Caring for Wild Horses

by B. Eustis-Cross

This article is the first chapter of The Wild Horse: An Adopter's Manual which was written by Barbara Eustis-Cross and Nancy Bowker.
The book is designed to provide new adopters, or those considering adoption, with the information they need to settle their wild horse into a safe, domestic life style. Chapters explore such topics as what to expect at the adoption center, choosing a healthy horse with good potential, how to prepare for the horse before it comes home, medical information on the special health problems of the wild horse and its dietary requirements, through the gentling process, to the foundations of training. The book is available for $27.95 from Barbara Eustis-Cross,
1111 So. Lamb Rd.,
Ridgecrest, CA 93555



Your adopted wild horse will require additional time to recover from the stresses of roundup, the adoption process and settling in to your home or boarding facility. In addition to age, the physical condition and weight of your season. As a result, the wild horse does not achieve true adult size until he is four to seven years old. This natural growth pattern may contribute to the high bone density found in wild horses and account for their strong legs and bone structure. Although you can begin getting a wild horse used to a saddle and some weight on his back earlier, it is advisable to wait until the horse is 2 1/2 to 3 years old for the daily workouts of green breaking. Your veterinarian can best advise you when your horse any factors contribute to the growth of horses. While a domestic horse gets approximately the same amount of high-protein feed year-round and is protected from winter weather, the growth of wild horses is strongly regulated by the natural environment. During the spring and summer months they grow rapidly, while in the fall and winter seasons they show little or no growth as forage becomes scarce. The wild horse's body utilizes body fat and available feed to produce body heat, not growth, during the coooes to train a wild horse, it may be better for you to adopt an already trained former wild horse. Many wild horse organizations have lists of gentled and trained wild horses for sale.


In general, a minimum of an hour a day should be allowed for the care and training of a newly adopted wild horse. If you don't have the time it takes or naturally gaited, a plus if you're looking for a dressage horse. A pleasure, trail or endurance horse will need strong legs and hooves, a smooth gate and a calm disposition. While a short, stocky horse may be suited for trail riding and mountain clipend largely on how you intend to use your horse. If you plan to use it for farm work, size may be a determining factor. If your horse is headed for the show ring, a balanced conformation and pleasing head will be important. Some wild horses are pacing, it might not be the best choice for jumping or dressage.

Once you have decided how you will use your horse, talk to people who participate in that activity. Ask them what they feel are the necessary requirements of a horse intended for that ggy horse you cannot communicate with is far less likely to clear a jump than a shorter horse who is willing. But do not expect your horse to participate in activities that are beyond his physical capabilities.

The size, conformation and type of the discipline. It is wise to listen what others say, but the final decision must be yours. In the end it is you and your horse who must work together.

How you relate to a particular horse is as important as the conformation, size or breed. A tall, lee. Although a few herds and ranges of Mustang types are scattered throughout the United States, most wild horses are descended fro m horses that were turned loose on winter pasture by working ranches or that were given to ranchers by the U.S. Cavalry to mix and breed with wild horses to supply the Army with mounts. Later, as the working ranches disappeared or through government takeover of public and private land, horses escaped or were abandoned. These wild horses are, in reality, feral (domestic turn wild horse you adopt will depend largely on what area of the United States he is captured from. Very few wild horses are Mustangs or even carry Mustang blood. The Mustang is a true breed descended from the horses brought to North America by the Spanish. Often they or their forebears have been wild for less than twenty years.

While one area of the country may produce a predominately stocky, Quarter Horse type, another area may produce horses with the characteristics of the Thoroughbred, Standardbred, draft, Morgan, Arabian or even the true Mustang type.

The horse you choose will depend greatly on who will use him. A smaller Mustang-type horse may suit a child, but a growing teenager will need one that will be large enough a few years ahead. Adults must take into consideration their height and weight in determining the size that is best for them.

Horses gathered from the Prior Mountain Range in Montana average 13.2 hands (54 inches) at the withers, while horses from the MModock Ranch in northern California often reach 16 hands (64 inches) or more. The average wild horse id 14.2 hands tall.

The age, geographic area, type of wild horse and even the condition of his native range affects the final adult size of the horse. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse specialist at the adoption site or the wild horse organization representative where you adopt your horse can tell you the likely adult size the horse you are interested in will attain. With god nutrition and care some small, underdeveloped two-year-old wild horse have been known to grow an additional 4 to 8 inches by the age of seven.


Wild horses are available at almost every age. The age you choose will depend on your experience with horses, how much time you have to spend in gentling and training and how soon you want to ride your horse.

A weanling is a young horse, usually four to six months old, who has just been taken, or weaned, from itÕs mother. When adopted, it will need additional food supplements, such as BordenÕs Foal-Lac Pellets, to insure that it has the proper amount of calcium for proper bone growth. A weanling has the best chance for reaching full potential of height and development because it will have been on a good diet for the longest period of time before adulthood. If you are an inexperienced with horses and do not have someone to help you with your training of your adopted horse, the weanling may be a good choice for you. Removed from it's mother and other supportive herd members, the weanling becomes lonely very fast and thus will take less time to adjust to human companionship than an older horse. If you choose a weanling, however, you will have to wait several years before you can ride it.

A yearling is a horse twelve months old, although a horse under two is sometimes called a long yearling. At this age the horses mind is still very flexible and willing to learn. In his natural environment a wild yearling is still dependent on older members of the herd. This dependency will be more rapidly transferred to you than it would with a more cautious older horse. Because yearlings are not fully developed they may be physically easier to handle. If you are familiar with handling a horse and have the time, horses under two years of age seem to develop a special bond with adopters and may be a good choice for you.

Horses two and three years old are usually more mature not only in physical development but also in personality. At this age,, most fillies and colts have been run off by the stallion, the fillies to join another band to breed and the colts to join bachelor bands or form a harem of their own. The instinct for flight is more fully developed and the horse will be less willing to accept human companionship. Acceptance will come, but it will come slowly. Once your horse has settled in and has become physically fit, you can begin green breaking at this age.

A limited number of wild horses four to six old have received some training through one of the BLM Prison Training Programs and are available for adoption. These horses have been handled by the inmates from correction departments in the country working with wild horses. These institutions are located in California, Colorrado, New Mexico and Wyoming. The amount, type and quality of training will depend on the individual handlers within each program. Some of the have halter training only, while others are green broke. It will be important to discuss the amount of training the horse has had with the BLMÊrepresentative at the adoption. If it broke to ride, ask to see the horse ridden. You may have to arrange a time that is convenient for the BLM wranglers. If a horse is halter broken, ask to see him turned loose, caught, haltered and led. If the horse does not respond willingly, select another horse. If you are not able to see the horse worked, select another horse that you can see worked or a horse that has not been handled at all. Do not accept a halter broken horse that you cannot see handled. Retraining a head-shy horse or one that is improperly trained is much harder than gentling a horse that has not been handled at all.


Whether you choose a male or female to adopt is really a matter of personal choice, although some consideration should be given to different housing requirements, expenses and the personality traits of the sexes. If you already have horses at home, you may want to adopt a horse of the same sex. Some horse trainers feel there is less competition when mares are placed with mares or gelding are placed with other geldings. This rule does not apply if you have a stallion at home already.

A stallion is a male horse capable of mating with a mare and producing offspring. Most domestic stallions that are used for breeding purposes are trained from a young age, and will mount a mare only on a command or signal from the handler. Usually stallions that are used as riding horses are also trained from an early age to ignore mares or other stallions. A wild stallion has not had this training and may be difficult to retrain. Although wild stallions have been known to be gentled and trained into fine riding animals, they are not a good choice for the average adopter. Some BLM fac

It would be advisable to check into local zoning and animal control laws regarding stallions. Most areas restrict the neighborhood and type of corral a stallion may be kept in. Also some commercial boarding facilities may not except a stallion or may require an additional fee.

If the horse you choose at the adoption facility is a stallion, you may want to make arrangements with the BLM person in charge to have the animal castrated before you bring it home. If you adopt at a satellite adoption, arrangements should be made with your veterinarian to castrate the horse when he is adjusted to his new surroundings, eating well and more easily handled. Your veterinarian can best advise you when your horse is ready. Consult your veterinarian on how long it will take your stallion to stop displacing stallion like behavior. Gelding your stallion will not change his personality, but it will make him more predictable and easier to handle.


After a stallion has been castrated he is called a gelding. Some horse handlers believe geldings are more even tempered than stallions or mares. Geldings have a tendency to fight less with other horses.

A filly is a female under the age of four that has not been bred, a a mare is a female horse that has been bred or is over the age of four. Although some mares may exhibit signs of nervousness when they are in season, most show little, if any, difference in personality during this time.


If you adopt a mare over the age of two, there is a possibility that she may be pregnant. Often wild horses do not exhibit the round, full-belly look usually associated with pregnancy until the last trimester, or they may not show at all. Even if your veterinarian is not able to give your mare a complete examination, he or she will be able to teach you what signs to look for.

Adopting a pair, a mother and a foal, is both an exciting idea and one that will bring additional responsibilities. A mare with a foal is most likely to be protective of her young and may be less responsive to you because she has her foal to communicate with. Her attention span will be shorter when she is worried about her foal or if her udders become full and uncomfortable. A mare with a foal is usually over three t=years old and therefore may be more set in her ways. A common problem arises when the pair comes home: the foal responds faster in making friends than the adult wild mare does. Soon the foal becomes the favorite, and the mare gets less and less attention.

The foal will need to be weaned at four to six months of age. To do this you will need a separate corral, preferably out of sight of the mare, so additional expenses must be considered. But if you are willing to do twice the work, you may end up having twice the fun!


Wild horses come in all colors. While coloring may indicate possible breed background, it cannot determine the personality or temperament of the horse. A horse that is all white or that has a large amount of white on his face may require special care. He may develop photosensitivity to the sun on sensitive areas such as the nose and around the eyes. Your veterinarian can best advise you if you feel you have a problem developing or want more information.

Matching your personality to the horse you adopt is important for achieving a happy partnership. Be honest with yourself in deciding what type of horse you need and will enjoy the most. If you are a shy, quiet person, a bold or aggressive horse may be too much for you to handle. Judging a horse's personality by watching it in the corral at the adoption center of holding facility is a challenge, but knowing what you want before you adopt will make the decision easier.


Lets look again at some of the things you should consider before you adopt a wild horse:

* Do you have the time?

* What will you use your adopted horse for?

* Do you want to ride your horse right away?

* What size horse do you need?

* How old a horse do you want?

* Which sex is best for you?

* What type of personality best suits you?

* Who will feed the horse if you are not available?

Once you have thought about these questions and any others that may come in discussing your desire to adopt a wild horse with your family, you will know if adopting is for you.

If the answer is yes or maybe, then send for the booklet So You'd Like to Adopt a Wild Horse or Burro? from your closest BLM Adopt-A-Horse or Burro Office. The BLM listed under Federal Government in the White Pages of your telephone book. This pamphlet contains general information about adopting and brief answers to common questions. It will also include an application form.

It is important to find out how the BLM district in your area handles adoption applications. Some districts preapprove applications by mail; others do not. Call or write beforehand so you wont be disappointed when you arrive at the adoption center.

Owning a horse is not inexpensive, and it is important that you have a realistic idea of the costs involved before you purchase a horse. Look at some of the expenses you will have and estimate what it will cost to care for your horse properly.

One-Time Costs

  • Housing at home
    • Pipe or wood corral
    • Water container
    • Feeder
    • Shelter
  • Equipment
    • Halter
    • Cotton rope
    • Buggy or longe whip
    • Leather gloves
    • Assorted brushes and combs
  • Other Health Expenses
    • Veterinarian (First Exam)
    • Castration for a stallion
    • First-Aid kit
  • Expenses at adoption
    • Adoption fee
    • Transportation from Adoption

Continuing Costs

  • Housing at a boarding facility
    • Monthly charge
    • Additional charges for salt, supplemental feed, etc.
  • Feeding Costs
  • Housing at a boarding facility
    • Monthly charge
    • Additional charges for salt, supplemental feed, etc.