OAKDALE -- Colton Shields stepped into a corral with a mustang named Nevada and slowly got to work Saturday morning.
Shields is a gentler of wild horses for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is adopting them out this weekend at the Oakdale Saddle Club.
Nevada darted around the corral at times but began to warm up to Shields, who worked her with soft words and light tugs on a rope.
"She stands there gently for a little while, then decides 'I've had enough of this,' " Shields said to Carla Moussavi of San Ramon, who had just bought the horse for $125.
The BLM brought 40 horses and 10 burros from its lands in northeast California and northwest Nevada, where they are culled regularly to prevent overgrazing. The Oakdale event is one of several around California this year.
Some of the animals were auctioned Saturday morning. Those remaining today go for the $125 fee, but that doesn't mean they come cheap. The new owners have to show that they have the required corral space and meet other rules.
"You don't get title to the horse for a year, so during that year we go out to inspect to make sure it's OK," said David Christy, the agency's public affairs officer for central California.
Laurie Norton of Oakdale is not adding to the four domestic horses at her home, but she brought grandson Tyler Davis, 10, to the adoption event anyway.
"I just wanted to show him that in America, we still have wild horses," she said.
About 33,000 of them, in fact, according to the BLM, which oversees the animals in 10 western states. Some trace their ancestry to the horses brought by Spanish explorers five centuries ago. Others are descended from horses on early ranches or in the U.S. cavalry.
"They make good saddle horses," said Norton, whose father used to round them up. "They gentle down really well."
Also on BLM land are about 3,800 burros, descendants of animals used in mining and sheep herding.
Moussavi has three domestic horses for pleasure riding. She first met Nevada, now 2, at an adoption event in Livermore last year.
"We saw her and just had a connection," she said. "I thought that if we were to get one of these mustangs, this would be the one."
The BLM placed 3,474 horses and burros with private owners in the fiscal year ending September 30, down from 5,701 four years earlier.
"The economy hit the wild horse business just like everything else," Christy said. "It costs money to feed a horse."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at 578-2385 or firstname.lastname@example.org.