Wyoming to Raleigh: Adoption day for wild horses seeking new homes in North Carolina

BY CHANTAL ALLAM

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Emily Harris, a horse trainer, works with Wild Horse No. 2392 at a “Wild Horse and Burro” adoption event in the Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. Horse Complex, west of downtown Raleigh, on Saturday
Emily Harris, a horse trainer, works with Wild Horse No. 2392 at a “Wild Horse and Burro” adoption event in the Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. Horse Complex, west of downtown Raleigh, on Saturday

Just last week, Wild Horse No. 2392 stood in a holding facility somewhere in the vast dry plains of Wyoming. Born in the wild and captured as a 3-month-old foal from Salt Wells Creek, she was most likely still suckling when she got rounded up and microchipped as part of the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro adoption incentive program. There began the mustang’s journey to find a new home, eventually landing her in Raleigh this week. Now two years old, Wild Horse No. 2392 ended up in Pen 10 at her first adoption event, in the Governor James B. Hunt Jr. Horse Complex on the State Fairgrounds west of downtown Raleigh. A chestnut mare with a star-and-stripe marking ending just before her snip, she was among 100 horses and burros transported from Wyoming earlier in the week for the three-day event. The bureau is in charge of caring for the nation’s wild horses and burros across 30 million acres of public rangeland in the western United States. As resources grow increasingly scarce, re-homing events, like this one, have become essential to managing the region’s surging numbers.

Wild Horse No. 2392 is among the horses available as part of the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro adoption incentive program.
Wild Horse No. 2392 is among the horses available as part of the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro adoption incentive program.

In the last few years, BLM has even ramped up its efforts to make wild mustang adoptions more attractive, paying $1,000 to those who take the animals. The incentive is available with an adoption fee of $125 to those who qualify. Saturday morning, the event’s last day, roughly 70% of the animals had been adopted with applications approved on site. Wild Horse No. 2392, however, was among the 30 or so remaining. “We’d like to find homes for all of them,” said Shayne Banks, the bureau’s deputy district manager, standing inside the complex’s main show arena, directly across from a line of makeshift stalls. Nearby, a cluster of burros brayed loudly. “The catch is, they come as diamonds in the rough. They’re going to need to be trained. Whether you’re looking for a trail-riding horse or show horse, they have the potential. People just need to be willing to work with them.”

Rachel Weeks, from Graham, and her 8-year-old daughter, Charlie, were among the attendees at a “Wild Horse and Burro” adoption event in the Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. Horse Complex, west of downtown Raleigh, on Saturday, Aug. 19.
Rachel Weeks, from Graham, and her 8-year-old daughter, Charlie, were among the attendees at a “Wild Horse and Burro” adoption event in the Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. Horse Complex, west of downtown Raleigh, on Saturday, Aug. 19.

With only a few hours left on Saturday morning, Wild Horse No. 2392 got a little break. Emily Harris, a horse trainer who’d been working the event, randomly picked the mare from the pen to spotlight in a live demo. Apart from being handled during processing, it was most likely her first time ever being touched by a human. At first, the mare was defiant, running around, trying to escape the pen. But within 40 minutes, she was rubbing up alongside Harris, asking for more attention. “Good girl, good girl,” coaxed the 25-year-old handler. She gently guided the young mustang, with a firm push from behind, into the center of the ring. Harris bought her first mustang in 2021. Now she runs an equestrian-guide business with her family, Sisters Horsing Around, in Virginia and owns 12 horses tamed from the wild. She also travels around the Southeast, helping others train wild horses. “For some, it comes fairly easily. Other horses take more time,” she said. “It’s just a matter of the horse understanding that people are not a bad thing.”

Attendees feed horses straw at the “Wild Horse and Burro” adoption event in the Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. Horse Complex, west of downtown Raleigh, on Saturday, Aug. 19.
Attendees feed horses straw at the “Wild Horse and Burro” adoption event in the Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. Horse Complex, west of downtown Raleigh, on Saturday, Aug. 19.

Rachel Weeks, from Graham, and her 8-year-old daughter, Charlie, were among the onlookers. Having grown up with horses, they were looking to buy their family’s first horse. They were torn between this one and a mare in another pen. “She stayed with me the whole time,” said the young girl, sizing up the two mares. By mid-afternoon, Wild Horse No. 2392 still had not been claimed. However, it’s not the end for her. If she doesn’t get adopted, she will go back to a nearby holding facility and on to another adoption event. People can also adopt her through the bureau’s Wild Horses Online, an online corral showcasing available animals. “We keep them with us until we find them home,” the bureau’s deputy district manager said. This story was originally published August 19, 2023, 6:23 PM.

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