Nevada's Wild Horses: Soon Gone Forever? - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Nevada's Wild Horses: Soon Gone Forever?

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Nevada is home to more than half of all the wild horses in the nation, but the number of horses on the open range has plummeted in the past few years, mostly because of large-scale roundups by the Bureau of Land Management.

After these horses are rounded up, they end up in large holding pens in other states. The I-Team's George Knapp checked out one of the closest facilities.

Some of the horses that are sent to the holding pens have ended up at slaughterhouses, sold for meat. Many do end up getting adopted to good homes.

Oddly enough, if a Southern Nevada resident wants to adopt a wild horse from Nevada, that person will probably have to go to California to do it. Wild horse advocates say the adoption program here is pathetic.

In the high desert of Southern California, the Ridgecrest Wild Horse and Burro facility stands as a safe haven for up to 1,000 horses and burros gathered from public lands. The 50-acre facility can hold more than 1,000 horses at any given time, 80-percent of them from Nevada.

Las Vegas wild horse advocate Jerry Reynoldson is in Ridgecrest to adopt two wild horses and take them back to Nevada. He plans to keep one for himself and find a good home for the other.

At sunrise on a recent morning, Reynoldson assisted in putting a bridle on the horses for the first time in their lives. The animals were understandably nervous, but that didn't last long. After a tough life on the open range, they are amazingly adaptable and with very little trouble, they are harnessed and loaded into a trailer.

Jerry Reynoldson said, "They're as intelligent or more intelligent than domestic horses. I'm convinced they're more loyal once you get their trust than any horse."

Alfredo Ortega, who spent years training prized Arabians for entertainer Wayne Newton, has likewise been won over by the mustangs he's trained.

"They want to please you. They really want to please you, and with the right training, they can become a good family horse," Ortega said.

Conditions at Ridgecrest are not ideal. The horses, after all, live in pens, but the enclosures are large enough to allow them to run in herds. Even in captivity, it's a magnificent sight.

When the horses first arrive at the facility, they're skittish, but head wrangler Dan Anderson and his staff treat them well, provide plenty of feed, ample water, and shade from the hot desert sun, and within days after arriving, most of the mustangs settle down.

They quickly get used to humans, in part because each evening, locals and tourists come up to the fences bringing carrots and other treats. The wranglers allow this because it calms the horses and leads to further adoptions.

Anyone still around when the sun goes down is likely to see unforgettable images, the silhouettes of wild horses and their offspring, doing what horses do.

As part of our tour, we entered one of the corrals and were quickly surrounded by 70 or more yearling fillies that proved friendly and inquisitive, providing a memory that will never be forgotten. Even for cowboys like Anderson, this is more than a job.

BLM wrangler Dan Anderson says he really likes them. "I've got five of them, six of them at my home. I'm horse poor since I went to work here."

Horse advocates say there is a major, discernable difference between the BLM's wild horse operation in California and the one in Nevada. The California program is dedicated to finding homes for horses. The Nevada program is primarily focused on rounding them up and shipping them out.

At Ridgecrest, there are frequent adoption events advertised in the media. The wranglers will even provide free transportation and will stop whatever they're doing if a potential adopter shows up. They adopted hundreds of horses out of Ridgecrest last year.

In Nevada, the BLM rounded up 1,500 horses. Of those, only eight were adopted out in Southern Nevada. The BLM's Juan Palma blames it on a lack of interest from volunteer groups.

"The only request we had was for a total of eight. We would have brought 50 or 100 but the request was for eight horses," Palma explained.

Critics say it's the Bureau of Land management's job to not only round up horses but to be proactive in encouraging adoptions instead of waiting for volunteers to show up to handle the job.

Jerry Reynoldson said, "Gathers seem to be the Holy Grail of the program in Nevada. It's out of sight, out of mind -- the fewer horses, fewer to manage. The truth is, we adopted eight horses in Southern Nevada last year in a market with 1.8 million people, which fits the demos to a tee."

For at least two wild horses though, it doesn't matter who is to blame for low adoption figures. The I-Team's camera was there for their trip back to Nevada and witnessed, as they were released into a grassy field in Overton, what must seem like heaven to a horse.

A once a year horse adoption event in Las Vegas is set for October. Once again, out of the hundreds of horses rounded up in the past year in Nevada, eight will be put up for adoption.

Jerry Reynoldson is a longtime wild horse advocate who recently founded a non-profit group Wild Horses 4Ever, which is still in the formative stages. The phone number is 702-398-7799.

Jerry is very knowledgable about wild horse issues and has offered to help anyone who is interested in adopting a wild horse, even if it means driving to the Ridgecrest facility in California.

Send feedback to Investigative Reporter George Knapp at gkanpp@klastv.com

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