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What am I bid for wild horses?

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Come the end of the Olympic Games, some visitors will take home cuddly stuffed mascots for the kids, others will buy up Olympic-logo clothing, and yet others will stuff their bags with signature jewelry ? all pretty routine.

But a handful of visitors could eventually take home something truly unique: a Utah wild horse.

The Bureau of Land Management will be using the Soldier Hollow venue ? home of cross country and biathlon events that will host about 15,000 visitors a day ? to display nine wild horses and three wild burros removed from Western lands, mostly in Utah.

Those visitors will then be given a chance to bid on the horses.

"The adoptions won't actually occur during the Olympics," said Janet Greenlee, marketing coordinator for the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program in Sacramento. "But the visitors will get to see them and how they are gentle and have been halter trained."

Those interested in adopting the horses, which will be on exhibit through the Paralympic Games, will then fill out an application on the Internet, with bidding starting March 13 and the winners decided March 27.

"Wild horses are truly unique to the western United States," said Susan Marzec, public affairs officer for the Utah BLM. "They are part of the Western experience, and for many visitors it will be their first chance to see a wild horse."

The wild horses will be joined at Soldier Hollow by a small herd of buffalo removed from state lands.

There will be pioneer exhibits, and Native Americans will reconstruct a village complete with authentic music and dancing ? all part of an elaborate re-creation of the Old West designed to enrapture visitors from around the world.

For the BLM, the Olympics are a chance to put its best foot forward on its oft-maligned wild horse adoption program, used to manage an overpopulation of horses in Utah and Nevada. Some 650 wild horses are currently living at a BLM impoundment facility in southwest Salt Lake County awaiting adoption.

For a lucky few like Yogi and Frosty and Moose, the Olympics will be an audition for a new life far, far away from the open desert ranges they have known.

Olympic visitors will find the critters remarkably gentle, some even saddle-trained ? a feat the BLM credits to volunteer Janet Tipton, a horse trainer who has been working daily with the horses on her Tooele County ranch to get them ready for the Games.

"I'm the lucky one," she said. "I get to play with the horses every day."

BLM officials call Tipton a real-life "horse whisperer," but Tipton shrugs that off. She says she advocates a gentler technique called "least resistance training concepts" where "I work with the horses' natural tendencies instead of against them."

There's no whipping or spurring the horses, no rodeolike bucking as the horses resist the saddles and riders. Quite simply, Tipton gently loves the horses into accepting their new lifestyle.

Within a remarkably short period, Tipton turns wild, skittish horses fearful of humans into animals that relish human interaction. For example, when Moose came into the program, he would just as soon run headlong into a wall as look at a human.

"Now he would rather be loved on than eat," she said.

With a pride not dissimilar to a parent bragging about their children, Tipton tells similar stories of the other horses in her charge, describing how each has a different personality and each a different relationship with humans. Tipton's approach is in stark contrast to the Old West image of bucking broncos and cowboys beating wild mustangs into submission.

But Tipton, who has organized workshops over the past few years to help "people understand horses," said least resistance training concepts are also a reflection of how much more is known today about horses and their unique relationship to mankind over the millennia.

More than 3,000 wild horses and 100 burros, most descended from wayward stock of Spanish conquistadors, fur trappers, miners and Mormon pioneers, roam throughout Utah, all protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

At the time, Congress recognized the animals "are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West" and that they "contribute to the diversity of life forms within the nation and enrich the lives of the American people."

Which is why the BLM wants to showcase wild horses during the Games.

"The wild horses and burros exemplify survival of the fittest, and they personify the toughness of the competitors in the cross-country winter events," Greenlee said.

The Games will be a grand stage for the BLM, frequently attacked by animal rights groups for mismanagement of the herds, to muster public support for its adoption program, as well as the animals themselves.

Said Glade Anderson, manager of the wild horse and burro program in Utah, "Wild horses are a spirited part of the past as well as the future."

E-mail: spang@desnews.com