Eligible mustangs

by Nick Neely

Sophie has long, wavy platinum hair, swept dramatically to one side. She's "fairly gentle," and comes from the White Mountain area in Wyoming. "She was somewhat difficult to start," the ad says, but "now does what is asked of her."

Ginger was born in Reno, Nev. She is "very trusting. … You can pick up her feet, groom, catch and saddle her with ease. Will stand tied for hours, and obeys riders' commands. She gets a little anxious around a lot of people, and seems to be a little bored."

Care to entertain? Since the Bureau of Land Management became responsible for wild mustangs in 1971, eligible horses and burros have been swishing their tails in government corrals and pastures, just waiting -- for you. These mares, and many others, were "gathered" from BLM land, where they often run roughshod over fragile habitat and compete with wildlife for forage. Hoping to pick up the sluggish pace of adoptions, the BLM now holds auctions online in addition to in-person sales. It's eBay in the true sense of the word. You can browse a gallery of headshots that beg your affection. Or at least the shelter of your corral.

Bi-curious? Meet Mocha: "This 5-year-old mare is a tri-colored buckskin pinto, a very rare color even in mustang herds, and her bi-colored mane and tail are mostly white. Friendly and approachable, Mocha is 14.2 hands tall and very sturdily built, with the heavy bone structure common to mustangs."

Or Flower, a "deep brown dapple" horse that's seen some tough times, but is ready to be swept off her hooves: "She has an old injury at the coronary band on the right front foot but it doesn't affect her soundness and is considered a blemish."

These days, record numbers of wild horses are penned up in BLM corrals, often for longer times than before and in crowded, disease-breeding conditions. This infuriates their advocates, many of whom see the very notion of capturing mustangs as cruel. Wild horse lovers tend to prefer contraception to roundups, but delivering the pill -- a dose of Porcine Zona Pellucida -- across the range isn't easy, and it's only good for two years. So the BLM has decided to concentrate on gathering females, to skew the sex ratio. The herds tend to foal like crazy, partly because capturing dominant stallions lets younger rivals have their way.

Humboldt, however, has left the dating scene behind. This 5-year-old gelding is shaggy, with an angular but sensitive visage. Gathered from the Jackson Mountains in Nevada more than two years ago, "he is very alert and attentive and likes to know what is going on around him. His training includes standing tied, being caught and haltered in a small pen … loading into a 4-horse trailer, and lungeing." Whoa, boy.

And let's not forget handsome salt-and-pepper males like Doc, "a Mustang Makeover Horse" -- trained for arena competition -- described as "very mellow."

Bids for most horses and burros open at a mere $125 and can increase by leaps of $5 to $250 at the click of a mouse. Beforehand, you'll have to submit an online application affirming you are 18, humane, and have the space to support a symbol of the American West: "Please download and complete the Corral Sketch/Map PDF file below," the Web site directs. "Draw only the corral and shelter where the horse will be put ...".

The corral must be at least 400 square feet. Your bedroom, it should be noted, is not roomy enough.

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