About 50 people gathered at Western Nevada Correctional Center for the Comstock Wild Horse Gentling Program adoptions on Saturday morning.
Held regularly, the event is a chance for prospective adopters and the horses to check each other out. And there was plenty of that.
Dappled, tentative and inquisitive, a young buckskin gelding stood with his ears forward, watching every move as a mom, dad and two children watched him from outside his pen. He backed away, looking at another human family moving toward him, then turned back to the business at hand.
"I'm not sure if we'll buy this time. It's our first time here but we've been interested in adopting a mustang for awhile," Reno resident Sandy Delladio said. "This is a great program and a lot of good work is being done here."
Her husband, Christian, was busy studying the horse as son Gabe and his friend, Tucker, peered from the lower bars.
"He's a fine-looking horse," he said. "Short back, long legs."
Inmate Matthew Smith stood nearby as his 4-year-old ward, a bay gelding named Cash, watched the procession outside his pen.
"It'll be all right, little dude, I promise," he uttered softly. "We're gonna get you a good home."
An inmate trainer with the prison system, Smith has been with the program since its inception about a year ago. He said Cash is his fifth -- and best -- horse. Originally from Redondo Beach, Calif., he said he'd never worked with horses, but that this experience has been "pretty cool."
"I love the animals," he said. "And here, I feel free."
Inmates work with the horses for six hours a day on weekdays and feed and water them on weekends. The animals are trained to ride in a trailer and have their feet cleaned, and most can be ridden when the 40-day training period is complete.
Originally wild horses from Storey County's Virginia Range, the animals up for adoption on Saturday were all geldings between the ages of two and four years old.
Adoption by qualified individuals is a primary objective of the Department of Agriculture, which captures and removes these horses from the range when they are endangered or when their population exceeds the capacity of their natural habitat. For those who adopted a horse Saturday, there is growing web of support from a variety of sources.
Mike Horrigan, prison coordinator for this program, will be offering special classes for new horse adopters at his home.
Nevada Legends, a chapter of the National Wild Horse and Burro Show Association, offers everything from mentoring classes and adopters assistance to group rides and barbecues.
"You don't even have to own a horse to belong," said President Jim Davies. "You can join if you just want to help the wild horses."
Scheduled for May 12, their first annual Wild Horse and Burro Show offers a little of everything, from English pleasure riding to barrel racing and pole bending competitions. The event will be held at the Churchill County Fairgrounds in Fallon and the national competition follows in Reno, June 14-16.
For information on the adoption program, call Tim Bryant at (775) 887-9331 or view the horses at www.ndoc.state.nv.us/wildhorse/.
For information on the National Wild Horse and Burro Show Association, call Jim Davies at (775) 867-2355.