Group Aims To Boost Interest In Wild Horses

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A new nonprofit group hopes to spur interest in wild horses to new levels and gallop beyond governmental confines to assist the Bureau of Land Management in getting more of the wild animals adopted.

After four years in the making, the National Wild Horse & Burro Foundation is a result of a partnership with the state of Nevada and the BLM, which each contributed $200,000 in seed money.

“It is fitting that this effort begins here in Nevada, where the wild horse and burro movement itself began under the leadership of the remarkable woman known as Wild Horse Annie,” BLM Director Kathleen Clarke said.

Velma Johnston, or “Annie,” led the effort that led to the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act, which protects the animals under federal law.

About half of the estimated 40,000 wild horses and burros that roam 10 Western states are in Nevada.

Wild horse advocates revere them as living symbols of the American West, but many ranchers view them as a nuisance that compete with livestock for limited forage and water on public lands. As herds grow, the BLM removes excess horses from the range to protect the environment and safeguard the remaining animals.

The BLM last year spent $39.7 million on the wild horse and burro program. Forty-five percent of that went to caring for animals at holding facilities; 27 percent was for the adoption program.

Spanish explorers brought horses to North America in the late 15th century and American Indians helped spread them throughout the West. Horses continued to be released onto public lands by the U.S. cavalry, farmers, ranchers and miners until about 50 years ago.

The foundation’s roots grew out of a study ordered by the 1997 Nevada Legislature to determine people’s opinions about wild horses and ways to manage the animals.

Among other things, the study released in 1999 by the Nevada Commission for the Preservation of Wild Horses recommended a nonprofit foundation be formed to work with the BLM to increase the number of wild horse adoptions.

“If all of the horses that could be adopted were adopted, many of the problems, all of those issues, would go away,” said Frank Cassas, a Reno lawyer who served as commission chairman and is now chairman of the national foundation.

Clarke said the foundation brings new energy, creativity and flexibility that didn’t exist before.

“The goal of the foundation is to increase the number of successful adoptions, which means you have to have more adopters in the mix,” said Carol Alm of Parker, Colo., who was named the foundation’s executive director in June.

Dawn Lappin, a wild horse advocate, and John Falen, a rancher and former president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, also serve on the foundation’s board as trustees.

“One thing this group can do that we can’t is, they can go out and get sponsors and market the horses,” said Maxine Shane, who works in the BLM’s wild horse program in Reno. “They can raise money from people.”

Last year, 7,746 wild horses and burros were adopted.

As of June, the agency had about 6,500 horses awaiting adoption, and those numbers will likely grow as summer roundups are held. The BLM plans to remove about 2,000 horses from the range in Nevada this year alone.

To raise interest in mustangs, Alm suggested a marketing strategy that first targets the “captive audience” of those who have adopted wild horses before branching out to other horse owners and the general public.

“People buy mustangs for different reasons than they buy quarter horses or Arabians,” she said. “I think probably their niche market is recreational — trail riding, pleasure riding, open show.

“They’re not going to be competitive in the show arena at every level,” she said, “but you can do anything on a mustang.”

Alm is a lifelong horsewoman who has worked for private companies and nonprofit entities. As a corporate executive, she served as senior vice president for the Gallup Organization and corporate vice president for Fleet Street Corp., publishers of EQUUS, Horse and Rider, Dressage Today and Practical Horseman magazines.

Alm also has headed the U.S. Dressage Federation, served on the executive committee of the American Horse Club and the board of governors of the U.S. Pony Club.

Wild Horse Annie: