Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Garvin County: The Wild Horses of Oklahoma

77 Counties



It’s adoption day in Pauls Valley, and 41 horses and donkeys await inspection.

The same animals that don’t draw a second glance as they graze near the interstate become infinitely more interesting when their origins are revealed. These are not just horses and donkeys. They are wild burros and mustangs, vestiges of the old American West.

This Garvin County corral, an hour south of Oklahoma City on I-35, is one of 11 federal adoption centers run by the Bureau of Land Management, and the only one in Oklahoma. On the second Tuesday of every month, from 8 a.m. til noon, animals are offered for adoption fees of $125. Horses aged four and older come with an incentive: $500 and the horse’s ownership papers after one year of successful care.

The dozen or so people who show up the morning of the first adoption day of 2013 are handed a single sheet of paper listing each animal’s tag, age, state of birth and color. Pinto. Palomino. Grulla. Buckskin. Appaloosa. Red Roan. Sorrel. Dun.

Gary Hughes, who has helped manage the center for the past decade, and Meredith Kueck, a recent Kansas State graduate, greet the visitors for the monthly open house. They walk and talk with the browsers, leaving them with the adoption list.

The animals are culled from 31,453 wild horses and 5,841 wild burros from way out West. Their range of 31.6 million acres of desert, prairie and mountains stretches through federal land running from the Canadian border down to Mexico, through 10 Western states. The mustangs share the grazing lands with domestic livestock, mostly cattle, and other wild creatures such as sheep, goats and elk. To the approval of some and the dismay of others, the BLM thins the herd regularly, removing horses and burros from their native range to keep the numbers in balance.

For the 41 corralled in Pauls Valley, their world has now shrunk to five white-fenced holding pens as the curious walk the perimeter. 

Pen 2 holds yearlings – two fillies and seven colts, mostly brown or sorrel – conceived in the wild but born in Oklahoma to captured mares. All bear freeze marks on the left side of the neck, a 21st century brand that looks ancient on some and futuristic on others. The angles and alpha-symbols are created by a nitrogen-chilled iron where the hair grows back white. The result: a funky, punky hieroglyphic tattoo that imparts to each animal a wild tribal vibe.

In Pen 4 next door, five free-born burros huddle as far as possible away from the trickle of passing people. The oldest were taken in California, and now wear Tags 2252 and 2350. Estimated age: 9-10 years old. Expected life span: 30 years.

The adoption program, now in its 40th year, has found private homes for 230,000 horses and burros nationwide. The success rate has plummeted as the economy has slowed and the price of feed and hay has risen. The BLM recorded 5,701 adoptions in fiscal 2005, but only 2,598 last year. About 20 percent of those were handled through the Pauls Valley center on its satellite visits through Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and New Mexico.

Pen 5 holds eight geldings, each two years old. The boldest sidle up to the fence, in search of a pat or a kind word. Four of the eight were born in Pauls Valley, to mares who were pregnant when they were rounded up out West and on the trip east.

The older geldings in Pen 1 and the mares in Pen 3 are warier. They move as a herd, shifting and starting as if connected when a gust of wind or unexpected noise spooks even one among them. In close quarters, their recoil is as synchronized as a flock of birds, a school of fish – or a herd of wild mustangs.

At the end of the day, no offers had been made for any of the horses or burros. The center averages only one adoption per month, and places most of its 500 annual adoptions when it brings the horses to events in the region. The next off-site, in-state adoption will be held August 15-17 at the Claremore Expo Center.

“Times are tough,” Hughes said after the ranch couple and the artist with her daughter drove off empty-handed. “People come here for a wide range of reasons. They’re curious about the program, they want to see wild horses, they want to take pictures. But I knew there’d be no adoptions today. No one came with trailers to take ’em.”

At the end of the week, the group of 41 left Oklahoma for a weekend fair in Mercedes, Texas. Twenty-six of the mustangs were adopted, and left in trailers for their new homes off the range.

The grasslands of eastern Oklahoma and the open rangelands of Nevada are home to more mustangs than any other place on earth.

Their survival was ensured by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which protects established herds of horses and burros. The legislation – passed unanimously by Congress, signed by Richard Nixon and coordinated by the Bureau of Land Management – declared mustangs “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.”

The act ended decades of neglect of the animals, which had been shot for sport and captured for slaughter to be used for glue, pet food and horse meat.

In the 21st century, more American wild horses now live in captivity than survive on the range. The BLM removes several thousand from federal lands each year, gelding the stallions before shipping them to one of 11 adoption centers, or to long-term pastures. Opponents argue that the land can sustain more grazing and that the animals would be better served with less intervention. The BLM maintains that, with few natural predators, the number of wild horses would double in four years if left on their own, damaging their health and the environment.

Nearly 50,000 captured horses and burros are living out their lives in massive pastures or waiting in short-term corrals for possible adoption. In the wild, 31,453 horses and 5,841 burros survive. Nevada has the most, with 18,425 wild horses and 939 burros at large, followed by Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, California and Oregon. Fewer than 1,000 wild horses and burros roam free in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico. But it is Oklahoma that provides a permanent home to more captured horses and burros than any other state, hosting nearly two-thirds of the 33,741 animals that have been put out to permanent pasture.

In addition, the Pauls Valley center held 650 horses and burros at the beginning of 2013. The short-term corrals at adoption centers include active monitoring of the animals, and veterinary care, costing the program $6 per head per day.

Thirteen ranches in Eastern Oklahoma – in Osage, Rogers, Craig, Johnston, Murray and Nowata counties – keep 21,738 horses in long-term pastures. The ranchers are paid $1.30 per head per day, part of a $75 million annual federal program.


Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment in a continuing series as author and photographer M.J. Alexander chronicles her travels across the state of Oklahoma.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »You Might Like

New Orleans Bound: Heading Down to the Big Easy

Steamboats to street musicians, incredible food and a perennial party atmosphere – the Crescent City is a prime destination year-round.

Off to See the Wizard in the Myriad Gardens

In her ongoing travels through Oklahoma, author and photographer M.J. Alexander goes over the rainbow to OKC for a screening

Culinary Cruises: Haute Cuisine on the High Seas

To find new heights of delicious refinement, head to sea and explore the improved dining possibilities on luxury cruises.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

September 2018

No Events
No Events
No Events
No Events

More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
Website »

More information

This year will mark the eighth time the John F. Kennedy Awards have been celebrated, honoring individuals making a significant contribution to Oklahoma, its communities and its people, while paying...

Cost: $300

Where:
Skirvin Hilton Hotel
1 Park Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Santa Fe Family Life Center
Telephone: 405-840-1817
Contact Name: James Timberlake
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
Website »

More information

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

A fabulous art auction to raise money to help support Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO.

Cost: $100

Where:
CHK|Central Boathouse
732 Riversport Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73129
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO
Telephone: 405.974.3791
Contact Name: Heather Bryant
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join supporters in communities across the nation for the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This family-friendly event raises funds to support the...

Cost: $10 for adults or children six and older

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S. Lake Hefner Drive
Oklahoma City , OK  73116
View map »


Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
Website »

More information

Let’s end childhood cancer. Together! This September, supporters across the country will unite to participate in the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer, an exciting, family-friendly...

Cost: $10 for Registration

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S Lake Hefner Dr
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: ALSAC St. Jude Oklahoma City
Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
Website »

More information

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags