Cowboy at heart adopts wild mustangs

Muril Hillman is a cowboy at heart, which may be why he bonds so easily with the wild horses he adopted last September.

In fact Dolly and Ruby, the two mustangs he paid just $125 each for at the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Adoption Auction, are now almost downright tame, letting even visitors pet their surprisingly soft manes.

"They are still fillies, but when they are older, I hope to be able to ride them," said Hillman.

The urban cowboy grew up in Yucca but later moved to Idaho.

Eleven years ago he moved to Kingman and set up a corral for horses on a small spread zoned for animals.

He has two other mustangs including a gray mare he occasionally rides, but affection for his two latest acquisitions is apparent.

"Mustangs are beautiful animals," he said.

"It is hard to imagine that they once ran wild with a herd of horses."

The Bureau of Land Management protects approximately 47,000 wild horses and burros that roam public lands in the West under the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act.

Most of the country's BLM-managed land is located in 12 Western states, including Arizona.

The law mandates the protection, management and control of the wild horses and burros in a manner that ensures a healthy, viable population of free-roaming herds within the limits of available public land resources.

When herds become more then the ecosystem of an area can sustain the BLM gathers the excess animals and places them in good homes.

After one year, qualified adopters may acquire title to the animals.

There are only two wild horse herd management areas in Arizona, so most wild horses that come up for adoption come from Nevada, said BLM assistant field manager Brenda Smith.

There are, however, large numbers of wild burros in the Black Mountains surrounding Golden Valley.

Introduced to the area by miners and prospectors beginning in the 1860s, the burros have thrived in this environment, independent of humans ever since.

They too were given protection under the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which mandates that BLM manage the animals as an integral part of the natural environment.

When the burro population rises to a level that the Black Mountain ecosystem cannot support, the animals are removed, said BLM biologist Bob Hall.

Since its inception, more than 782 burros have been removed and placed in BLM's Adopt-a Horse-or Burro program.

"The program has been successful," Hall said.

"If there are too many animals, they must be removed.

If it gets to that point, we will ask Congress for more money to put them up for adoption."

Although the allowable number of wild burros the Black Mountain ecosystem can support is 478, the average number of burros in the area from 1994 to 1999 was 645, necessitating the removal of excess animals from the area.

After being brought to a central site, horses and burros undergo a thorough exam.

A veterinarian checks each animal for general health, estimates the burro's age, inoculates for equine diseases, and conducts blood tests.

Wranglers then worm each animal and place a unique freeze brand on its neck that indicates U.S.

Government registration, birth year, and location found.

Animals are then held and monitored at the facility for 30 to 60 days before being sent to an adoption event or sent to the Eastern part of the United States, where most of the burros are adopted, Smith said.

The next satellite adoption event in Kingman will be held in September during the Mohave County Fair, when bidding for animals starts at $125 and goes up $5 a bid.

However, anyone who is interested in adopting before the auction can do so through the BLM Kingman Regional Wild Horse and Burro facility.

To set up an appointment to visit the BLM Corral on Route 66 where the animals are held call 692-5584.

The cost is $125 for each animal adopted.

Adoptions can also be made on the BLM Web site: WWW.AZ.BLM.GOV