PAULS VALLEY — The soft-eyed burro and the dappled gray mare that once galloped with wild herds across the West won't be scrambling to find a mouthful of grass or shelter from winter winds whipping through the rangelands.
They'll be looking for something completely foreign to them.
These living legacies of the old West are looking for a warm heart.
The animals are among more than 50 horses and burros that will be offered for adoption Tuesday at the Pauls Valley wild horse holding center.
New owners have taken home mustangs and trained them to do everything from performing in parades to team roping to joining their owners in wild hog hunting, said Pat Hofmann, a federal Bureau of Land Management employee and Pauls Valley center manager.
He said there's a horse for virtually everyone: pretty ones, extra stout ones, yearlings, older ones, all with a variety of aptitudes and skills waiting to be discovered.
“It's kind of like a picture. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,” Hofmann said. “A lot of people come out looking for a certain type, and then a horse will come up and let them pet it. That's the horse they fall in love with.”
In an effort to achieve a balance between wild horses and other uses, the BLM rounds up the animals periodically from public land in 10 western states and places them for adoption.
Last year, 535 animals from the Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and New Mexico horse-holding region found homes.
More than 200 were adopted from the Pauls Valley center, said Paul McGuire, an Oklahoma-based BLM spokesman.
Hofmann and Gary Hughes routinely get eyeball-
Along with taking care of the herd's general health and vaccinations, they gather about 50 horses to prep them for on-site adoptions or remote adoptions.
They herd the horses from the 400 acres of pastureland into corrals so they can check the animals' condition and hooves.
Someone once said the only predictable thing about a horse is its unpredictability. Hofmann and Hughes have witnessed that adage in action. They've seen them run wildly into fences and have even watched a few leap over the 6-foot fences.
“But not very often,” Hofmann said.
The cowboys turn to technology to boost their horse-whispering skills.
When the animals need their hooves trimmed, the men urge each one into a padded, hydraulic squeeze chute, where the horses are strapped in and placed on their sides for hoof-work that's safer for man and beast.
“Once they get in there and it squeezes them, they don't fight. We try to avoid the wild, wild West scene as much as we can,” Hofmann said.
One of his favorite horses is Dakota, a 12-year-old palomino gelding caught as a 2 year-old on rangeland in Nevada. Dakota was trained and became the BLM mascot that stars in TV commercials, takes children on rides through Dallas and is used for work around the Pauls Valley center.
Dakota isn't available for adoption but the bureau has about 11,860 other wild horses and burros available at horse centers nationwide, McGuire said.
He said people who adopt horses help put a dent in the $65 million wild horse management and adoption program, and also personally feel the benefits of a warm heart.
“Every horse we find a home for is not only one more horse going to a good home,” McGuire said, “it's also making another family happier and richer.”
IF YOU GO
Wild horse and burro adoption