They came for different reasons but the people who showed up at the Sacramento Horsemen's Association corrals Saturday looking to adopt a wild horse or burro agreed on one thing – there is an element about horses that casts a spell of tranquillity and happiness on those around them.
Ranging from black to tan to gray, 14 wild horses and five burros trotted in pens at the North Highlands facility for the Bureau of Land Management's adoption program, which featured a silent auction in the morning and an open adoption in the afternoon. Horses that didn't receive morning bids were available for $125 in the afternoon.
One of the oldest horses available, a 6-year-old black mustang that had already been "gentled" – or halter trained – caught the eyes of many.
Cariel Hollmer, a 19-year-old Sierra College student, won the horse with a $440 bid. She said she's loved horses for longer than she can remember and she likes mustangs for their sturdiness and dependability.
"You've got horse in your blood," she said about her attraction to the animals. "You can't get it out."
Others said mustangs have grit and beauty because of their wild nature.
"I really think it's the mystique of them and the mane and the tail," said Beverly Moss, who attended the adoption program with her daughter and grandchildren. "And when they run, it's like flowing wind. It's mesmerizing."
The horses mostly hailed from Nevada. The burros were mostly from Twin Peaks, near Lake Arrowhead. Until last fall, all of the horses were living in the wild, according to Amy Dumas, manager of the wild horse program for BLM in California.
She said they had been gathered in a roundup, a BLM tactic used to maintain the growing population of wild horses. She likened the process to a helicopter acting as a sheepdog and herding horses into pens.
Roundups are controversial – on Tuesday, about 15 people from throughout California and Nevada protested BLM's roundup program outside of Sacramento's federal courthouse. The protesters said horses are a national symbol of freedom and roundups are abusive.
Dumas said most people who protest roundups don't understand them. Moss agreed and said she has watched a BLM roundup.
"I did not see abuse at all," she said. "I felt like they really cared about the horses."
Moss' daughter, Bonnie Anderson of Auburn, said she adopted a palomino from a BLM program in Chico nine years ago. She said the horse, named Apache, is one of four she owns and has been "absolutely wonderful" and that he follows her children everywhere.
Anderson said she was initially concerned about adopting a wild horse since she didn't know what to expect, but she said Apache is intelligent, gentle and forgiving. Dumas said the "blank slate" of a wild horse can be a positive attribute because owners don't have to retrain horses from previous owners' mistakes.
BLM volunteer Sandy Davitt and her husband, Mark, of Placerville said the gentling and training process, which BLM offered to help with for those who bought horses Saturday, is their favorite part of being with the animals. Sandy Davitt said she has five horses, but she gentles other people's horses as well.
"Every single time you get that first touch, it's just as big a thrill to me as it was the first time," she said about the training process. "I get a smile on my face that doesn't go away for hours."
Before the horses and burros enter the BLM adoption program, they are dewormed and vaccinated against diseases like rabies and West Nile virus. Horse adopters had to be older than 18 and have proper corrals where the animals could be kept.
Some people said they were looking for work horses, others said they wanted pets and some hoped for a new horse because their older horses no longer could move the same way. Dumas said regardless of the reason for adoption, horses are great companions who give back to and teach their owners.
"When (my daughter) and I were sad or depressed or having a bad day, our best therapy was to get on the horse and ride," Moss said. "All our cares went away."