Chinook is a wild horse adopted and owned by Marshall and Bettye Dominick of Cody.

There are about 7,500 wild horses in Wyoming. To effectively manage these herds for population control the BLM takes in about 100 horses a year, which it in turn places for public adoption.

This spring the BLM will host two regional adoptions: Friday at the Britton Spring Wild Horse Corral in Lovell and May 18 at the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton.

At the Riverton adoption there will be about 28 saddle-trained horses, 16 gentled burros and several halter-trained horses up for adoption through a live auction.

Although trained for about six months to a year after removed from the wild, the horses still need some gentling.

“They’re wonderful projects,” Scott Fluer, BLM wild horse and burro specialist, said.

Marshall and Bettye Dominick of Cody have participated in the BLM wild horse program over the years and currently own 12 horses they acquired through it.

“It takes some work but you get a lot out of them,” Bettye Dominick said. “You just have to spend time with them.”

Once removed from the wild, the animals receive blood testing, hoof trimming, vaccinations, deworming and Coggins testing. After being treated at the BLM facility in Rock Springs the horses are brought to the 640-acre Wyoming Honor Farm, a minimum-security prison facility.

At the farm prison incarcerees train and “gentle” the horses, leading, riding, halter-starting and in certain scenarios even saddle-starting them.

“The horses are gentled through trust and respect,” said Fluer, also a program manager at the honor farm program.

He said only four other prisons enact this program nationwide. In Wyoming 1,500 inmates have participated since the program’s start in 1988. The Honor Farm has sent about 4,500 adopted animals through its ranks.

“It’s truly a partnership with Wyoming Department of Corrections,” Fluer said. “Huge success … the rehabilitation for the men as well as the training and preparation of the wild horse for the American public to adopt.”

Ted and Maureen Shuler of Powell have adopted five wild horses that they use on pack trips and mountain expeditions.

“The ones we’ve had, they’ve all been pretty sound,” Ted Shuler said.

He said adopting the horses has been a positive experience, only needing an average of about two years to bring the horses up to a level of training matching his other horses.

“You’re getting a young horse that’s been worked pretty good for cheap,” he said.

By far one of the best aspects of the adoption program is its economic value. Fluer said auctions start at $125, an incredibly low price for a horse. After bidding those prices inevitably go up but Shuler said he has found his horses for around $300 a head.

BLM requires adopters fill out an application, have adequate corral space for the horses; a 400 square foot space required, and ability to provide water and care. When adopting an animal, people must sign an agreement that they will provide care for it for one year.

The government agency is also initiating a new $1,000 adoption incentive program this year. Owners can receive $500 within 60 days of their adoption date and a second $500 after receiving the title to their horse, earned upon BLM inspection a year after adoption.

Shuler said wild horses tend to do better on pack trips than his normally raised horses, as they grew up in mountainous terrain. His go-to camping spot, located in a natural ravine, served as the ultimate case example.

“My other horses would get so nervous it would take an hour to get out,” Shuler said, but with one of his wild horses, “It was the first time I ever rode out of that hill in 10 years.”

People can research and scout animals up for adoption the day before the auction, which Fluer recommends because of the variety of choices on hand. The BLM will also host a training clinic that day.

“It’s a chance to see the animals,” Fluer said. “They showcase each horse so you’ll get to see what you’re buying and how much training they’ve had.”

Horses and burros with more training tend to sell for higher prices.

“Some horses have 20 rides on them, some horses have 60 rides on them,” Fluer said.

For yearlings, he recommends training the horse without riding them for some time, while 3-year-old horses people can ride immediately.

“There’s different stages and different age groups that meet all the different public interests,” Fluer said.

Each horse also has its own personality. Horses from the McCullough Peaks herd for instance have already experienced significant human interaction.

“They’re very habituated because of all the people around them,” said Ada Inbody, a wild horse adopter.

Adopter Michaele Dimock has said family separation is an ongoing concern within the BLM’s program, aside from at the Cody office. Inbody, however, said in practice this is rare and Fluer said the agency makes an active effort to consider the family dynamic.

“We’ll keep them paired together if they’re (foals) not weanable,” Fluer said.

The wild horse program has not been without controversy.

Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston said he opposes the BLM’s management of wild horses, which he considers more of the “feral” variety since modern horses aren’t indigenous to North America.

“They’re the remnants of ranch herds,” Livingston said. “It’s no different than wild hogs in Texas.”

A 2013 National Academy of Sciences study concluded the BLM should focus more on birth control for the horses rather than housing them, which it said has sped up environmental damage and fed into growing wild horse populations.

Livingston did say he is not opposed to “adoption” as a whole and has taken in horses with success, raising them for both ranch riding and pack trips.

Fluer said the horses and burros are typically 1-2-years old with some as old as 5. He said the organization typically rounds them up about once a year with about 175 held at the Rock Springs facility at one time.

“We see people coming around the United States to adopt,” Fluer said. “What we notice over the years is our return clients. We have the public that have adopted in the past that have come back for more. That tells you a lot about how successful it’s been.”

Since 1971 the BLM has placed more than 240,000 wild horses and burros into private care.

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