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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2008

Federal bureau offers up wild mustangs for adoption at auction in Lima

BY LAURA BENNETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LIMA, Ohio - For Lisa Wenger, mustangs are a symbol of the American past.

She has been out West, where wild horses have roamed since the frontier days. She has seen them running loose on open range, manes flying and sturdy hooves kicking up the dust.

And now, she says, a little piece of history is living on her farm in Bellefontaine, Ohio.

Ms. Wenger bought her own mustang - a 4-year-old mare she named Goldy - at the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption in Lima, Ohio, two years ago.

This weekend, wild horses and burros once again will fill the corrals in Sarge's Sale Arena on Defiance Trail in Lima.

The Bureau of Land Management-Eastern States, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, is holding an auction during which about 45 mustangs, from western states such as Nevada and Wyoming, will be available for adoption. The fee is $125 for animals younger than 3 years, and $25 for animals 3 and older.

"There's just something about them - their spirit, their nature, their endurance - that makes them incredible animals," Ms. Wenger said.

In 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act gave the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management the authority to maintain and protect mustangs and burros on public lands.

But a subsequent population boom has led to strained resources, as western land is unable to provide all the animals with sufficient food and water.

"The Bureau is facing a real dilemma," said Susie Stokke, wild horse and burro specialist for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada. "We're spending about $30 million a year caring for and holding these animals in short and long-term holding facilities throughout the country."

She estimated that every adoption saves the Bureau of Land Management $12,000, which would have been spent caring for an animal over the course of its life.

If the horses and burros are not adopted, Ms. Stokke said, the only alternative may be humane euthanasia.

Since the Adopt-A-Wild Horse & Burro Program began in 1973, more than 20,000 animals have been adopted - 3,347 of them in Ohio.

But taming a wild horse is not a task to be taken lightly. It requires a good deal of patience and compassion, Ms. Wenger said.

"Since they've been out in the wild, they haven't had a lot of human contact," said Martha Malik, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management Eastern States-Milwaukee Field Office, which includes Ohio. "You train them by building trust, gradually coming around them and letting them come near you."

Once tamed, or "gentled," the animals can be trained for western-riding events, dressage, trail riding, and predator control. Younger horses tend to be easier to train.

Ms. Wenger chose Goldy, a tawny palomino and sorrel mix with a short, stocky frame, because the horse perked her ears up and made eye contact when spoken to. It took eight or nine months of spending time in the stable with her and brushing her mane before Ms. Wenger could ride her.

"When I was breaking her, I landed on the ground a few times," Ms. Wenger said.

The adoption at Sarge's Sale Arena will be on a first-come, first-served basis, from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Prospective owners must have corrals that are at least 20 feet square and have fences at least 6 feet high for an adult horse. A shelter must be attached to the corral for harsh weather conditions, and adopters must bring their own bridle and trailer to the arena.

"A wild horse is not just something that you put in the pasture and look at," Ms. Wenger said. "If you're going to do that with them, they might as well be left out West to run free."

Contact Laura Bennett at:

lbennett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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