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HORSE LOVERS WALK AWAY HAPPY - AND WET

Neither rain, nor wind, nor sleet, nor snow could keep nearly 300 horse enthusiasts from the grand opening of the Salt Lake Regional Wild Horse and Burro Center in Butterfield Canyon Saturday.

Thirty-four wild horses and 37 burros were adopted at the new Bureau of Land Management facility. The agency had offered 50 horses from west central Utah and east central Nevada and 56 burros captured near Death Valley, Calif. The animals were raffled off to anxious ticket-holders Saturday morning."This is pretty nice," Virl Peterson said, taking in the misty vista and 400-horse-capacity corral. "There are some pretty nice-looking horses here."

One "cowboy," who was with a small group of friends, complained that there were "more people than horses."

But George Souvall's family walked away happy with a young burro for his 2-year-old grandson, in part because of the absence of potential competitors. Souvall deemed the inclement weather his luck of the draw.

" `We're taking another jackass home with the jackass,' " Souvall said his wife joked. But the Holladay resident said the new pet would not only make a nice addition to his one-burro neighborhood, it would provide companionship for the boy.

"Burros are great at being friendly," Souvall said.

And at a U.S. government-sponsored adoption, the animals are a bargain. One frequenter of such adoptions said while BLM offers horses for $125 and burros at $75, those same animals can cost up to $1,500 in the private market.

"They're cheaper," Tod Davey, a Magna resident, said. "We use them for hunting. It's easier than walking. It's a recreational thing. I enjoy it a lot."

Gus Warr, a BLM wild horse specialist, theorized that the name "wild horse" also makes people nostalgic, so they adopt. He attributed their value to their endurance and stamina, though.

"You can take one of these horses and ride all day," Warr said. "But the domestic ones will give out in two to three hours.

The horses and burros who weren't adopted Saturday have another chance at a home in two weeks at the Elks Arena in St. George. It is illegal to euthanize the animals, so they are offered for adoption four or five times before going back to overpopulated lands they were taken from.