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Valley Roundup | Burbank

Wild Horses, Burros Offered for Adoption

March 26, 2000|INDRANEEL SUR

Peering up at the molasses-and-eggshell-colored horses as they stood Saturday in front of a green metal fence, Cindy Hicks and her daughter, Amy, 16, seemed to know what they were looking for almost by instinct.

"It's like you can see a part of their soul through their eyes," Hicks said of the animals.

The Lake View Terrace family found what they wanted when they took home two of the 79 wild mustangs put up for adoption at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. The event, sponsored by the federal Bureau of Land Management, is an effort to reduce the number of horses on public lands.

Potential adopters, including many like the Hickses who have several years' experience as horse owners, competed for the animals in a silent, hourlong auction Saturday morning.

The auction continues today from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Nearly 100 attended Saturday, though many came just to observe.

Most of the mustangs, as well as 20 burros, were available for a $125 fee. But bidding drove prices up to as much as $180. Animals not adopted over the weekend will be taken to the bureau's permanent adoption site in Ridgecrest.

Rangers found the animals on public lands near Susanville in Northern California last fall, said Doran Sanchez, a bureau spokesman. The bureau's adoption program has relocated nearly 175,000 horses and burros since it started in 1973, he said.

But critics say the program does not adequately protect the horses from buyers who sell them to meatpacking factories. The opposition was loud enough to force the 1998 cancellation of an auction at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.

But the bureau maintains title to the animals for a year after they are taken home, and conducts inspections of adopters' facilities to ensure the health of the horses, Sanchez said.

This yearlong probation period reduces economic incentives to meatpackers. A horse can cost $700 to feed for a year, but plants usually pay about $400 for them, Sanchez said.

While program critics weren't in evidence Saturday, horse lovers were.

Among them was Chris Burgard, who took two mustangs for Inner City Slickers, a program that teaches young prison inmates about "old Western" values through visits to an Agua Dulce ranch.

Faced with the wrath of a wild horse, Burgard said, gang machismo often wilts.

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