LUMBERTON — Up for adoption at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Event Center this weekend were 80 mustangs and burros — animals with a special lineage in American history.
“These are the horses that the cowboys rode,” said Dan Russell, project specialist with the federal Bureau of Land Management, which brought the animals here to find homes because the western lands they roam, while spacious, won’t support them.
“These are all the wild mustangs from out west, free ranging, out-in-the-wild horses,” Russell said.
The mustangs came from 10 Western states. The Bureau of Land Management, a division of the Department of the Interior, has 40,815 wild horses under its supervision in those states and a further 46,000 off-range in sanctuaries and other facilities. Since 1971 the program has adopted out 190,000 mustangs.
“All we are looking for with these horses is for them to have a good home. You don’t have be a barrel racer or a professional horse trainer or anything really. It is for a home, these horses need a place to go,” Russell said.
Mustangs and burros, the names for wild horses and donkeys of the American West, are federally protected animals. Staff from the Bureau of Land Management were on hand to help with adoptions and to sign kids up for the Young Mustangs club. The Bureau of Land Management is part of the Department of the Interior.
“As these are totally wild American mustangs, they belong to the American people, the American public,” Russell said.
There was a $125 fee to adopt the animals, but as they are protected, the “title” of the animal does not change hands for a year, until it can be shown that the horse is being cared for properly.
“We make sure they have a good home, if there are any issues we will help you with it,” Russell said. “After all that, after the year is up you will get a title application where you sign it and a witness can sign it — that can be your veterinarian or horse professional — and they attest that you have cared for that animal. You mail that in and you get a nice, frameable title to your animal, and then he is totally yours. You can do with him what you will.”
“These horses are only limited by what we can think for them to do,” said Jason Hiser, a trainer and rider.
Hiser would know, his mustang Delgado and he are taking a trip to the oldest rodeo in North America this July, the Calgary Stampede. The formerly-wild mustang has been selected as one of only 10 in the United States to compete in an “extreme cross country competition” at that event.
“This horses tied up down here,” Hiser said while pointing to Delgado, “will be the first ever mustang to be invited to the Clagary Stampede.”
The sight of the untamed animals was a rare treat for one young man who wants to train horses and be a cowboy when he gets older.
Wide-eyed Matthew Harris, 12, of Fairmont spoke politely with the men and women working with mustangs that were on display. Some being rode around were just four weeks from their previously wild lifestyle.
“You want to be a cowboy when you grow up,” a female trainer asked Harris.
“Yes, ma’am,” a blushing Harris said.
“Sure beats working,” she said.
Harris laughed while the horse, twice his size, sniffed at his stetson.
The event is focused on the goal of relocating the horses, but there is also a lot for children to learn about the American animal. Large, brightly colored banners list kid-friendly facts about the 30-year lifespan of mustangs, that they on average stand 15-hands high, and that the 800-pound pet they want needs five to 20 pounds of hay every day.
“Mommy, I love him,” one little girl said while hugging the poster of a big-eyed foal she is given.
Around 80 horses were brought to Robeson County for the two-day event, and officials expected about half of them to find a home.
The bureau hosts events like this oneonce or twice a month with Russell, with his team foccused on the Southeastern states. Florida and North Carolina especially are major consumers of mustangs, he says. It was the first adoption held at the Lumberton facility.
“As we need horses in the East, we request them and they load up an 18-wheeler and bring them out,” Russell said.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly