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BLM to hold wild horse and burro adoption in Billings

Two adopted horses wait for dinner at a ranch near Roundup.
Orlinda Worthington
Two adopted horses wait for dinner at a ranch near Roundup.

Horses and burros from BLM land will be up for adoption in Billings this weekend. The cost is low, but the dedication to the animals needs to be a high priority for adoptees, according to a Montana horse trainer.

For the first time in years, the Bureau of Land Management is hosting a wild horse adoption event in Billings June 8 - 9. While the horses come at an enticingly low price, a Montana horse trainer says there is a lot to know before you adopt.

“This kid here I got his mom wild bred.”

It’s feeding time on Indigo Farm near Roundup, Montana, for eleven former wild horses. As they trot to the hay trough, their owner, Christine Herman, gives me the background on a couple of them.

“He was gathered in Wyoming. I adopted him when he was nine. So he was a feral stallion for eight years,” Christine Herman said.

Christine Herman of Indigo Farm
Orlinda Worthington
Christine Herman of Indigo Farm

Herman has been training horses professionally for 25 years. For the last five she’s been working with mustangs from the adoption program sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management adoption program. They come from wild herds roaming BLM land.

“We've had a few hundred come through our facility that we've helped get on to their next stage of life and gentling,” Herman said.

In 1971, Congress passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to protect the animals that had been hunted to near extinction. Amy Waring is the Branch Chief of Biological Resources and Science for the BLM’s Montana and Dakota state offices. It’s her responsibility to provide management of the wild horse and burro programs for the two states.

“When the capacity of the rangelands are exceeded and there's too many horses and there's not enough forage over time you're going to see two things. First you're going to start to see the health of the herd start to decline. The horses may become skinnier. You might start seeing more mortality. They just don't have that level of fitness to withstand tough conditions out there, whether it's drought, heat, cold, snow. And then the other part is you start losing plant communities that have typically been in that environment, replaced with plants that just aren't as palatable to horses or native wildlife,” Waring said.

Nevada is the state with the most wild horses and burros, Wyoming comes in second. Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus is spearheading a bill that would outlaw the use of helicopters and airplanes to round up wild horses saying it is an inhumane way to gather them. Christine Herman is aware of the controversy.

“I try to remain neutral and I try to see things from their point of view,” Herman said.

But says scenes like the one she describes here offer another view point.

“I can tell you the other sad thing was going out to the south scenes and seeing the horses skin and bones, seeing them wading through sludge, thick, deep mud, looking for a drink of water. It's heartbreaking seeing the horses that the foals can't nurse because their mothers don't have any milk because there's no nutrients,” Herman said.

Herman says as long as the roundups and adoptions continue, her only goal is to make sure the horses go to responsible owners.

“It takes somebody that is willing to put forth the efforts and the steps, whether that be money to pay a trainer to come to you and do lessons with you, or to send the horse to a trainer to be gentled first.”

Adoption fees for BLM mustangs start at only 125 dollars. In comparison, a good quarter horse can cost thousands. The bargain adoption price catches a lot of attention. But Herman warns, you need to do your research before you take home a wild horse.

“Have an action plan for these wild horses before you get them gentled because I can tell you It can happen that these horses can become sick or injured and need care before they're ready to be handled by humans. So finding facilities and veterinarians that can handle a feral animal is very important and I hope people do that before bringing them home.”

And, as with any horse, there is a significant ongoing cost to keeping them healthy.

“I've seen people say, ‘Oh, mustangs eat twigs and sticks out in the wild. And the same thing with burrows.’ No, they eat good quality hay just as any other horse or burro. They receive vet care when needed,” Herman said.

“Mustangs are a blank slate and they have what you give them. I tell everybody, every time you go out with your horse, whether it's to walk out and feed it, or change its water, or just say hello to it, you are teaching that horse something, no matter how big or small the interaction may be. And I absolutely love that, they’re so honest. What they’re giving you is what you know,” Herman said.

In Billings, I’m Orlinda Worthington

There are hundreds of wild horses and burros in holding areas waiting for homes. To find adoption requirements and an adoption events visit

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.