Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Horses, Horses and Burros Too!

Anyone who knows my better half knows that she loves horses!  Having lived with her for over 36 years, I am very aware of this passion… Actually, when we first met, she owned a horse named Ranger, but after we looked at our finances at the time, I convinced her to sell him.  For some unknown reason, she still married me!

So… We were in central Nebraska just a little west of Kearney.  I’d turned north at Elm Creek from US Hwy. 30, (Lincoln Highway), onto US Hwy highway 183 and I’d driven a few miles.

After leaving the Platte River valley…with some rolling hills showing up along the way…Laurie said that it would be great if we would see some wild horses galloping across the plains.  As we passed this field of corn…we came across a sight that she hadn’t expected!

The surprise worked!  When I turned into this federal government property…the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Facility, she was more than a little excited..!

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency which is a part of the United States Department of the Interior.  The BLM administers American public lands, totaling approximately 247.3 million acres, or about 12.5% of the total landmass of the country!  In addition, the Agency also manages 700 million acres of the subsurface mineral estate underlying federal, state, and private lands across the country. With approximately 11,600 permanent employees and about 2,000 seasonal employees, this equals roughly 21,000 acres per employee.

These signs at the entrance describe the nature and source of the facilities feral residents…the wild horses and burros.  They also provide the necessary information, i.e., a starting point for anyone who wants to adopt one of these ‘surplus’ animals…

This is an overview of a few of the corrals or pens for the wild horses/mustangs that have been removed from federal lands…

By definition, a mustang is a free-roaming horse of the North American west that first descended from horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish.  Mustangs are often referred to as wild horses, but there is debate over terminology.  Because they are descended from once-domesticated horses, they can also be classified as feral horses.  In 1971, the United States Congress recognized Mustangs as "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people."  Today, Mustang herds vary in the degree to which they can be traced to original Iberian horses.

Laurie captured this photo of one of these magnificent horses at his watering trough… You will notice that he is in terrific shape!  She observed that the horses were very well fed, and were being provided with the best hay, oats and Omolene. 

There wasn’t a puny or run-down looking horse among the hundreds of horses being housed at this BLM facility.  We talked to one of the workers who told us that he’s employed to come by to feed and water the horses a couple of times a day, seven days a week.

The BLM manages all free-roaming horses and burros on public lands across 10 western states.  They classify these animals as feral, but are also obligated to protect them under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.  As horses have few natural predators, populations have grown substantially. The BLM estimates that as of 2009, there were nearly 37,000 horses and burros on BLM-managed rangelands.  Purportedly, that is 10,000 more animals than can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses.  I was amazed to learn that The Bureau of Land Management holds about 32,000 additional animals in long-and short-term holding facilities, adopting out several thousand of them each year.

Have no doubt…these horses are wild!  This group was eyeing Laurie as she took their picture.  They were huffing and snorting at this strange being who might represent a threat in their eyes…

This facility is wide open for visitors.  There is a rudimentary road around the facility past all of the holding pens.  Laurie spent a lot of time outside the car by the fence line taking photos and talking to the horses and burros.  We were told that with the advent of the Internet, fewer visitors actually stop by to check out the horses.  Most adoptions these days are apparently initiated on-line.

In addition to the hundreds of horses, the facility is also home to a handful of wild burros.  While most of the animals at BLM Elm Creek were wary and unapproachable, these Sicilian burros were quite friendly and not at all intimidated by their human visitors.

Actually, they were looking for a scratch and a snack if one was available! 

The first donkeys/burros to reach what is now the United States may have crossed the Rio Grande with Juan de Oñate in April 1598.  From that time on they spread northward, finding use in missions and mines.  Donkeys were documented as present in what today is Arizona in 1679.  By the Gold Rush years of the 19th century, the burro was the beast of burden of choice of early prospectors in the western United States.  With the end of the placer mining boom, many of them escaped or were abandoned, and a feral population established itself.

FYI…a burro is a small donkey.  One source indicated that there are less than 5,000 feral/wild burros in the USA, with Arizona, Nevada and California having the largest populations of these attractive former beasts of burden.

This was the only horse that was in with the wild burros.  Where we live here in East Tennessee, many burros/donkeys are employed as guard animals for cattle and horses.  They are fearless and will raise the alarm and attack any predator that intrudes on or threatens their ‘herd’. 

Here a few more curious wild horses checking Laurie out…

Back in 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar proposed a new approach to restore the health of America’s wild horse herds as well as the public rangelands that support them.  His proposal included the possible creation of "wild" horse preserves on the productive grasslands of the Midwest and East.  The proposal also included changes which would make adoptions more flexible in order to encourage more people to adopt horses.  It appears that like most other legislation in front of Congress, nothing has been done with this proposal!

To say that the BLM’s role in managing the wild horse and burro population under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, is an understatement.  There have been suits and countersuits, claims that horses have been sold to investors and ended up at slaughter houses, passionate efforts to expand available lands for these animals, population control through sterilization and also to increase adoptions.  To learn more about this topic, you can go to

This horse seems to be saying, “Please adopt me so I can run over green fields and pastures!”  It was nice to see that the BLM was taking such great care of these horses and burros, but it was a bit sad that they are penned up and can’t really run across the grasslands as they would like.  I know that we fantasized about buying several hundred acres of land and adopting a herd of these wild horses and burros and letting them run free…

Interesting in learning more about these horses and burros?  Perhaps you’d like to adopt a horse or burro… Check out the possibilities at  On this site, you will find excellent and extensive photos of the horses and burros that are up for adoption.  The site contains many beautiful photos!  Apparently, on-site adoptions are not available at the Elm Creek facility.  The BLM site lists 15 locations where interested parties can go to adopt a horse or burro.  Unfortunately…and counterintuitively…only one facility is located east of the Mississippi… Adoption facilities are located in Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, California and Mississippi.

To quote a well-known truth: “Happy wife, happy life!”  I’d earned my brownie points for the day!  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to check out this interesting stop along the way!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. I bet Laurie was excited. Look at that one burros' face. So adorable.

  2. I love Horses, these nare beautiful pics.
    And burros are really funny a friend of mine has a burro at home (countryside) (and cats.dogs ...)