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Wild Horse Training Program Ending at Gunnison Prison

Dan Bammes

The Utah Department of Corrections plans to end the wild horse training program at the state prison in Gunnison.  The decision was made based on how much the state gets paid to care for the mustangs.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management keeps a total of about 15-hundred horses on the state’s prison property in Gunnison.  At any one time, about 15 inmates are involved in the program to gentle and saddle train mustangs taken from public rangeland.

A BLM inspector general’s report last year questioned some of the costs billed by the state of Utah for running the program. Brooke Adams is a spokeswoman with the Utah Department of Corrections.  She says since that report, state officials haven’t been able to work out a satisfactory arrangement.

“Y’know, we’re disappointed that we weren’t able to resolve our differences here," Adams told KUER.  "But frankly, as a state agency that depends on tax dollars, we can’t operate programs at a loss.”

Adams says the BLM had been paying a daily fee for each horse the inmates cared for.  After the inspector general’s report, it changed to paying only the actual expenses for feed, veterinary care and other needs, and she says that’s not sustainable.

In an e-mail, BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said the agency regrets the decision to discontinue the program.  Gorey says it will complicate efforts to make sure there is enough holding capacity for wild horses and burros.

The Gunnison training program is among several similar arrangements with Western states, including Colorado and Wyoming.  Gus Warr, the BLM’s wild horse manager for Utah, told KUER last month the program had been a big success both for the horses and the prisoners who’ve cared for them.

Warr said, “Here’s a thousand-pound animal that they just can’t push around, and they have to use patience and understanding when they’re gentling it, and it really helps the inmates out a lot.”

About 175 Utah inmates have participated in the program since it began in 2007.  Some have gone on to permanent jobs after their release working with and caring for horses.

The state is giving the BLM thirty days to remove its horses from the prison property.

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