KELLYVILLE — She printed off a picture from the Internet and kept it folded in the front pocket of her blue jeans all the way from Elkins, Ark. As Vickie Kyle watched Thursday, an 18-wheeler unloaded a whole truckload of horses into the dusty arena. But the picture stayed in her pocket. Then a second 18-wheeler doubled the number of horses at the Creek County Fairgrounds, 30 minutes west of Tulsa on old Route 66. Still, the picture didn’t come out. Finally, a pickup with a trailer added six more horses to the group. And Kyle unfolded the photo. "That’s it,” she pointed at a small, light-colored yearling as it bounded through the chute. Then she pointed at the picture, printed from a government Web site that promotes horse adoptions. "That’s the one I’m going to take home.” Federal officials will offer more than 80 wild Mustangs for adoption this weekend, along with half a dozen jack burrows — all rounded up from government-owned land in the western United States. Officials thin out the herds on public lands to prevent overpopulation and starvation. Enticed by the chance to leave with a horse for as little as $125, people come from hundreds of miles away when the Bureau of Land Management sponsors an adoption. Gates will open at 8 a.m. today, with adoptions starting at 10 a.m. and continuing Saturday at 8 a.m. "They bite. They kick. They buck,” says Kyle, who has adopted four Mustangs at previous events. "They’re wild animals, and they act like it.” That’s why the younger horses — including the one Kyle picked out online and came specifically to find — always prove most popular. They’re relatively easy to tame.
$500 enticementAn older horse often returns unadopted to a government holding pen, where taxpayers will have to feed the animal for the rest of its life. "We’re hoping to change that trend, starting right here,” says Paul McGuire of the Bureau of Land Management’s Oklahoma Field Office. "Kellyville is going to be the testing grounds.” For the first time, the government will offer a $500 stipend to anyone who adopts a horse that’s more than 4 years old. The money will be paid a year from now, to offset the cost of caring for the animal for the first 12 months. "It’s a short-term expense for the taxpayer, but a long-term gain,” McGuire says. "For a $500 investment, you can save $10,000 over the lifetime of the horse. That’s an investment any financial adviser would tell you to take.” With clumpy, matted hair and tangled manes, most of these horses come straight from the wild. And even the ones that have been born in captivity have never been groomed. "If you’re looking for the next champion jumper, or if you want a show horse, you won’t find one here,” says Chad Kelly, a Missouri trainer specializing in taming wild Mustangs. But when they’re cleaned up and trained properly, they make excellent trail horses, Kelly says. "These are blue-collar horses for blue-collar people. They’re strong. They’re smart. And they’re all-American.”