In an effort to adequately maintain land management, the Yakama Nation is allowing the adoption of young, wild horses that live on the reservation to non-tribal members.
According to E. Arlen Washines, program manager for the wildlife program, the tribe's goal is to find good, quality homes for the animals.
"We have a problem in certain areas of the reservation where horses have grown to such a large number it's disrupting our ecosystem," Washines said.
When this happens, the horses overgraze and get into the reservation's water supply, he added. It can also lead to inbreeding among the horses, which can lead to blindness and disfiguration. "It's inhumane to keep a horse like that."
Horses that will be adopted out are from concentrated areas of the reservation where they have destroyed traditional roots and medicinal plants tribal members still use today.
Once non-tribal members show an interest in adopting the horses, members of Yakama Nation's wildlife program will visit the homes to ensure an adequate environment for the horse to live in. Once that is done, and a family is approved to adopt a horse, the family adopting the animal must sign a contract that says they will love and care for the animal and not take it to slaughter, which has recently been a misconception about the tribe's way of handling the horses.
Washines said that several interest groups have called and accused tribal members of slaughtering healthy horses. That's not the case, he said. "They don't ask, they just shoot first," he said of the interest groups.
Chasing and capturing the wild horses has been a tradition on the reservation for as long as tribal members can remember.
Washines said that in the past, tribal members would capture the horses for every day use to help out at the farm.
Today, they don't use the horses to the extent that they once did. "Our mind-set now is such that we don't feel that having a wild horse is keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak," he said. He said that in today's society, many people want papered horses. But, he added, "We do still have tribal members who use them and break them."
Washines said that when a wild horse is captured, it receives veterinary care and gets wormed and vaccinated before it even leaves the ranch. Ranch hands will monitor the horse to ensure it's in good health and not dangerous to adopt out. "It takes anywhere from two to three weeks, because staff wants to make sure the horse wants to be handled by humans. We don't want to release a dangerous horse," he said.
Initial cost to adopt a horse is $100. For an additional fee, the staff can halter-break the animal. Also for an additional fee, staff can saddle break the wild horse.
Washines said the tribe's five-year goal is to adopt out about 1,500 horses.
Those interested in learning more about adopting a horse are encouraged to call Jim Stephensen at 509-865-5121, ext. 6325.