Jessica Hogue was getting nervous as the clock ticked toward 11:30 a.m.
"What if they close it suddenly, and I don't use my last bid?" she said with just five minutes remaining. "I'm going to chew my fingernails off."
Finally, Bureau of Land Man-agement officials announ-ced the end of the silent auction, and Hogue, 14, could breathe a sigh of relief. She had won her weanling with the minimum bid, $125.
"He's a good-looking horse," she said. "He's friendlier than the others."
He was one of 54 wild horses rounded up from Sandwash Basin last week available for silent adoption Saturday morning at Sandwash Corrals. Only 24 sold, with a high seller at $235, which is lower than in previous adoptions.
"We have more horses than we do adopters," said Valerie Dob-rich, BLM wild horse specialist.
This is her fourth Moffat County roundup, and she noticed the quality of the horses hasn't gone down.
"The sizes remain just as tall, and the colors remain just as varied as the first roundup," she said.
But a lack of bidders puts a strain on the adoption. She attributes the lack of adopters to the drive time to Sandwash and the cost of gasoline.
"I wonder if we wouldn't have more success, next time, if we held it at our Moffat County Fairgrounds," she said.
She's considered opening the viewing to four days before the auction. She also is interested in holding a live auction, as the BLM did at the last adoption four years ago. Two women competed with each other, and one paid $1,100 for an animal.
"People love the mood of an auction, and we get more money for our horses," Dobrich said.
The horses chosen for adoption surprised her. Last time, young studs were the hot demographic, but this weekend, buyers took several weanlings and all the mares.
"A lot of the challenge is scoping out the adoption market at any given time," she said.
She handpicked the animals for adoption out of the 223 caught by Cattoor Livestock in the fenced-management area. Eight were caught from outside that area, and seven were pushed back into the area.
The 159 horses not chosen for the Sandwash adoption will be transported to CaÃ±on City, where there is an ongoing adoption. That's where the remaining 20 from Saturday's auction will go, as well.
Bob Schroeder had his eye on the bidding sheets as the auction came to a close, too. He bought a wild horse four years ago, and the colt died in May.
"I was really happy with her, so I thought I'd get another one to play with," Schroeder said.
But adopters must meet a list of requirements before taking the horses home, including six-foot high fences and adequate shelter. BLM personnel will visit each of the homes within the first year to check on the animal and its new family.
Tracey Lynne Hart isn't sure that's enough. She expressed interest in checking out the prospective owner instead of just the logistics of the pen.
Dobrich agrees, because there are a few who do not put the horses to their full use or train them properly. She does require confirmation the adopter has never committed inhumane behavior to animals, and admits there's not much else she can do.
"There are always a few black sheep who get a horse and realize they're in too deep," she said. "But how do you screen them?"
If this is the case, Dobrich recommends adopters call BLM staff as soon as possible.
"Our goals are healthy horses and happy adopters," she said. "If you're not happy with that horse, we'll get you another one."
She has some ideas to consider for next year's adoption, and horse owner Glenda Bellio has another one to add to the list.
As she watched the corralled horses Saturday, she wondered how bidders would react if BLM staff worked with them for three days before they went to auction.
"It'd be interesting to see how much higher the bidding would go," Bellio said.
But for the Hogue family, the price was just right Saturday. Jessica and her mom, Danita Hogue, were excited to start working with their new pet.
"I think it's going to be an interesting little challenge," Danita said. "It'll be a fun project for her."
Jessica is confident she'll be close with the horse before long. She was petting it through the fence already Saturday. He's young, and that makes her job easier.
"He doesn't have any bad habits to unlearn," Jessica said. "I'm sure he'll be spooky at first, but I don't think it'll take long to get him to where we want him to be."
For more information about the horses available in CaÃ±on City, call (719) 269-8539. For the local BLM office, call 826-5000.