximum that can go to an individual is four, and the bureau has beefed up the rules on the process.

People who want to adopt wild horses must apply to the BLM. Children can’t apply, but a parent or guardian can adopt the horse so that a child can care for it. If an application is approved, the applicant then goes to either a permanent holding facility that may have animals year-round or a temporary adoption center that offers animals only once a year.

Adoption centers may use competitive bidding, drawings; first-come, first served; or application approval dates to determine who selects horses and burros first. The basic cost for adoption is about $125 plus everything an owner would need to care for and feed an animal. Pryor Mountains horses have sold for as much as $800. Animals bred from the famed Kiger herd in Oregon, with its strong Spanish bloodlines, can command thousands of dollars.

The BLM checks the animals after a few months and applicants must humanely care for their adopted animals for a minimum of 12 months before they are eligible to obtain title. Wild horses cannot be exploited for their "wild" nature, for example, as rodeo stock.

Wild horses are of no particular breed, but sometimes are similar to specific breeds. According to the BLM, a typical wild horse stands about 14 to 15 hands (56-60 inches at the shoulder) and weighs about 900 to 1,100 pounds. Horses are generally solid in color and are predominantly sorrels, bays, or browns, although all colors occur. Horses offered for adoption range from several months to 20 years of age. Most horses are five years or younger. Mares and their unweaned foals are adopted together.

When horses are headed to Eastern states for adoption, they generally make a rest stop in Nebraska. The BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Holding Facility in Elm Creek, Nebraska, gives the animals time to rest and recover from the stress of travel before they go further east. In addition, several adoption events are held at the center each year.

How To Adopt

Call the Bureau of Land Management toll free at 1-800-417-9647 to leave your name and address and find out the adoption schedule. The Bureau will mail you adoption information and an application. Information is available online at