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How to adopt a wild horse 

click to enlarge Trainer Lisa Vargo shares a moment with Confetti, a wild mare from Wyoming. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Trainer Lisa Vargo shares a moment with Confetti, a wild mare from Wyoming.

Wild horses, also known as mustangs, can be adopted from the Bureau of Land Management as pets, working ranch animals or even show horses to be trained and entered in competitions.

Given the size of the wild horse population on public lands, which the government says is unsustainable, mustangs may be adopted at a very low cost — but, as with many government-related processes, this can be complicated.

You can either adopt an untrained horse, or work with a program such as the Mustang Heritage Foundation to pick out a gentled horse you like. This means that the horse is comfortable enough around humans that you can put on and take off a halter, pet it, pick up each of its feet, and lead it into and out of a trailer.

Ready to adopt? First, make sure you can meet the BLM’s requirements. These include:

• You must be at least 18 years old.

• The adopted animal must remain in the U.S. for at least one year, when ownership officially transfers from the BLM to the adopter.

• You cannot have any convictions for animal abuse.

• You must provide an enclosed corral, barn or stall for the horse. Once the animal is gentled, you can release it into a pasture.

• The corral space must have a minimum of 400 square feet per animal. Ungentled horses require a 6-foot-high enclosure, while a 5-foot-high enclosure is fine for gentled horses.


Next, figure out how you want to adopt.

The Mustang Heritage Foundation maintains a list of approved trainers at mustangheritagefoundation.org/tip. (To contact the trainer featured in this week’s cover story, email vargotrix_22@hotmail.com.)

Another option is to visit an off-range corral, such as the Cañon City Wild Horse Inmate Program, which is a partnership between the BLM and the Colorado Department of Corrections that lets inmates train, feed and care for horses. Both gentled and ungentled horses are available for adoption.

The prison facility holds regular adoption events (the next one is Sept. 13), but you must make an appointment in advance by calling 719/269-8500.

You can also visit wildhorsesonline.blm.gov to adopt a horse online through a one of the BLM’s periodic sales events.


Then, complete an application, available at blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/adoption-and-sales. Mail the application to your local BLM office. Colorado’s is located in Cañon City, and can be contacted at 719/269-8539.

Once you’re approved for adoption, arrange for payment with the BLM office. Gentled animals will cost at least $125 to adopt, and untrained horses at least $25. (You can earn money for adopting ungentled horses — see the BLM's website for more details.)

Phew. That was a lot of bureaucracy! Now, it’s time to pick up your wild horse and take it home. Remember, you don’t own a title to the horse and can’t transfer it to another owner for one year.

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