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How to Adopt a Wild Horse or Burro

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Providing a home for a wild horse or burro is a challenging and rewarding experience. For qualified individuals, this is a unique opportunity to care for, then own, a "Living Legend" -- a symbol of American history -- namely, a wild horse or burro. This document answers the most frequently asked questions about adopting a wild horse or burro. Additional information will be provided to adopters of a wild horse or burro at the adoption site.

What is a wild horse or burro?

A wild free-roaming horse or burro, as defined by Federal law, is an unbranded, unclaimed, free-roaming horse or burro found on Western public rangelands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Wild horses and burros are descendants of animals released by or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, U.S. Cavalry, or Native Americans.

Why does the BLM offer wild horses and burros for adoption?

The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 gave the Department of the Interior’s BLM and the Department of Agriculture’s USFS the authority to manage, protect, and control wild horses and burros on the nation’s public rangelands to ensure healthy herds and healthy rangelands.

Federal protection and a lack of natural predators have resulted in significant increases in wild horse and burro herd populations.  The BLM monitors rangeland conditions and wild horse and burro herds to determine the number of animals, including livestock and wildlife, that the land can support. Each year, the BLM gathers excess wild horses and burros from areas where vegetation and water could become scarce if too many animals use the area.

These excess animals are offered for adoption to qualified people through the BLM’s Adopt a Horse or Burro Program. After caring for an animal for one year, the adopter is eligible to receive title, or ownership, from the Federal government. While the BLM faces a constant challenge in adopting out enough animals, the adoption program is a popular one. In fact, the BLM has placed more than 220,000 horses and burros into private care since 1971.

In addition to placing wild horses and burros into good homes through the adoption program, the BLM directly sells animals that are more than 10 years old and those younger that have been passed over for adoption at least three times. These animals are located in the BLM’s long-term pastures and short-term corrals. If you are interested in buying older wild horses or burros and need more information, please visit our wild horse sales program.

Why adopt a wild horse or burro?

With kindness and patience, you may train a wild horse or burro for many uses. Wild horses have become champions in dressage, jumping, barrel racing, endurance riding, and pleasure riding, while burros excel in driving, packing, riding, guarding, and serving as companion animals. Both wild horses and wild burros are known for their sure-footedness, strength, intelligence, and endurance.

Providing a home for a wild horse or burro is both challenging and rewarding. Adopting a wild horse or burro is a unique opportunity for you to care for and train a living symbol of American history.

What are wild horses and burros like?

Every wild horse or burro is different. They come in all shapes and sizes, and each animal has its own personality. They are of no particular breed, although some exhibit characteristics associated with certain breeds. A typical wild horse stands about 13 to 15 hands high (52- 60 inches) and weighs about 700 to 1,000 pounds. Wild burros average 11 hands high (44 inches) and weigh about 500 pounds. Because the BLM only recently removed them from public lands, wild horses and burros put up for adoption are not accustomed to people. As an adopter, your challenge will be to develop a trusting relationship with your wild horse or burro.

How can I qualify to adopt a wild horse or burro?

To adopt a wild horse or burro, you must:

  • be at least 18 years of age (Parents or guardians may adopt a wild horse or burro and allow younger family members to care for the animal.);
  • have no prior conviction for inhumane treatment of animals or for violations of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act;
  • demonstrate that you have adequate feed, water, and facilities to provide humane care for the number of animals requested; and,
  • show that you can provide a home for the adopted animal in the United States.
What facilities must I have to adopt a wild horse or burro?

You must provide a minimum of 400 square feet (20 feet x 20 feet) for each animal adopted. Until gentled, adult horses need to be maintained in an enclosure at least 6 feet high; burros in an enclosure at least 4.5 feet high; and horses less than 18 months old in an enclosure at least 5 feet high.  You should not release an ungentled animal into a large open area, such as a pasture, as you may not be able to recapture the animal for training or to provide veterinary care. However, once the animal is gentled, you may release it into a pasture or similar area.

Acceptable corrals must be of heavy duty construction using poles, pipes, or planks of a minimum 1 1/2 inch thickness and without dangerous protrusions. Barbed wire and large mess woven, stranded, and electric material are unacceptable for fencing. Woven small net wire fencing is acceptable with a minumum of two sightboards, one on the top and one in the middle of the enclosure.

You must provide shelter from inclement weather and temperature extremes for your adopted wild horse or burro.  The shelter must be a two-sided structure with a roof, well-drained, adequately ventilated, and accessible to the animal(s). The two sides need to block the prevailing winds and need to protect the major part of the bodies of the horse or burro. Tarps are not acceptable. Contact your administering BLM office for shelter requirements in your area.

What should I feed my adopted animal?

Good quality grass hay is adequate for a wild horse or burro. Horses and burros are very sensitive to abrupt changes in what and when they are fed. At the adoption, the BLM provides additional information about feeding. In addition, your veterinarian can advise you about proper care and feeding.

How do I adopt a wild horse or burro?

If you meet the adoption qualifications requirements, either:

  1. complete the Adoption Application and mail it to BLM Office Serving your Area or,
  2. complete the on line Internet Adoption Application .

The BLM will contact you during the application review process to verify that your facilities meet the minimum requirements for the number of animals you want to adopt. When you adopt, the BLM requires you to sign a Private Maintenance and Care Agreement. This agreement includes the following statement:

"Under penalty of prosecution for violating 18 U.S.C. 1001, which makes it a Federal crime to make false statements to any agency of the United States, I hereby state that I have no intent to sell this wild horse or burro for slaughter or bucking stock, or for processing into commercial products, within the meaning of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. 1331 et seq., and regulations 43 CFR 4700.0-5(c)."

You must agree to sign this statement at the time of adoption.

How many wild horses or burros may I adopt?

You may adopt up to four wild horses or burros within a 12-month period. However, you may seek permission from the BLM to adopt more than four, in which case the agency requires additional verification of facilities and compliance checks. Though you may adopt more than four in a 12-month period, you can receive title to only four adopted animals within that period.

How much does it cost to adopt a wild horse or burro?

The minimum or base adoption fee for each wild horse or burro is $125. Mares and jennies (female burros) adopted with their unweaned foal are $250.  Most adoptions use competitive bidding to establish the adoption fee.  The base adoption fee applies to adoptions using a lottery draw or a first-come, first-served method.  Since March 1997, when competitive bid regulations were approved, the average adoption fee has remained around $125 per animal.  Some animals do adopt for a higher amount during the competitive process, but the average remains within the $125.

If within the first six months of adoption the animal dies or needs to be destroyed because of a preexisting serious medical condition, the BLM will provide you with another animal. You can choose a replacement animal within 12 months of the animal’s death. You may select a replacement animal from those available for adoption at a preparation center or an adoption event. If the replacement animal fee is less than the original adoption fee, you are entitled to a refund or credit for the difference. If you choose a credit, the BLM will give you a voucher for that amount that you can apply to another animal. If you choose not to replace the animal, you will not receive a refund. If you select an animal that is more than the original adoption fee, you must pay the difference. You are responsible for transporting the replacement animal to your home or facility.

How much does it cost to care for a wild horse or burro?

The cost of caring for a wild horse or burro is comparable to caring for a domestic horse or burro. Depending on local costs and conditions, this can exceed $1,000 per year. You are responsible for all costs associated with the care of your animal. If you adopt a mare, there is a very good chance that she is pregnant, so you may have the additional expense of caring for a foal. Though the adoption fee may seem minimal, you should also consider the following costs when calculating your wild horse/burro budget:

  • Stall/Corral Rental Shoeing
  • Veterinarian Worming
  • Vaccinations Medicine
  • Insecticides Salt/Supplements
  • Feed Grooming Supplies
  • Tack

Note: If your adopted wild horse or burro escapes from your property, you are responsible for any and all costs associated with recovery of the animal.

Have the wild horses and burros received any medical treatment?

The BLM vaccinates, worms, and freezemarks all of the wild horses and burros it offers for adoption while a veterinarian provides necessary pre-adoption medical care. The BLM will provide you with a record of the adopted animal’s medical history, including a negative Coggins test. A negative Coggins test indicates the animal does not have Equine Infectious Anemia.

What is a freezemark?

The BLM uses freezemarking to identify captured wild horses and burros, which is a permanent, unalterable, painless way to identify each horse or burro. The freezemark is applied on the left side of the animal’s neck and uses the International Alpha Angle System, which is a series of angles and alpha symbols. The mark contains the registering organization (U.S. Government), year of birth, and registration number.

Does the animal belong to me or the Federal Government?

A wild horse or burro belongs to the Federal government until the BLM issues you a Certificate of Title. After you have had the animal for one year, the BLM will send you a Title Eligibility Letter. You must obtain a signed statement from a qualified person (such as a veterinarian, county extension agent, or humane official) verifying that you have provided humane care and treatment for your adopted animal. Once you sign and return the Title Eligibility Letter, the BLM will mail the Certificate of Title to you. After you receive the Certificate of Title, the animal becomes your private property.

Note: There are no additional Federal fees involved in the titling process.

What should I bring to the adoption?

You should bring either cash, a personal check, a money order, traveler’s check, or a credit card such as VISA, MasterCard, American Express or Discover, to pay the adoption fees. If your personal check is not made good in 30 days, the BLM will repossess the animal(s) and will charge you for the hauling expenses.

You should bring a double-stitched nylon webbed halter and a lead rope for each animal you adopt. Bureau employees will place the halter on your animal and load the animal into your trailer. The lead rope should be about 12-20 feet long, made of cotton or nylon and able to hold a 1,000-pound animal.

You must provide transportation for your adopted animal from the adoption site to its new home. While someone else may transport the animal, all trailers must meet these minimum standards:

  • covered top, sturdy walls/floors, and a smooth interior free from any sharp protrusions;
  • ample head room;
  • removable partitions or compartments to separate animals by size and sex, if necessary;
  • floor covered with a non-skid material; and,
  • adequate ventilation.

The BLM requires stock-type trailers with rear swing gates to transport adopted animals. Drop ramp, divided two-horse trailers, and trucks with stock racks are not acceptable. However, in some situations, two-horse trailers are acceptable for transporting burros and horses 12 months or younger. Only burros may be loaded into in-line or one-horse trailers. The BLM will inspect trailers and reserves the right to refuse loading if the trailer does not ensure the safety and humane transport of the animal.

Where can I adopt a wild horse or burro and where can I get more information?

The BLM holds adoptions at different locations throughout the United States, depending on public interest. Most BLM offices serving your area have animals available for adoption year-round by appointment. If you plan to adopt from a prison facility such as Canon City, Colorado, where access is controlled, please call the BLM to find out if you have to meet any additional requirements for entry.

The BLM posts temporary adoption sites and dates on this site at the adoption schedule, or you may call, toll-free, 866-4MUSTANGS. If you are interested in adopting, either:

  1. complete the Adoption Application and mail it to the BLM Office Serving your Area, or
  2. complete the on-line Internet Adoption Application.

What else should I know before adopting a wild horse or burro?

Allow plenty of time to view the animals prior to the beginning of the adoption selection process. Do not select a wild horse or burro based on color or looks alone. Base your selection on your goals for the animal.

You may not transport adopted animals for longer than 24 hours without unloading for food, water, and rest. Corrals used for this resting period must meet the minimum facility requirements stated above. You must allow at least five hours for the animals to rest.

If your journey home crosses state lines, you should check with each state prior to adoption about any additional requirements or certifications they may require.

Your local library, Humane Society, or veterinarian might be a good resource, too -- give them a call or pay them a visit.

For information about an adoption site near you, please review the adoption schedule or call 866-4MUSTANGS.


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