Wild horses, born and raised in western prairies, are making their way to Lorton in the hopes of finding new homes.
For the fourth year, the Bureau of Land Management-Eastern States is offering its annual wild horse and burro adoption this weekend at Meadowood Special Recreation Area in Lorton.
"This is an adoption event, not a horse sale," said Bill Davenport, public affairs specialist from the Bureau of Land Management-Eastern States, based in Springfield.
"All the horses come from the western ranges," Davenport said. Currently, more than 31,000 horses roam the ranges, and with a 20 percent rate of reproduction every year, finding homes for these horses is a difficult task.
In 1973, the Bureau, encouraged by schoolteacher Thelma Johnson and a letter writing campaign conducted by her students, the Bureau was ordered to supervise the adoption of these horses under the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act.
Since then, more than 205,000 horses have been adopted, Davenport said. More than 1,800 horses have found homes in Virginia, and families in the eastern part of the country have adopted 40 percent of all horses.
People interested in adopting a wild horse, typically mustangs or burros, have to meet certain criteria, Davenport said.
"Not just anyone can adopt, you have to be qualified," he said. "You can't have any record of animal cruelty, you must have the proper facilities and means to care for this kind of animal."
To ensure the well-being of the horses, the Bureau maintains ownership of each horses' title for one year, in case the adopter decides the horse is too costly or too much work.
"Remember, these are wild animals when they're adopted," Davenport said.
But for those owners who have the time to work hard and train the horses, some have become show-winning champions.
"These are extremely smart, healthy animals," he said. "This is Mother Nature's selection."
FOR THIS YEAR’S adoption event in Lorton, Davenport said visitors have a rare chance to adopt very young horses, with two weanlings and between 20 and 25 yearlings available.
Prices to adopt horses typically run between $125 and $140 per horse and are determined by interest in an auction-like setting, Davenport said.
"One year, we had a blue roan colt that was just gorgeous," he said. "That one went for about $800."
This year, the Bureau is expecting to have 50 horses to place, said Jinx Fox, who works at Meadowood.
"Our goal is to place every horse this year," she said. "Those not placed will be sent back to our corrale in Illinois and sent to another adoption event."
Fox said she's still looking for volunteers to help make the event run smoothly.
"We typically need about 20 volunteers, so if anyone wants to help, let us know," she said.
As vice president of Jarvis Stables, one of the five barns that make up the Mason Neck Horse Coalition, Brian Purdy said working with the Bureau is a natural association between two groups committed to the preservation of open space and the availability of equestrian-friendly environments.
"Some of our members have adopted wild horses before," Purdy said. "It takes some work to get the horses trained, but they're excellent horses."
Saturday's event will have a second aspect to it, as Meadowood opens a series of new trails on the western portion of the land.
"They're opening up about four miles of new trails along with some pedestrian-only trails," Purdy said. "Eventually, they're going to have mountain biking trails as well."
Between Meadowood and Pohick Bay Regional Park, located just down Gunston Road from Meadowood, equestrians have many options when it comes to riding their horses.
"The trails at Meadowood are built on old roads, so they're a bit wider. The trails at Pohick tend to be more narrow, so it depends on what kind of ride you're looking for and what kind of horse you have," Purdy said.
Members of the Mason Neck Horse Coalition will be camping out with the horses on Friday and Saturday night, making sure they're supervised and safe, Purdy said.
"We make sure everyone gets a good night's rest before they're adopted," he said.
One year, when the adoption event was scheduled earlier in the year, the group of equestrians saw one of the fields at Meadowood illuminated with fireflies.
"We turned off our lights and you could see them dancing around," he said.
In addition to the new trails and horses and burros for adoption, the Control Line Flying Club will be giving remote control plane demonstrations and members of the Audubon Association will be leading nature walks, Davenport said.