Can you imagine the days when wild horses roamed free across Oregon?
Herds of majestic equines brought by Spaniards and other Europeans galloped through the rugged terrain romanticized by cowboys of the old American West. We actually aren't as far removed from those times as you might think, and today, more than 4,300 wild horses known as Kiger Mustangs continue to roam thousands of acres in southeastern Oregon near Steens Mountain.
Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management — the federal division charged with stewardship of these animals — has found that the population growth of these mustangs is swelling to unsustainable levels. According to the BLM, rangelands in Harney County are only able to support around 2,700 mustangs. A 1971 act of Congress prevents the culling of these free-roaming horses, so the BLM has to get creative with how it thins populations.
That creativity led to the creation of an adoption program where mustang enthusiasts who specialize in training wild horses take these animals and turn them into gentle human companions.
That goal is at the center of the upcoming Kiger Expo and Mustang Challenge set to take place from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, hosted by the Lake Oswego Hunt at 2725 Iron Mountain Blvd. Entry for adults is $10 and $5 for kids.
The event is organized by the Wild Horse Mountain Ranch, a Sherwood-based nonprofit specializing in mustang rescue and therapeutic riding for children and adults with special needs.
Executive Director Stacey Harnew-Swanson says the Kiger Expo and Mustang Challenge has two goals, the first being to show people what these horses can do when they're trained properly, the second is to educate the public on Oregon's horse heritage and this huge gap between the large number of mustangs rounded up each year and the low number of people adopting these incredible animals.
"People don't realize (these mustangs) were a central part of what made us able to cross vast territories and come settle here in Oregon," she explains. "The other side of it is very practical. Every four to five years a herd will double in size, and there have been limits set, so the herds will be the right size and allow other inhabitants out there to flourish. Taking them off those lands and giving them to adoption is the most humane option."
Attendees will be able to get up close and personal with several Kiger Mustangs at the event to get a first-hand look at their magnificence. All events at the Kiger Expo are focused around the idea of "natural horsemanship," which is a philosophy of horse training that prioritizes working with a horse's through their natural communication instincts rather than fear or pain. It's a compassionate and gentle approach that can see incredible results, Harnew-Swanson explains. The trials and challenges all score competitors based on how the rider and horse communicate to work together rather than having the rider force the animal to complete a task.
Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter
Sam Stites at 503-636-1281 ext. 101 or