How to: Adopt a wild mustang in the American west

“Wild horses are born with the colors of the land upon them–the browns, reds, blues, dapple grays, and snowy whites all reflect nature’s paintbrush” -Palomino Valley Wild Horse Center-

There are few images more iconic to the American west than a herd of wild mustangs galloping openly across a desert plain. While this may seem like a fantasy image from a bygone era, the reality is that tens of thousands of wild horses and mustangs still roam the painted desert plateaus, their numbers increasing so rapidly the federal government is actually asking for your help in containing them.

Protected by federal law and with few natural predators, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates that a herd of wild horses can double in population in as few as 4 years. With the dry desert areas of the American west able to provide only so many natural resources for wild horses and other wildlife to live on, the BLM establishes Appropriate Management Levels (AML) to determine how many wild horses a state or desert can hold. Once the AML exceeds it set limit, excess horses are rounded up and put up for adoption.At Nevada’s Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Center, located 30 miles north of Reno, hundreds of wild horses, mustangs, and burros (donkeys) roam spacious pens set beneath a crisp and clear desert sky. An informational placard at the entrance to the compound explains that American “wild horses and burros are descendants of animals released by or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, U.S. Cavalry, or Native Americans“. The word “mustang” is actually an Americanization of the Spanish word mesteño, the slang term for a stray animal.

More importantly, a second placard explains the process of how to adopt one of the mustangs peering at me through the old wooden fence. Open for tours and adoptions on Saturday’s, the price of a full grown mustang is remarkably affordable at only $185.

Not everyone is qualified to adopt one of these mustangs, however. Anyone looking to adopt must exhibit they are clear of any previous convictions for the inhumane treatment of animals, and they must be able to provide ample living quarters and feed to ensure the animal receives a healthy upbringing. Furthermore, there is a one year probationary period in which your ability to care for the animal is tested, and if after one year you have proven to provide adequate living conditions, the title of ownership is officially transferred over from the federal government.

Of course, adopting the horse is the easy part. You’ll need a little more luck with trying to train a wild mustang, this enduring symbol of the American west.