Analyze This! BLM Adoption Program


AnalyzeThis movie poster courtesy

We are going to borrow the title of a film and run a series of articles on the BLM. Many people are familiar with the Film “Analyze This.” The comedy had mob boss Robert DeNiro “analyzed” by Billy Crystal, the psychologist.

Over the course of the last couple of decades there has been a lot of research about “corporate identity,” including many theories about a “psychological identity.” Using a series of programmatic analysis we are going look at aspects of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program. We will look at adoptions, “humane care,” how resources are allotted on public land, how population levels of wild horses and burros are set and how BLM addresses the media.

Psychoanalysis: “Psychoanalysis is based on the observation that individuals are often unaware of the factors that determine their emotions and behavior. Because these factors are unconscious, the advice of friends and family, the reading of self-help books, or even the most determined efforts will often fail to provide enough relief. Psychoanalytic treatment explores how these unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of thought, emotion and behavior. Treatment traces theses patterns back to their historical origins, considers how they have changed and developed over time, and helps the individual to cope better with the realities of their current life situation.”

So as we begin to “analyze” our patient (BLM) we can see things like the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report as a “self-help” book using the above prescribed definition of “psychoanalysis.” (Do you see where we are going?)


The boyz from PVC on the Internet Adoption. All found homes except Charlie, 0168. Charlie is a very solid friendly guy from Diamond getting his sweet face stroked.

So let’s begin: Analyze This! BLM Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program (session 1)

The Theory 

In 1971 when wild horses and burros were declared “fast disappearing from the American Scene” by Congress a “management concept” was envisioned. A component of this concept was an “Adoption” program.” This program would work to place the selectively removed wild horses into the care of the American public. The adoption program was intended to ensure that these horses continued to receive proper care over their lifetimes and stimulate the agricultural economies where they were placed. At the time it was estimated that over the lifetime of each horse, the average adopter would voluntarily direct around $20,000.00 of his or her disposable income to pay for hay, supplies, farrier and veterinary services and other expenses related to the training and maintenance of an adopted horses. (Today those figures are much higher)

And of course the above is part of a larger directive to “minimally manage” wild horses and burros as “wild and integral” to the landscape as the “living symbol of the pioneer spirit of the west.”

There are so many beautiful, social, curious fillies at PVC

There are so many beautiful, social, curious fillies at PVC

The Beginning

1n 1971 wild horses and burros were literally being run down and murdered for chicken feed and fertilizer. The American public at large was horrified. To be someone that “protected” these wild horses and helped them find placement was something to be proud of. Velma Johnson, “Wild Horse Annie,” actually began the “Adopt-A-Horse” program in conjunction with the BLM. Velma attended early roundups and oversaw methods. After years and years of the “wild horse issue” being an American eyesore things were looking like there was hope for actually managing wild horses and burros humanely and perhaps an American pride in adoptions.

Or was it?

As with most of us we usually begin a task with “good intentions.” There is a “reward system” where we feel good about doing something we are proud of and may get some other reward from it like an allowance or paycheck. When “things go bad” there are several reasons that can include “peer pressure” and bullying, laziness and a variety of other factors including actually not wanting to perform a task.

All families have things they don’t talk about. Local “bullying” in the form of competitive interests on public land began to have a huge impact. Things like “the claiming period” are not even discussed today when we talk about the numbers of wild horses that existed in the range in the early years. The lack of data and arbitrary nature of boundary lines are ignored in current discussions of why “management” is unsuccessful. It’s good to get these things “out of the closet.”

The BAD children of the Wild Horse and Burro Program

9997 named Stormy is a great gelding that needs a home getting a treat from Cat Kindsfather

9997 is a great gelding that needs a home getting a treat from Cat Kindsfather who calls him “Stormy”

If we listen to BLM “leadership,” (parents) over the last decade we here a focus on two aspects of the program (children) that need to change in order for the entire wild horse and burro program (family) to be a success; birth control and the adoption program. Over and over again we hear this same thing “increase adoptions through an aggressive adoption/sale program and sterilize and use birth control,” from BLM Chiefs including acting lead Joan Guilfoyle in a “woe is me” memo issued this summer that also discussed killing wild horses (another one of the “woe is me” statements repeated by BLM management).

It’s almost as if BLM management wants us to believe that if more wild horses were adopted and there was a way to permanently sterilize wild horses the problems would go away. This is called delusional thinking if the goal is to fix the program. It is called a “manipulation” if the goal is to continue to exploit a situation. Until serious flaws are addressed on the range that involve fixing past mistakes there will be no “healthy” in the program. Every good “twelve step program” involves honest self evaluation that includes an admission of faults. Maybe it’s time “BLM” gets a sponsor and works the steps?

The Reality of the Adopt-A-Horse Program  Today

The closing bids on wild horses and burros were just made in the most recent BLM Internet Adoption. In total 155 wild horses and burros were offered in an “online” event. Of those offered 87 received “winning bids,” or about 56%. But if we take a look at the subsets of animals offered for adoption we can begin to see some variables that BLM really should take notice of.

One obvious variable are the wild horses that are handled or in a more domestic setting. These animals were offered in a “highlighted” fashion where less than a dozen animals were offered from two facilities.  The descriptions included aspects of individual personalities and often humans on the ground or in saddle with each horse. Mantle Ranch offered 11, 11 adopted. Wyoming Honor Farm offered 10, 8 adopted. COMBINED they had a 90% success rate.

Another obvious variable are burros. 6 burros were offered and 5 were adopted. Again they were offered in a small number. BURROS had an 83% success rate.

When we are talking about bringing a wild horse or burro into our homes we adopt an individual, not a “concept.” When all you tell the public is an age and height (that may be incorrect) and given a couple of photographs and the phrase “born in a holding facility,” BLM you are really NOT trying to get that horse a good home (no matter what you claim).

At the beginning of the adoption event we noticed that the number of bidders was very low. So very quickly we began to put out information on some of the animals that we knew personally. A “story” from range to holding, individualize many of these animals. Several of the facilities listed wild horses that we knew, in one form or another, from range into holding. Many in BLM will still not admit that this participation by advocates has any effect.

Palomino Valley Center offered 31 wild horses and burros, 21 were adopted. This gave the facility a 68% success rate. But let’s look at the subsets of wild horses for a moment.

Subset #1 The first group we highlighted were the horses from the Owyhee Complex. We published pictures from the roundup and holding showing several of these wild horses over time. Of the 12 featured, 10 were adopted. OWYHEE COMPLEX HORSES had an 83% success rate.

Subset #2 The second group of wild horses we highlighted were from the Diamonds. This highlight page came a couple days AFTER the Owyhee and after the event itself was underway. Palomino Valley offered 9 horses and Carson City offered 8 for a total of 17 offerings and 10 bids with a success rate of 59%. However these horses also fall into two subsets. Those wild horses we could tell an extended story on (the “Diamond 30” babies and the one featured at the trapsite adoption at Diamond) Of that group there were 9 offered and 7 adopted with a success rate of 78%.

One wild horse #8459, that we went so far as to name and write a full story on received 17 bids and was the high bid horse at Palomino Valley. Success rate 100%.

These three group of wild horses listed above had extensive conversation on social media.

Carson City offered weanlings and what they called yearlings (coming yearlings). Of 24 offered, 15 were adopted with an overall success rate of 62%. Two distinct subsets exist. “Born in a holding facility,” with no additional info, 16 offered with 9 adopted at a 56% success rate. The “Diamond 30,” that had an extended story told, 8 offered and 6 adopted with a 75% success rate. Even though the prison is “off limits” to the public younger horses are simply easier to adopt.

Now in contrast we present the following:

Burns Oregon, offered 30 horses with 10 adopted. This was a 33% success rate at a corral known to have “good local relations.”

The Fallon Facility (Broken Arrow) that is off-limits to the public offered 29 with 11 adopted at a 38% success rate. This facility has not had public viewing of any kind since October of 2012. The promotion was limited to discussing limitations.

A very distinct category saw Ridgecrest as almost a stand alone. The facility offered older horses. Some of the areas could be discussed as roundups were documented but no individual stories were made. Several people commented on a “three strikes” type scenario but nothing was confirmed. 20 horses were offered with 11 finding placement at 55%.

Curious weanling colts at PVC for onsite adoption

Curious weanling colts at PVC for onsite adoption

There are several points we can draw from “what worked.” Simply put the more contact a wild horse has with people the more adoptable it becomes. Training is an obvious plus but so is information about the “story” of the wild horse itself. Info about where the horse comes from, what it has lived and descriptions of personality all can help an adopter decide to share their life with another living being that requires time and expense. A number is hardly an adequate description. Program wide (this does not represent isolated efforts by specific individuals that actually did engage social media with specifics) this seems to be a difficult concept to grasp.

Horses hidden from view at Broken Arrow (Fallon facility) since October of 2012 is unacceptable. This situation is completely contrary to any pretense of “making every effort” to offer wild horses for adoption or sale.

When babies are born in a facility the mare that gives birth is tagged and branded. There is absolutely no reason why any wild horse in a BLM facility is of “unknown” origin except laziness. Every effort should be made to keeping an intact “history” on every animal as an individual.

Operating without a humane care and infectious disease protocol is another reflection of a lack of recognition of the individual value of every “living symbol of the pioneer spirit.” IF BLM does not value what it wants a member of the public to value enough to adopt (who will spend a minimum of $25,000 over the lifetime of a wild horse), how can you have any expectation of success?

So if we give more information, training, interaction and engage the public about specifics… it appears to generate adoptions even in an extremely difficult economy. So this activity should be increased as part of our “patient prescription.”

Trapsite adoption from Stone Cabin in bad weather in the middle of "nowhere" was a huge success

Trapsite adoption from Stone Cabin in bad weather in the middle of “nowhere” was a huge success

Another aspect of the adoption program that has shown a real possibility for success is the trapsite adoption. Local participation, and actual trip to the range where the wild horse is from and a connection with time and place at these events have demonstrated that the additional work to contractors and BLM staff may be a “worthy investment.” 

An honest evaluation of a goal is essential to any analysis. IF the goal is adoption then BLM you MUST begin to recognize these wild horses as more than a number. The “numbers” game of the range and “holding inventory” must begin to encompass the notion that this program has at it’s core a living being. However that is only true if the goal is a successful program and not a “don’t rock the boat career” toward a pension or a paycheck.

Because it does appear that the adoption program can be successful.

Adoption stats from 71-06

Adoption stats from 71-06

Included in any analysis is a look at the “history” of a situation to understand repetitive destructive behaviors. The history of the adoption program has many interesting factors. At times more horses were adopted each year than were removed from the range.  In many years a large portion of the wild horses removed were adopted. But we also see years where the number of wild horses and burros removed is staggering and the adoption program is a fraction. 

Each one of these years has a “story” all it’s own that has more to do with circumstances surrounding other aspects of the program that we will delve into in session two.

Something that should again be seriously considered is a tax break for adopters. Limiting the credit to 4 wild horses or burros would keep commercial exploitation out of the equation. Statistics show that 4.6 million Americans engage some aspect of the “horse industry” as “owners.” It would seem logical that a tax credit might be an incentive to bring another horse into your barn…. especially a living piece of American history. (We could consider this part of the prescription)

Perhaps it is NOT that we have an impossible “adoption” problem? Perhaps the issues lie elsewhere? We will look closer at the patient next week. 

For now please look through the slideshow at some of the VERY adoptable wild horses at Palomino Valley. To get more information on how to adopt visit BLMs webpages here:

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Wild Horse Education is actively engaged on the range, in meetings and in litigation to gain protections for wild horses and burros from abuse, slaughter and extinction.