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BLM hopes to find homes for wild horses, burros

About 35 animals available for adoption this weekend

Amy Novelli, 48, could have been described as a “horse crazy” kid. She joined 4-H, read horse books and grew up riding. She put her equestrian adoration aside to attend art school and live in New York, but when she moved to Tucson in 1996, her love was rekindled.

After owning one horse with past abuse issues, she decided to adopt a mustang from the Bureau of Land Management. Though the pen was filled with healthy adult, dun mares, Novelli chose the underdog.

“We picked the little, scrawniest youngest one of those, that didn’t look good,” Novelli said.

Today, that ugly yearling is Sweet Pea, a gorgeous mare that gets compliments everywhere she goes, Novelli said. The two ride in rodeo parades, give riding lessons and do birthday parties.

The opportunity to start a story like Novelli’s arrives at the Pima County Fairgrounds on Friday.

The Bureau of Land Management will hold a wild horse and burro adoption to find homes for about 25 horses and 10 burros.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, potential buyers can visit the pens and get a sneak peek at the animals. The silent auction will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday. Bidders hoping to take home two new companions can adopt a second horse for $25 after successfully bidding for one animal.

In recent adoption events, prices rarely rose above the base adoption fee of $125, said Roger Oyler, the state program lead for the BLM's National Wild Horse and Burro Program.

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“Demand is down and I think the economy has a lot to do with that,” Oyler said.

In the past, more desirable colored horses, like paints and light-tan buckskins, were adopted for almost $700. Now, the BLM hopes to adopt at least half the animals put up for adoption, Oyler said.

Any animals not adopted by Sunday, will be available for $125 on a first-come, first-served basis.

The money goes back into the cost to transport the burros and horses from state to state.

The BLM holds around six adoptions annually around Arizona to relieve the environmental stress on public rangeland.

As of February 2011, the BLM has estimated that 38,500 wild horses and burros are running free throughout state-managed lands in 10 Western states. There are almost 12,000 more animals than the rangeland ecosystem to support, Oyler said.

“In 99 percent of the country that the burros and the horses run in there are no natural predators out there for them,” Oyler said.

The excess animals are rounded up the BLM, vaccinated, marked, and kept in holding pens to await adoption.

Arizona doesn’t currently have a holding area, so the animals for the April auction will be trucked in from other BLM-managed pens. Oyler believes the animals will come from Northern California.

Potential adoptees should check the requirements before heading out the auction. To adopt, a person must be at least 18 and provide their own fully enclosed stock trailers. Animals cannot be transported in a two-horse trailer.

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Novelli also suggests that people research training methods or seek a professional if they don’t have a lot of experience with “green,” or wild horses. Owning a mustang takes more than the adoption price — feed and stabling are also a part of the cost.

“You need to invest in this wonderful thing,” Novelli said.

The BLM does not provide a halter or lead rope, so a visit to the stock shop might be in order before adoption.

“There really isn’t a downside to it,” Oyler said, “[We’re] finding good homes for some of America’s wild horses and burros and making the public happy.”

Novelli still marvels at Sweet Pea’s beauty, almost 13 years later. Sweet Pea went from wild animal to trusted trail partner. The two hope to visit Montana this summer.

“Being the first human she allowed to touch her, it’s a pretty big deal.” Novelli said, “It can bring tears to the eyes.”

For more information on how to adopt, visit the BLM's website for the National Wild Horse and Burro Program or call (866) 4-MUSTANGS (468-7826).

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The Bureau of Land Management will hold a wild horse and burro adoption event at the Pima County Fairgrounds starting Friday.

If you go

  • What: Wild Horse and Burro Adoption
  • When: Friday, preview, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, preview, 9 a.m.- 11 a.m.; silent auction, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.
  • Sunday, adoption, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m.
  • Where: Pima County Fairgrounds, 11300 S. Houghton Rd.