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Photo of a man and young people near a horse at an adoption event.
Young people with their adopted horses at a Mustang Makeover event.  
(Art Ferraro/BLM)

GIS and Wild Horses

By Bob Schoolar and Shayne Banks

Wild horses and geographic information systems (GISs)—what could they possibly have in common?  In the late 1990s, while working in the BLM’s Jackson Field Office, we began to explore this relationship, with surprising results.  We found that we were able to use a tried and true science for a new application—locating the best wild horse and burro adoption markets in the southeastern United States.

We searched for the most appropriate software for the task and ArcInfo 7.2, ArcView 3.2, and ArcView Business Analyst proved to be the perfect choices.  Initially, we developed a very simple spatial marketing model using almost 30 years of data collected from past adopters.  From our database of the locations of almost 80,000 adopters, we produced a customer density layer.  However, just knowing where past customers were located wasn’t enough to reveal new markets or validate the strength of a past market. 

We then developed a second layer using publicly available data collected for the “1997 Census of Agriculture” conducted by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.  This data contained a detailed accounting of farms with agricultural products, including farms with horses and ponies.  The data was collected by zip codes and included information on more than 300,000 farms in the United States.  This second layer showed the density of farms reporting horses and ponies by zip code.  So, while the first layer provided a direct accounting of the location of past adopters, this second layer showed the distribution of horse owners in general.

After these two layers were integrated in ArcInfo, it became apparent, both visually and statistically, that the data revealed significant geographic trends common to both themes, as well as potential new markets.  From these patterns, it was possible to classify zip code areas as either proven markets, potential new markets, or marginal markets.  This market segmentation process narrowed the focus to relatively small geographic areas, thus giving the Jackson Field Office the ability to select optimal adoption sites and target advertising to areas likely to have potential adopters.

The areas where the density of past adopters exceeded a national average were classified as proven markets.  In fact, while these areas collectively represented only 6 percent of the land area of the United States, they contained 41 percent of all past adopters.  In addition, there were areas of high value for farms with horses but low value for past adopters.  These areas were targeted as potential new markets.  Ultimately, the analysis showed that the combined proven and potential markets consisted of zip code areas that covered approximately 20 percent of the country but contained nearly two-thirds of all past adopters. 

To the Jackson Field Office, GIS is not a means of replacing traditional marketing, but rather a way of giving the people involved in the marketing effort greater insight into the geographic dynamics of their customers.  Typically, we saw 60 to 70 percent of the adopters coming from the targeted areas, which usually represented between 20 and 30 percent of the total market areas.  This result means that, on average, our customers are found in the targeted areas at a rate two to three times greater than would be expected by random chance.  Aided by appropriately targeted marketing efforts, the Jackson Field Office consistently has led the nation in the numbers of horses and burros adopted. 


Bob Schoolar has been a GIS specialist for the BLM’s Southeastern States Field Office (formerly the Jackson Field Office) in Jackson, Mississippi, since 1995.  He came to the Southeastern States Field Office as an environmental scientist after working for the U.S. Geological Survey in Oklahoma.

Shayne Banks is a public affairs officer who has been with the Southeastern States Field Office since 1991.  She works primarily with the wild horse and burro program and is the lead for the National Wild Horse and Burro Communications Team.