Auctions at the BLM corrals in Hines draw Kiger fans from around the world, last year garnering $72,575 in one day that sent 88 Kigers to 22 states and Sweden.
// Photo by Joseph Eastburn
High prices were hardly foreseen when BLM first began managing Kigers and “adopting” them approximately every four years in the early 1980s. The goal is to manage the range for sustainability, says Tara Martinak, public affairs specialist for the Burns District of BLM. Overpopulation can lead to a shortage of food and water for wildlife, can cause heavy damage to riparian areas and can deplete forage.
Since breeders popularized the Kiger, BLM adoptions, previously a lottery system, shifted to more lucrative auctions. These events at the BLM corrals in Hines now draw Kiger fans from around the world, last year culling $72,575 in one day that sent 88 Kigers to 22 states and Sweden. The fresh-from-the-wild Kigers are eyed by breeders eager to refine their characteristics for the marketplace. They’re also a find for horse lovers looking for their own piece of the West.
Martinak says there is far more interest in Kigers than other wild mustangs. “Our other big event in 2011, we maybe adopted 15. It is nothing like 88 horses in a single day.” But BLM benefits mostly by avoiding costs to lodge the animals. The real money in Kigers is on the private side.
As breed popularity grows, Kiger registries have popped up worldwide. And some of the latest buyers from Sweden and Germany are beginning breeding programs, like Arizona’s Polinger.
Wild-horse advocates, however, question whether Kigers really belong behind corrals and in barns, or whether they are being managed for the benefit of breeders and grazing livestock, a charge Martinak denies. In July 2011, wild-horse advocacy group The Cloud Foundation sued the Oregon BLM, aiming to push Kigers’ preservation on their rangeland. The suit was settled, ostensibly while BLM and The Cloud Foundation work together to safeguard Kigers’ genetic variability and improve management. Martinak says horse hair is tested for genetic variation after every BLM roundup, and that so far no problems have come up.
For his part, Polinger looks forward to diving into the market to keep the Kiger bloodline alive. More than money, he says, the business also comes with another motivation.
“I’m going to make horses that knock people’s socks off,” he says.
Lee van der Voo is a Portland-based journalist. Her last story for Oregon Business was about the battle over genetically modified seeds. She can be reached at editor(at)oregonbusiness.com.">editor(at)oregonbusiness.com.