Researchers Study Predictors for Successful Wild Horse Adoptions
Shortly after the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, an amendment was added, allowing for removal and adoption of “surplus” animals. Though this program was successful in the beginning, over the last two decades the number of horses living in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holding facilities has far exceeded the number of adoptions, creating an obvious crisis.

Only a handful of studies have focused on wild horse adoptions, so to address limitations in previous studies as well as gain a broader geographic perspective, two researchers recently aimed to examine predictors for successful adoptions in Colorado and Texas—two states with the highest rates of wild horse adoption.

“We posited that the first year was the most crucial in determining adoption satisfaction and, thus, wanted to follow adopters in real time,” said Mary Koncel, MFA, MS, from the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University.

The researchers recruited 52 study participants (half from Colorado, half from Texas) at satellite adoptions or Extreme/Supreme Mustang Makeover competitions and conducted three in-depth interviews: Phase I, upon adoption; Phase II, during the first six months after adoption; and Phase III, between months six and 12 after adoption.

Collectively, study participants adopted 63 wild horses directly from the BLM in 2012.

In Phase II interviews, the researchers collected 40 responses while Phase III interviews yielded 33 responses.

The team found that while a few participants were disappointed with their horses due to “stubbornness,” or  “a big flight instinct,” most believed their horses had progressed in their gentling/training, describing the animals as “extremely smart” or “very willing.” Additionally, many relayed they had a “strong, trusting bond” with their horses, and the animals fulfilled their expectations.

“I found several results interesting, especially around training,” said Koncel. “First was how much progress the adopters and their horses made in that first adoption year.  Second was that adopting a trained/gentled horse vs. untouched/ungentled horse didn’t seem to make a difference in adoption satisfaction/success.”

The researchers concluded several important factors were associated with successful wild horse adoptions in Colorado and Texas:

  • Previous horse experience paired with a high level of knowledge about wild horses;
  • Opportunity to consult with wild horse trainers;
  • A Western tradition that generally embraces wild horses; and
  • A culture that supports various wild horse organizations that provide adopters with additional support.

“Knowledge, Tradition, and Community Predict Success for BLM Wild Horse Adoptions in Colorado and Texas” was published in Society and Animals in 2018.