Wild Horses Come to Iowa

Apr 23, 2012

You have to weave between Amish buggies on the gravel road that leads to the Davis County Fairgrounds.

There, this weekend, corrals are holding more than 30 burros and wild horses.

Most of the animals quietly munch on hay. They pay little attention to the families and kids coming up to stalls.

Dave Berg is a specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM.

“If they have good food and clean water, they’re happy campers," he says. "And out in the wild, they do not have good food and clean water that readily available.”

With his black cowboy hat, weathered face and yes, piercing blue eyes, Berg looks like he wandered out of a Western film. Except this movie would be about saving millions of acres of land from…too many mustangs.

“They overpopulate the ranges, and then they destroy the ranges. So that’s why we have to keep the population under control,” Berg says.

Right now, it’s way out of control, by about 12,000 excess horses, according to the BLM. They say it’s killing the grasslands, and horses and other animals are dying of starvation.

So for years, the BLM has been rounding them up to be adopted by people like Jessie Houston of O’Fallon, Missouri. At 15, she’s a pro with mustangs. She tamed her first one years ago.

“I was 12, I think? I’ve seen girls as young as eight train a mustang.”

Don’t be fooled: taming a wild horse is grueling work. And it’s dangerous, too, as Jessie learned when she competed in an event for mustang trainers. The crowd and the noise was just too much for her horse, and he bolted out of the ring.

“He took off with his feet flying," Houston says. "He didn’t mean to kick me but he did. So, he kicked me in the stomach.”

Her friend Abby Brown, of Seymore, remembers how a professional trainer came to help Jessie out of the arena.

"And he asks, 'Are you ok?'" Brown recalls. "And she goes, 'Can I finish?' He like got on the microphone, he was like, 'you will not believe what this girl just said!'”

Houston says there was never really any question that she would finish the show.

“With my horses, I don’t want them to get away with that stuff," she says. "Like, even if I’m hurt, they’re not gonna get away with kicking me and then just leave the arena. They’re gonna have to finished what they started.”

Right now the Bureau of Land Management is hoping a lot more people with Jessie’s tenacity will adopt a wild horse. But in a bad economy, fewer people can afford it.

These days, there are too many horses on the market already, and not everybody wants to sign up for the challenge of taming a wild one.

In Bloomfield, only half the animals were adopted. The rest go back to a holding facility in Nebraska. But one horse did go home with a very grateful little boy named Alex Deshatler of Milton.

His mom, Vicky, says their family’s had horses in the past. Still, she knows this one is going to be a lot more work.

“It is! And it may not be realistic, but I’d like to try," she says. "And it’s worth it, if it’s gonna keep the breed going, keep the horse alive, then it’s worth everything you’re willing to put into it.”

With these adoptions spreading around the country, horse lovers are hoping even more people will feel the same way.