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A horse ran off with wild mustangs. It just came home, 8 years later.

Eight years ago, Shane Adams jolted out of the tent he was camping in—clothed in underwear and rushing to get dressed—to hear a herd of wild mustangs whiz by. His heart broke to see his beloved horse join them and run into the Utah desert.

Mongo, a gentle stallion who liked to snack on Sour Patch Kids, has been missing ever since, but Adams never let go of his hopes that the horse would eventually make its way home. It finally happened last week when Mongo was turned back by federal officers from the Bureau of Land Management.

“He was his calm, gentle, and normal self — like he’d never left,” Adams told The Washington Post. “But I was overjoyed. I could not believe it. It was like a dream come true.”

Seeing Mongo — now 18 years old and “a few hundred pounds” thinner — brought back a flood of memories, the 40-year-old said. He could easily imagine the “goofy,” big-headed horse whinnying for treats and their weekend camping trips to northwest Utah. But he also remembered the dreaded scene of Mongo hurrying through the tassel-speckled landscape. About six inches of snow covered the desert plains that cold March morning, Adams said.

“I ran after him and tried to drive, but I really couldn’t get anywhere because of the snow,” he said. “Then I went back every weekend for three years to see if he was there. I reported him missing and tried everyone I could to find him. But I never saw Mongo again.”

In less than five minutes, Mongo had joined the approximately 71,000 wild mustangs that roam the west, according to figures from the Bureau of Land Management.

In Utah, some 22 herds have called the state home since the 1800s, most descending from horses that banded together after escaping early settlers and ranchers. They now live on nearly 2.4 million acres controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.

Since 1971, when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act, the horses have been protected as “living symbols of the historic and pioneering spirit of the West.” But their rapidly growing population has at times eroded Utah’s ecosystem. And in the midst of a severe drought, some horses have not been able to find enough to eat and drink. That’s why the Bureau of Land Management collected about 700 wild mustangs in September in Cedar Mountain’s herd management area — where about 920 horses roam free in an enclosure with the appropriate resources to manage between 190 and 390.

It was during this Tooele County raid that the Bureau of Land Management finally found Mongo, Adams said. Unlike the other horses, Mongo acted as if he had been trained in a past life, and the brand on his coat was a telltale sign that he wasn’t feral like his other friends.

Federal protection sought for mustangs in West

Now that Mongo has returned home, Adams says he’s trying to get him back to a healthier weight after years of roaming free on scarce land.

“There’s not much food out there with this drought, and the horses look like walking dead because they’re so skinny,” he said. “I understand why Mongo ran away – horses are stock animals and will follow each other. But I’m glad we can now take care of him and make sure he gets enough to eat.”

By the time they were divorced, Mongo had become somewhat of a legend in the Adams household. At home there were still pictures of the chocolate, Persian and Quarter horse mix. Adams’ eldest son – who was only 2 when the horse disappeared – had made up songs about Mongo’s Escape. But while the memory of the horse had been preserved over time, many aspects of Adams’ life had changed.

The former construction worker had been in a car accident in 2021 that left him disabled after a serious brain injury. He had to learn to walk again and said his doctors told him the chances of him ever going back to work — or on a saddle — were pretty slim.

“They said it would probably be five years before I even remembered getting on a horse. But I’ve already proved them wrong,” said Adams, who is now working his way back into the saddle. Although he can ride again, he said he is still working on getting back the same level of control he had before.

Today, Adams likes to take his two children, an 11-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, on rides. The two often sit atop the family’s ponies, Captain, Pretty Boy, and Sleepy Old John. Now they also take out Mongo, whose name is a reference to the character in the 1974 Western spoof film ‘Blazing Saddles’.

“Now I firmly believe that you have to look beyond your trials and trust that things will get better,” Adams said. “Everything happens, but you have to shut up. I mean, a month ago I never thought Mongo would be back.”

And Adams isn’t the only one excited to see Mongo return. His daughter, who was a 3-month-old baby when the horse disappeared, is already showering him with kisses – and Sour Patch Kids, of course.

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