Call of the wild: Horses, burros find Valley homes at annual auction


MERCEDES — What has now become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history didn’t stop the Bureau of Land Management’s annual wild horse and burro auction here on Saturday.

Just ask 19-year-old Ashlie Zavala, who couldn’t contain her excitement as the 3-year-old gelding mustang she had just adopted was loaded into a 18-foot trailer and later driven to the horses’ new home in Los Fresnos.

“I wanted to rescue a horse,” said the UTRGV student. “I picked this horse because he is so pretty.”

The chestnut colored gelding mustang was unique because of a white streak running the length of its face and nose.

Moments after being loaded, the horse became restless and banged its head against the side of the trailer.

“He’s just a little nervous, that’s all,” said Zavala with a wide grin. “I have to gain his trust. I’ll gain his trust by feeding him. I’ll feed him carrots. He’ll come up to me then. A lot of horses like carrots.”

Zavala’s new horse will join three others on her family’s Los Fresnos property.

“I’m very excited,” said Zavala.

Ashlie Zavala, 19, looks over at her new horse after purchasing it at the Wild Horse and Burro event at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Showgrounds on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez |

Crystal Cowan, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman, said over 65 wild horses and burros were featured during the sales event held at the Rio Grande Valley Lifestock Show grounds in Mercedes on Friday and Saturday. Thirty-five found new homes. Some were adopted for as low as $25.

According to the bureau’s website, it had placed more than 235,000 in approved homes across the country.

Cowan said the sale is a popular yearly event in the Valley.

“We come to Mercedes every year. We find great homes for our animals down here,” said Cowan. “It’s awesome to see past adopters, past people who return each year.”

According to Cowan, the horses offered for adoption are adult and yearling horses and burros that once roamed free on public land in the western United States. Each year the bureau rounds up wild horses and burros in order to maintain healthy herds.

“There is not enough forage and water to support them. Most of them come from Nevada; it’s desert-like conditions,” said Cowan. “They don’t have the grass and water that we have. They are just over-populated.”

But not everyone who attended the sales event intended to buy a wild horse or burro. One couple from Missouri, Winter Texans, were interested in viewing the animals and attending a unique event.

“We read about it in the paper. We’ve never been to a wild horse auction., we’ve never seen one, so we we decided to come here,” said Linda Jones. “There’s no way we could buy one because our farm is in Missouri.”

Her husband, Dick Jones, added with a laugh, “We’re just down here doing research.”

There were some, however, attending the wild horse and burro sale who oppose the bureau’s policies. One group of women at the event believed the wild horse round-up amounts to animal cruelty.

Beverly Bailey, a Winter Texan from Colorado who’s living in Donna, said, “I love horses. I’ve been to these auctions before in Colorado. But I don’t think the wild horses are the problem. I think the ranchers want the land. And so the horses are being forced off the open range and public lands. So many of these horses are being put in huge holding facilities and left to rot.”

American mustangs are feral horses and decended from horses brought to America by the Spanish in the 1500s.

The bureau said more wild horses and burros will be offered in Mercedes next year.

Purchasers must provide adequate feed, care and an enclosed area, such as a corral, barn or stall. The facility may also be a pasture that is suitable for maintaining animals.

Cowan said the agency was granted “special permission” to hold the sales event during the federal government shutdown.