TEMPLE, TX — The Bureau of Land Management, charged with the task of caring for and protecting more than 245 million acres of public land, has spent millions each year in managing an overpopulation of Wild Horses and Burros on public lands.
The most recent nationwide wild horse and burro population estimates of March 1, 2020, place the population at 95,000 animals.
That's more than 68,000 animals above the appropriate management level (AML) of 26,770 or the population point at which the wild horse and burro population is consistent with the land's capacity to support them.
To manage the population growth of wild horse burro herds, the BLM conducts horse gathers, at times through helicopter, where animals are gathered, removed, and entered into the Adoption and Sales program.
From there, BLM attempts to place the animals into private homes. However, if no willing owner can be found, BLM cares for the wild horses for the rest of their lives on off-range pastures.
The practices and methods utilized to manage an animal as iconic as a wild horse can often be a point of contention and draw a range of opinions on what's best for the animals and public land.
It's a problem you often associate with the Western U.S., but some of these animals are finding homes here in the lone-star state through various programs or partnerships. In 2019, one program the BLM began utilizing to confront an over-population of wild horses and burros on public rangelands was the Adoption Incentive Program.
The program provides up to $1,000 to those who adopt an untrained wild horse or burro from the BLM. 943 wild horses and burros have been adopted under the Adoption Incentive Program in Texas since the start of the program in March 2019, according to a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro program.
You can find more information on the Adoption Incentive Program here.
Another program, which aims to bring together talented horse trainers with America's wild horse and burros, is gaining steam in Texas and changing the lives of at least one Texas trainer and their animals for the better.
Michelle Bonds is with the Mustang Heritage Foundation, a non-profit with headquarters in Granger, TX, dedicated to placing America's Wild Horse and Burros into good homes.
The foundation has been innovative in creating programs such as the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition or the Trainer Incentive Program to help help bring others into the fold to take a chance in training and adopting wild horses. The Trainer Incentive Program often referred to as "TIP," engages horse trainers nationwide who gentle and halter train Bureau of Land Management branded wild horses or burros.
"The program helps match adopters with mustangs and burrows that have been gentled," Bond explained. "It helps to bridge the gap between people that want a mustang but maybe aren't quite ready or don't have the time for one that is completely wild."
Once approved TIP trainers gentle and halter train their animal; they then market the animal for adoption or purchase. Finally, once BLM approves a home, TIP trainers are reimbursed up to $1,000 for their efforts.
The $1,000 reimbursement isn't a big draw in attracting people to become TIP trainers; according to Bonds, it's all about the desire to find new homes for the animals.
"Our trainers do it because their passionate about the animal," Bonds said. "They want to find these animals forever homes."
The program has been successful in doing just that. Since 2007 more than 14,000 animals have been placed through the TIP, a program that has seen unprecedented success in recent months.
"In April, we actually set a new monthly placement record and placed 452 horses into private care," Bond said.
An effort made possible by trainers in the program, and one that's picking up some steam, even here in Texas.
"So we currently have 16 TIP trainers in Texas and that's growing," Bonds said. "In the last year, our Texas Tip trainers have placed 92 animals. "
"That's a pretty good number, considering a lot of the facilities didn't open until you get horses until this year," Brent Gardner said, remarking on those figures.
Gardner is a TIP trainer who became involved in the program initially through MHF's veteran's program. The Mustang Heritage Foundation Veterans Program patch on his shirt is a small sign of an entire lifetime of military service.
"Let's see we did probably 16-17 months on the first rotation, been to South America a couple times on some rotations, been back to the Middle East two or three times, and then my last one was in 2014. And that's when I got medevacked back."
As Gardner shows the mustangs on his property, the motivation behind Gardner becoming a TIP trainer is clear. It's the animals.
"You got one of these horses to do pretty much whatever you want besides ride at the time, It's amazing," Gardner said. "It changed my life."
And through his involvement in MHF's veteran's program ultimately spurred him onto the path of a Tip trainer. Gardner expresses how he feels he's gotten just as much out of the programs as he's giving them today. His description is nearly bringing him to tears.
"It helped me realize I had more issues than I was actually acknowledging," Gardner said. "I got to work those issues out through the program, and it really helped me and my family."
Today thanks to MHF's and people like Gardner, there's a brighter future on the horizon for both the animals and at least one person here in Central Texas.
"Tipping the horse out I guess that's me giving back for what they gave me," Gardner said.
TIP program trainers nor any trained animal through Mustang Heritage Foundation or BLM training programs are eligible for incentives through the Adoption Incentive Program, as the two programs are completely different.