Some lucky mustangs find homes...
Untamed hearts--JENNIFER BALDWIN, Californian staff writer...
"Sheryl Greenhouse became the mother of four on Saturday, and is expecting her fifth any day now. 'I'm so excited,' said the Oro Grande resident. 'It'll be my first baby on the ranch.'
Greenhouse is starting an equine sanctuary on her recently purchased 60-acre ranch near Victorville.
She selected her first adoptees -- two horses, one of which is pregnant, and two burros -- from about 400 wild mustangs and burros available from the Bureau of Land Management in Ridgecrest. The BLM's annual open adoption day came with an enticing deal: a $125 adoption fee and free delivery within 150 miles.
'If I could, I would take every single one of them,' said Greenhouse. 'They are beautiful. They are part of our heritage in our country.'
But with a new federal law mandating the BLM sell some of the country's wild horses and burros, many equine lovers fear the worst: that this symbol of America will be sold to slaughterhouses.
One gentleman at the adoption produced a copy of The Equestrian News, a Los Angeles-area publication.
'Wild Mustangs Face Final Hours,' the headline read. The story went on to say the law's passage "betrayed the animal that birthed this nation." Mustangs are not native to the United States, but are a cross-breed of European horses that escaped or were turned loose between the late 1400s and late 1800s and formed their own herds.
'These horses should not be slaughtered,' Greenhouse said. 'We're taking away their land and we need to take care of them.'
The legislation was tucked into the 2005 budget that President Bush signed two months ago. The law mandates that the BLM sell wild horses and burros that are more than 10 years old or that have been passed over for adoption three times. The BLM estimates there are about 8,400 equines that fit this description.
Doran Sanchez, spokesman for the BLM wild horse and burro adoption program, said most of those animals are being cared for with taxpayer money in sanctuaries in the Midwest.
While the BLM drafts regulations for selling the animals, the agency and horse advocates are contacting organizations to find alternative homes for the horses and burros.
Meanwhile, Sanchez promises the BLM's adoption program will remain unchanged, with its main goal to find good homes for the young horses and burros that have to be removed from wild herds to keep populations under control.
"These are such great animals. Their quality is not challenged. They make for great pleasure riding ... and they can run a domestic horse into the ground," he said.
The BLM estimates there are 37,000 wild horses and burros living on public lands in 11 western states. Since it started the adoption program in 1973, a little more than 215,000 of them have been adopted.
Each year, about 6,000 to 8,000 are rounded up so the herds don't destroy their habitat and create an unbalanced ecology.
'These animals reproduce about 20 to 30 percent each year, so by the following spring they've reproduced exactly what we've removed the previous year,' Sanchez said.
The wranglers focus on gathering horses and burros that are between 1 and 5 years old because they are more adoptable and easier to train. It takes two months for the horses to receive their vaccinations and health checks before they are ready for adoption.
Adopters must fill out applications and promise not to sell or give away the horse for one year. During that year, the BLM retains the title to the horse and only hands it over if the adopter passes inspection by Dennis Knippel, the state compliance officer.
Knippel personally visits every new adoptee at least once during the year. If he witnesses abuse or neglect, the BLM takes the animal back and puts it up for adoption again.
On Saturday, more than 100 people walked from corral to corral, imagining what it would be like to take the mustangs and burros home with them. Most of the horses were from herds in California and Nevada.
Some potential adopters looked for a certain color; others, a certain temperament.
Marcy Kittinger drove 100 miles from Oak Hills to find a trailhorse for her 7-year-old son Daniel. She chose a 2-year-old red mare with a white face.
'She appeared to be very calm and she'd look at you. She'd make eye contact with you,' Kittinger said.
Scott and Susan Davis of Lucerne Valley brought five of their daughters -- all redheads ages 6 to 16 -- to pick out three horses. The girls will be responsible for training, caring for and riding the mustangs, their dad said.
He was more concerned about securing the pipe corrals on their 10 acres than of the wild horses harming his girls.
'You just have to spend time with them,' he said. 'I expect these wild horses to have sweet dispositions.'
The 'gentling' process doesn't take very long, said Sue Borgards of Riverside, who has adopted four wild mustangs and was in Ridgecrest to adopt a burro and possibly another mare.
'We spend time with them just sitting in their stalls. We've been lucky. The last one we adopted, we had her for only three days and we were already in her stall brushing her,' said Borgards' daughter, Angelique Guy, who works as a wrangler in Arizona.
The pair said mustangs are the best horses they've found. They're hardy, healthy and strong. And the burros make great pets -- they're loving, make good companions for horses, and also keep intruders away with their hee-haw warnings.
'It's really cool knowing you're saving something out of the wild,' Guy said.
'It's American history. It's legend,' her mother said."