Horse Lover's Corral

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"Maggie," a former wild horse, has found a new home at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Bill Stepp, manager of the base stable, accepted "Maggie" and her adoption papers from De Loris Palmer, of the Bureau of Land Management.

If you have the desire, a love for animals and the facilities, you could easily become a horse Marine. The cost is minimal inasmuch as you don't buy the mount.

Or, if you'd feel more comfortable in other company (after serving a few years as a Marine), you could adopt a burro.

How would that be? You wouldn't have to hump your own pack or tote a base plate. Imagine having your own baggage bearer!

The stable at the Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, Calif., is in favor of the "adopt a wild horse or burro" program. The base has a mounted color guard which performs during numerous parades and ceremonies.

Former wild horse, "Maggie," was an ideal candidate. She's young (three years old) and she's black, same as the other horses in the color guard. The Marines hope she'll grow to the required 15 hands (she's 14 hands now).

Originally adopted by a woman in Ramona, Calif., Maggie had received some training and she was shown in halter-class competition. Then the lady became ill and couldn't care for the horse as she would have liked.

Maggie was returned to the Bureau of Land Management, which is a section of the Department of the Interior, sponsors of the adoption program.

Former Marine Art DiGrazia learned that the Pendleton Marines were looking for a few good horses, and immediately thought of Maggie. DiGrazia is a wild horse and burro specialist for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

When DiGrazia offered the horse to the Camp Pendleton stable manager, Bill Stepp, an agreement was made, providing Maggie can grow to the required height (a "hand" is roughly six inches). If she doesn't grow, she'll be used for the children's riding classes or as a child's mount at the Base Stable.

"As gentle as she is, we'll have no problems," Stepp commented after accepting the former wild mustang.

DiGrazia, who used to work at the Base Stable at Camp Pendleton, agrees that Maggie has a very good temperament. "She's a fast learner and already responds to voice commands. That's in her favor," he said.

The steel-black, mixed breed quarterhorse will undergo a three-month training period before performing as a member of the color guard. Stepp figures that if the Marines had bought Maggie, she would have cost at least $1,200.

It was during the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago) that horses became extinct on the North American continent. Spanish explorers brought horses and burros to America's western plains during the 16th Century. Through the years, many escaped or were abandoned and they formed the first of the wild horse and burro herds.

As settlers headed west, they occasionally lost horses which joined the wild bands, and sometimes the cavalry released their animals as Army posts were closed.

Sure-footed burros were used by early prospectors and sheepherders as pack animals because they could travel long distances and survive on desert vegetation. Many were abandoned in favor of new forms of transportation, and others escaped to the open range.

Today there are horse and burro herds that are called "wild" or "feral," and they all come from ancestors that were once tame but later reverted to a wild state.

As the herds increased, the population of the West also grew, and people considered the horses to be a nuisance to ranchers raising cattle and sheep. Many of the horses were destroyed-rounded up by truck or helicopter and slaughtered for pet food. Other herds were driven to exhaustion and destruction and sold to canneries.

In 1950, a major campaign was started which called for the protection of wild horses and burros. Headed by the late Mrs. Velma "Wild Horse Annie" Johnson, and with the support of school children throughout the United States, the program was brought to the attention of Congress.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed in 1971. To protect basic resources (water, soil and vegetation), the Act provides three alternatives to controlling excess wild horses and burros. They can be relocated to other areas inhabited by wild horses and burros on the date the act was passed; they can be placed in custody of individuals, organizations or other government agencies; or, when these methods are impractical, they may be destroyed in the most humane manner possible.

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