Picture in your mind a bold, muscular horse, mane flowing in the wind and nostrils flaring as he leads and protects the wild herd from danger. He is a wild stallion, who will pass on his strong characteristics to future generations.
The lead mare takes care of the daily routine, teaching the young horses how to protect themselves and the appropriate behavior to survive.
This is a daily scene that plays out in wild horse herd management areas (HMAs) across public lands in the West.
These behaviors make mustangs not only an important part of our western heritage,but also desirable for adoption, domestication and research. Those who adopt and train wild mustangs, including members of the U.S. Border Patrol, say they are healthy, sure-footed, confident companions and workers.
By observing wild horses in their natural environment, we gain valuable lessons about domestic horses. Stable and pasture management, equine hoof health and developing an understanding of horse behavior, which is a key to natural horsemanship, are just a few of the lessons. The wild horse diet is being studied to learn more about equine food-induced disorders, including obesity, Cushings disease (equine diabetes), food founder and thyroid disorders.
Wild horses and burros are descendants of animals released by or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, the U.S. Cavalry and American Indians. Early in our countrys history, wild horses were free game to be rounded up and sold for slaughter.
Velma Johnson, known as Wild Horse Annie, created public awareness about the plight of the wild horses, and in 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed by Congress. This gave the Department of the Interiors Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agricultures U.S. Forest Service the authority to protect and manage these wild herds on public lands.
Of the nine HMAs in western states, Colorado has four, including the Spring Creek Basin herd in the Disappointment Valley, north of Dove Creek. Almost 22,000 acres, this area is stark to the untrained eye but actually provides a variety of nutrient-rich grasses for the herd.
Some of the origin of the Spring Creek Basin herd is attributed to a Montana rancher who supplied remounts to the U.S. Cavalry. According to legend, as the horses were abandoned and left to roam, locals used the herd to replenish their own stock. These ranchers were the unofficial caretakers for the Spring Creek Basin wild horses before the BLM took over management in 1971.
To assist with population control in the HMA, a certain number of Spring Creek Basins wild horses are rounded up periodically, with some offered to the public for adoption. On Sept. 24, the BLM will offer about 20 wild horses from the Spring Creek Basin herd for public adoption at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds east of Cortez.
Over the years, many Spring Creek Basin horses have been adopted, tamed, trained and become treasured riding horses. Spring Creek Basin mustangs are some of the most beautiful and well-conformed wild horses in the West. You can expect to see blacks, grays, bays and pintos. The horses offered for adoption will be 4 years old and younger.
At the adoption, the Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association will sponsor trainer Ems Rapp and her Spring Creek Basin mustang, Rock On, which she adopted after the 2007 Spring Creek Basin roundup. Rock On will serve as a Spring Creek Basin mustang ambassador for everyone to meet. Rapp will demonstrate her mustang taming and training techniques from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds. NMA/CO also will provide Rapps professional training help to adopters with their new horses at their own properties.
Kathe Hayes is the volunteer program director for the San Juan Mountains Association.