Successful Wild Horse Adoptions Characterized

Successful Wild Horse Adoptions Characterized

According to the survey, 82% of owners strongly agreed they had developed a strong bond with their wild horse; 68% strongly agreed their wild horse could be handled safely; and 83% strongly agreed their expectations had been met with the adoption.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

The ‘Adopt a Wild Horse or Burro Program,’ created in 1971 and overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is a primary method of controlling wild horse numbers in the United States. An estimated 236,000 horses and burros have been adopted to date. A team of researchers recently set out to determine how successful some of these adoptions have been, and learned that many were considered successful from the owner's perspective.

Mary Koncel, MFA, MS, clinical instructor at the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass., et al. set out to learn more about the experiences of wild horse adopters in New England.  

“If more is known about what factors make for successful adoptions, more wild horses (could) get placed in good permanent homes,” reported Koncel.

Koncel surveyed and interviewed 38 New Englanders who had adopted wild horses within the last 15 years. Of 68 horses adopted collectively by this group, 65 remained with their owners at the time of the study (two of the remaining three horses were sold and one returned to the BLM).  

Some key findings on wild horse adoptions were:

  • Household income and age of adopters varied widely and did not seem to affect adoption success;
  • Adopters’ past knowledge of and experience with horses did not seem to affect adoption success, as nearly one third of adopters were novice owners and/or riders; and
  • According to Koncel’s survey, 82% of owners strongly agreed they had developed a strong bond with their wild horse; 68% strongly agreed their wild horse could be handled safely; and 83% strongly agreed their expectations had been met with the adoption.

After assessing responses to open-ended survey and interview questions, Koncel concluded flexibility regarding what disciplines adopted horses would be used for, owner willingness to educate themselves about wild horses, and seeking support when needed were perhaps the most important factors in adoption success.

Using participants’ suggestions and data collected during the study, the researchers made several recommendations to the BLM, such as limiting new horse owners or first-time adopters to one horse and providing more education to and screening of potential adopters.

“Wild horses are synonymous with controversy,” explained Koncel, but after performing this study she believes that “adoption can be a viable alternative to euthanasia, slaughter, or long-term holding facilities.”

The study, “Catching the Spirit: A study of BLM wild horse adopters in New England,” was published in the January 2012 issue of Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. The abstract is available online.

About the Author

Casie Bazay, NBCAAM

Casie Bazay holds a bachelor of science degree in education from Oklahoma State University. She taught middle school for ten years, but now is a nationally certified equine acupressure practitioner and freelance writer. She has owned Quarter Horses nearly her entire life and has participated in a variety of horse events including Western and English pleasure, trail riding, and speed events. She was a competitive barrel racer for many years and hopes to pursue the sport again soon.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners