Max, a gelding from the Salt Wells Creek area south of Rock Springs, strides in front of potential owners as an inmate shows off his 15.3-hand height. (BLM)

Cowboys and -girls are known for wearing smart, colorful shirts, especially in show events like rodeos. This spring, when inmates at Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton showed the wild horses and burros they had gentled, their sweatshirts were all the same hue — prison blaze orange.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s event on May 31 and June 1 saw 56 animals adopted from the Honor Farm program. A 3-year-old black gelding named Diesel brought a record price of $5,700. He came from the Divide Basin area, the BLM said in a release, removed from an “overpopulated” herd.

More than 200 persons attended the event  from Wyoming and surrounding states. They took home 28 saddle-started horses, 13 halter-started horses and 15 pack-saddle trained burros, the agency said.

The National Outdoor Leadership School was among those adopting. The school, headquartered in Lander but which operates a ranch in Boulder, has adopted 19 mustangs from the BLM and Honor Farm program over the years.

Jen Sall, NOLS Rocky Mountain director, used to run the ranch and said an older mustang already in the NOLS program inspired her. “He was just so darn good in the mountains,” she said. She needed to see whether the performance was because of the breed.

It was.

“They’re amazing,” she said of mustangs. “Their feet, stability, endurance, work ethic…. “They are, in my own opinion, the heartiest.”

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The Honor Farm program gives adopters a better idea of an animal’s potential, she said, compared to adopting horses that haven’t yet been gentled. “You get an insight into their temperament — having been around humans for a time,” she said.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at or (307)...

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  1. The wild horse population levels to which these returned native, national heritage species are being reduced are unnatural and thwart the sound process of ecological niche filling. The horses are being overly reduced within their legal areas and the great majority of the forage is being given to the livestock. The latter are then removed to be consumed by people, thus robbing the public lands ecosystem of needed nutrients. The wild horses should be allowed to be born, live out their lives and contribute their remains to the natural ecosystems where they have legal right. This would be the true fulfillment of becoming “an integral part of the public lands ecosystem” as the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act requires. It’s high time people learn how to share the land and freedom with such magnificent presences possessing an amazing wisdom and savoir-faire concering how to live and enhancing life on Earth!

  2. The recent National Academy of Science (NAS) institute report lent credence to accusations that the bureau [BLM] has been ignoring science and grossly mismanaging the wild equines, and that it pursued policies that favored corporate livestock grazing interests over the interests of the wild horses and burros. That, it said, was in direct contradiction to the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

    “The NAS findings clearly state that the BLM has failed to provide accurate estimates of the nation’s population of wild horses and burros. Therefore, the NAS cannot conclude that a state of over-population exists and or [cannot] provide a recommendation for artificial management considerations such as fertility controls to control populations for which the complex population dynamics are currently unknown.”

    This National Academy of Science [NAS] report reviews the science that underpins the Bureau of Land Management’s oversight of free-ranging horses and burros on federal public lands in the western United States and the report goes on to say, “The Wild Horse and Burro Program has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros, to model the effects of management actions on the animals, or to assess the availability and use of forage on rangelands.”

    A recent independent scientific population study was done that clearly showed the average foal increase in one year is near 20% but that only about half of those foals live to yearling age. The birth rate is not the same as the herd increase rate and it cannot be used as the growth rate because it fails to factor in the mortality rates.

  3. The NAS study found no evidence of an over-population. 70% of the herds are not even genetically viable. All roundups and removals need to stop before our wild horses are extinct.

  4. Putting the word “overpopulated” in quotation-marks is correct, especially with regard to the Divide Basin and Salt Wells Creek herds. Here’s why:

    BLM declares that wild-horse herds can increase at a rate of 20% a year. However, independent studies have disclosed that a 20% growth-rate is anywhere from 2 to 10 times higher than the norm. In the case of Divide Basin, BLM actually reported that the population had increased by 237% … in one year. Meanwhile, BLM claimed that the Salt Wells Creek population had risen 522%, again in just one year. Clearly, those are biologically-impossible growth-rates, and they are not isolated instances.

    The “overpopulation” of wild horses and burros is a concocted crisis that exists only on BLM’s exploding spreadsheets. The wild horses and burros are marvelous creatures. They should be allowed to live in freedom.