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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.

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Calendar

April 2019

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

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Celebrate Easter with a trip to Andy Alligator’s Fun Park! On Saturday and Sunday, get $5 off an All-Day Pass with our Eggcellent Easter Special. All-Day Passes include Go-Karts,...

Cost: $23.95

Where:
Andy Alligator's Fun Park & Water Park
3300 Market Pl
Norman, OK  73072
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Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

The OSU Symphony Orchestra will conclude the 2018-19 season with Schubert's monumental and majestic Symphony No. 9 in C ("The Great"). The concert opens with The European Anthem,...

Cost: General Admission: $10; Students & Seniors: $7

Where:
Oklahoma State University Department of Music
132 Seretean Ctr
Stillwater, OK  74078
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Sponsor: Oklahoma State University Department of Music
Telephone: 405.744.6133
Contact Name: Dr. Thomas Dickey
Website »

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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Potbelly Sandwich Shop is giving back to the local neighborhood with Feed Your Smile, a fundraiser supporting Concordia Life Care Community.  Show this flyer on your smartphone or...

Cost: Free

Where:
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
8500 N Rockwell Ave
OKC, OK  73132
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Sponsor: Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Telephone: 405-792-5112
Contact Name: Katy Fabrie
Website »

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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

"Deliberately silencing the internal chatter and not overthinking. Conscious, but not over-trying. With this approach, things just seem to happen—it’s where all the substance is...

Cost: Free

Where:
Individual Artists of Oklahoma
706 W. Sheridan Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: Individual Artists of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.412.2541
Contact Name: David Smith

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A Sporting Chance will host the 25th annual Track and Field Meet at Branson Junior High in Branson, Missouri. A Sporting Chance provides year-round sports and recreation programs designed for those...

Where:
Branson Junior High
263 Buccaneer Boulevard
Branson, MO  65616
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Sponsor: A Sporting Chance
Telephone: 404-314-2188
Contact Name: Hannah Schachinger

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Shop over 200 vendors at this indoor event with everything from vintage furniture, retro and mid-century decor to handmade goods, antiques, industrial finds and architectural salvage!

Cost: $5 at the door, 13 and under free

Where:
Heritage Place
2829 S. MacArthur
Oklahoma City, OK  73128
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Sponsor: Junk Hippy
Contact Name: Kristen Grandi
Website »

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This one-day festival is rooted in the printing of large-scale woodblocks carved by local Oklahoma artists. We bring in a 5-ton steamroller and print pre-carved blocks throughout the day on Tyvek...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Contact Name: Evan
Website »

More information

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

Andy Alligator's is celebrating teachers! On Saturday and Sunday, teachers with a valid ID will receive a FREE All-Day Pass and $5 off for each family member! An All-Day Pass includes...

Cost: Teachers receive a FREE All-Day Pass; family members get $5 off

Where:
Andy Alligator's Fun Park & Water Park
3300 Market Pl
Norman, OK  73072
View map »

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America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: $59.95

Where:
The Skirvin Hilton
1 Park Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
Website »

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Get a sample of the nightlife of Spain at Tulsa Botanic Garden's "Viva La Vida." The Garden is bringing star chef Jamie Bissonnette (Toro restaurants in Boston, NYC, Bangkok and...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Dr
Tulsa, OK  74127
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Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori Hutson
Website »

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2nd annual gathering of "The Big Lebowksi" fans at The Dude Abides OKC All Oklahoma City Urban Achievers, Abiders and Coen Brothers fans are invited to join us at Fassler Hall OKC and...

Cost: Free, contests have entry fee

Where:
Fassler Hall
421 NW 10th
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Revolve Productions
Telephone: 405.810.6977
Contact Name: Tobi Coleman
Website »

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