Alexis Legg was sitting on horses before she could walk.
With a love for animals that knows no bounds, the 12-year-old spent part of a recent Saturday afternoon ambling through the While Horse and Burro holding facility in Ewing with her family, considering the adoption of a "living legend."
Located at the end of an easily missed gravel road in the open countryside east of the small Franklin County community, the facility is one of several across the nation operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management.
The animals at the Ewing facility are part of the Bureau's Wild Horse and Burro Program that began in 1971. The program was a response to growing herds of unmanaged horses roaming the American west.
A wild horse or burro, as defined by federal law, is an unbranded, unclaimed, free-roaming animal found on public lands in the United States. These animals are descendants of those released by or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, the U.S. Cavalry, and Native Americans.
Spanish explorers first introduced horse to the Americas in the 1500s. Horses and burros were crucial to survival for settlers and pioneers for activities such as transportation and agriculture.
The modern horses are technically termed "feral" because of their domesticated lineage. American feral horses are known as mustangs.
When "gentling" -- term used to replace "breaking" when referring to wild horses, the beginning is the most difficult, according to Miranda Groh, who with her husband, David, owns the Marion Horse Center.
"You have to earn their trust," she said. "Remember they haven't been handled at all by human hands."
Groh said the adoption program is "a good thing if everybody does their part."
"The government is very specific," she said. "There are certain things that we had to meet as a facility to be a place that could take them in."
Groh says once the horses learn to trust, they come along pretty fast. She said the gentling process includes structure and schedule.
Adopting a mustang or burro is relatively easy and inexpensive. Hopeful owners must complete and application. Once it's approved, the cost to adopt is $125. There are requirements for the boarding of the animals. For the first year, the animal remains the property of the federal government. One year after the adoption date, adoptive "parents" are notified by the BLM to obtain a signature from a qualified person such as a veterinarian or county extension agent, verifying humane care and treatment. Once that letter is received by the BLM, it will issue a Certificate of Title.
According to program specialist Marty Neugebauer, the facility manager for the Ewing location, the adoption events will be held about once a month.
The number of animals placed at the events varies. "Sometimes we'll place 10 or 12," said Neugebauer. "Other times just one or two."
Neugebauer said the Ewing facility usually holds "about 200 head, give or take."
The Legg family from the Bluford area, spent the afternoon looking around and studying the mustangs.
"We've never owned a mustang," said Trent, grinning as daughter Alexis and son Riggin lobbied to take home a pair of the horses.
Legg said he was looking forward to working with the new adoptee.
Groh is sure the family will not be disappointed. "They really are beautiful animals," she said.