Man riding across the U.S. to save horses

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— When cowboy, horse trainer, trick rider and former jockey Bill Newman rode into Steamboat Springs on his stallion, he bedded down in one of the more comfortable places he's been in 40 days the dirt floor of a local stable.

Newman began his trip from Carson City, Nev., with $12 in his pocket and plans to eventually ride down Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation's capital.

"I'm going to Congress, if I don't get arrested first," Newman said during his stop in Steamboat.

"I'll tie my horse to a parking meter and go in and talk to them."

Newman is on a quest to save wild horses in his home state of Nevada horse herds he believes could be managed better by the U.S. government. He also wants to make the public aware that these wild horses can be adopted and trained.

Newman is riding one horse and carrying everything he needs to live on two other horses. All three of the horses came from wild horse herds in Nevada that he adopted and trained.

"I had death threats from ranchers around Carson City who said I'd never make it out of the state alive," Newman said.

"They hate the wild-horse issue so much that they would say something like that," he said.

Newman and his wife run the nonprofit Wild Horses in Need, Inc., or WHINI, formed just three years ago on a remote 80-acre ranch with no power.

During his 3,000-mile ride, Newman is collecting names on petitions to present to Congress. He hopes Congress will force the Bureau of Land Management to start working more closely with nonprofit groups who will care for horses and adopt them out.

Right now, Newman said the BLM adopts out horses to individuals or keeps them locked up in pens.

"The majority of BLM horses stand in holding pens costing taxpayers $55,000 a day," Newman said.

"BLM allows these holding facilities to put in several hundred horses at the same time, and some of those pens are only on an acre or two in size," Newman said.

"It's like putting too many rats in a box."

Maxine Shane, a BLM public affairs specialist with the state of Nevada, said her office does its best to see wild horses are treated humanely.

She said the horses are kept in pens while they are treated by veterinarians and then sent out for adoptions throughout the United States.

"If they are older and can't be trained, we can ship them to Oklahoma and Kansas where there's open space," Shane said.

The BLM adopts out up to 9,000 horses a year, with most of those coming from the state of Nevada.

Nevada has the largest wild-horse herds in the country, with 25,000 wild horses on BLM land in Nevada and 48,000 nationwide.

Newman said the BLM's overpopulated herds, which sometimes encroach on ranchers' leased lands, could be helped by organizations such as WHINI.

He said the BLM has the option of letting nonprofit groups train and adopt out the horses, but they refuse to do so, he said.

For example, the state agricultural department of Nevada uses organizations like WHINI, which have a no-kill policy, to adopt their wild horses out.

The nonprofit group buys the horses from the state of Nevada for about $70. They then train the horses and adopt out or auction off the horses to people. WHINI will even mentor people who adopt the horses and will help train them. Newman said there's no profit in the adoptions, so WHINI exists on donations from the public.

Newman said the BLM has put too many restrictions on itself, allowing a person to adopt only four horses per year and doesn't allow anyone to profit off an animal until one year after adoption.

Newman said this was done because people were adopting the horses and selling them to meat-processing centers. Newman is upset that these BLM restrictions are too broad, leaving non-kill facilities like his out of the picture.

Shane said the BLM does use facilities in other states to train horses but doesn't have such a facility in Nevada yet. She said the BLM does allow some adoptions of more than four horses but allows only four horses to be titled to a person. She said the BLM has to do monthly checks on people with more than four horses.

"We still have a responsibility to make sure the horses are treated humanely," Shane said.

Shane said the BLM has to make sure the horses are treated humanely for a year before the title is transferred from the government to a person.

Whatever the differences between the BLM and Newman, both have the same goal of saving America's wild horses.

"These are our national heritage. These bloodlines made America what it is," Newman said.

"Without these horses there now, we'd still be walking to California. Our ancestors never would have crossed the plains."

As for his trip, Newman saddles up his horses once again Wednesday morning, heading out U.S. 40 to County Road 14, which he'll take through Walden and eventually to Fort Collins.

His ride should last another 100 days through the "grace of God" he said.

"I had a few people hand me $10 here and $20 there," he said. "One lady handed me a $100 bill three weeks ago."

That good fortune allowed Newman to buy horse feed and take his first real shower in a motel, the only time he's stayed in a real room.

A donation of beef jerky helps Newman get through the rough times when he can't buy food. During his two-night stay in Steamboat, a woman brought him some cookies, and the Sombrero Ranch let him use its horse pens and stable to sleep in at the rodeo grounds. No matter what he's forced to eat, the thin cowboy with the sunburned face and gnarled hands always has proper feed for his three horses.

"I've got to take care of my horses."

For more information on WHINI, call (775) 358-7943.

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