Friday, November 21, 2008

The Mustang Problem

It might be more worthwhile if we stopped wringing our hands and started ringing our congressmen. ~Author Unknown

Just a note: Scroll down to the bottom and turn the radio off, prior to watching the videos.

I had planned on a totally different post, but I cannot get the plight of the Wild Mustangs out of my thoughts. Argo could have so easily been one of the doomed mustangs. Through him, I have become very defensive of these “Living Legends”. The more I read the more questions I have.

I am posting a few videos that were not made by me. Some of them are graphic. Please, I advise you, do not let young children watch them before you have seen them.

For some history on their plight:
Wild horses were thought to be scourges of the land in the late 1800’s, they interfered with grazing areas for cattle in the western states, and Cattlemen basically had open season on the Mustangs. They shot them, tortured them and drove them over cliffs to their death. The cattlemen basically felt that they were eliminating pests and animals that were grazing on precious land that their cattle herds needed. Mind you most of this land was not owned by the cattlemen. A few horsemen saw the value in taming some of these wild horses and using them as ranch horses. Some even battled the cattlemen to protect the wild horses. Through those people who fought to protect the horses in the wild, the federal Government heard their heartfelt pleas and in 1971 the mustangs came under federal protection.
That law has been called: Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, Public Law 92-195, as amended by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, Public Law 94-579, and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978, Public Law 95-514.

Their objective was “The goal of the Wild Horses and Burro Resource Management program is to achieve and maintain healthy, viable wild horse and burro populations on the public lands.” * This law was meant to protect the wild horses and burros from harm and gave the BLM the authority to govern how the herds are managed.

Enter in a whole new set of problems though. I am a firm believer that whenever the government gets involved, even when they have the best of intentions, plans can go awry and the greed of men takes hold. There are several large lobby groups that have an interest in eradicating the wild horses and burros. In 2005, the law meant to protect the horses, basically started the wheels in motion for their demise.

The following video is one view. I don’t necessarily believe all that this group states, but it does provoke me to think about the different groups involved and do my own research. I implore you before you make any decision, do your research, and don’t just rely on what I have to say, or videos or what others might say. Do your own research.

I was unable to find exact numbers, but it is thought that anywhere from 4 to 8 million cattle are currently grazing on public lands, compared to 23 to 27 thousand wild horses and burros grazing on those same lands. The lobbyists for the cattlemen will tell you that the horses are destroying the lands and are competing with the cattle for food and water. I don’t believe this for a second. Cattle do graze differently than horses in how they pull forage, but you have wildlife out there as well eating off those same lands and drinking from the same water sources.

Statements have been made that the horses are starving in the wild. I have not found proof of that yet. I have seen pictures of mustangs in extreme stress after capture. That is totally different. The gather process can be very hard on a horse. Imagine being chased for several hours or days by a helicopter. The video below shows you the gather process. Take note of how sweated the horses are.

As of this point there are approximately 33,000 wild horses in holding pens, compared to 23,000 – 25,000 in the wild and nowhere for them to go except long term holding. Last year alone the BLM captured over 7,000 wild horses and burros. Why? They already have holding pens that are way over capacity. The cost to the BLM to feed and care for the horses in holding pens is approximately 27 million dollars a year. Folks this is your tax dollars at work. The BLM’s solution to this overpopulation was to euthanize them. I do not have a problem with euthanizing per se. The BLM has gotten themselves into a bind though and before they send 2,000 horses to their death, I want to know how they plan to prevent this from happening again. Obviously there are not enough homes to adopt them into, especially given the current economy, so why has the BLM continued to gather and capture wild horses?

Enter Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens,* she has offered to adopt and give sanctuary to 30,000 of the wild horses currently in the holding pens. Madeleine is a horse woman, a long time breeder of thoroughbreds. I appreciate her offer, I don’t know where she is going to put them all, but I think her biggest concern should be sitting the BLM officials down and asking, better yet, demanding, how they are going to prevent this from happening again.

The average life expectancy of a wild horse is 12-14 years. (There are exceptions to this obviously.) A yearling filly can become pregnant and produce a foal during her two year old year. Gestation is approximately 11 months. With that in mind one mare can produce approximately 13 foals during her lifetime, based on a 12-14 year life. There is a solution to this and it has already been put to use in some herds, mare contraceptives. “PZP has been successfully applied to control fertility and limit the size of several small populations of wild horses on eastern barrier islands since the early 1990s. Population-level field trials of an injectable, time-release, pellet form of PZP that will allow almost 2 years of fertility control with a single treatment are currently underway in many western herds. The Assateague team also developed noninvasive methods to assess the pregnancy rates of, and detect ovulation in, free-ranging treated and nontreated, individually recognizable mares by analyzing reproductive steroid metabolites in their feces and urine.”*

This contraception can keep a mare from producing a foal for 2-3 years. There are arguments for and against this idea though. Some say, not having a foal, can cause mares to become aggressive and damage the herd dynamics, others talk of the cost. I feel if the BLM is already throwing away 27 million dollars a year to feed wild horses in holding pens, the cost would be minimal. Remember as well, last November at the Kiger adoption, the BLM brought in approximately 95,000 dollars. What is that money being used for? Where is the accounting of how the funds were dispersed? Why can’t 1/3rd of that go to contraception use for the herds they claim to protect?

I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do have lots of questions and a lot of concern about government waste. I implore you to make your government answerable to you before they allow this tragedy to happen all over again. You can contact your representatives and congressmen by going to the following website.

The wild horses have no voice, please be their voice. Demand that the United States government change how they manage the wild horses and burros.

The above video was done by a young woman who visits the corrals often. To see more of her videos and link to her blog, please visit:

*Cited works

Federal Grants Wire
Washington Post
Fort Collins Research Center

Links for further reading

The Horse

Voluntary Instinct

American Herds

BLM Quick Facts


water_bearer said...

I just wanted you to know that there is an ongoing conversation right now over at FuglyHorseoftheDay on this very subject -

And you should know that Mrs. Pickens will be giving an interview and further explaining her plan on ABC's World News Tonight, which airs in a little less than an hour here in the Central Time Zone.

The bottom line is that the BLM is probably the most poorly managed government agency... maybe EVER.

Mrs. Pickens offer is extraordinary. How many times do you jokingly say something like, "Well world hunger / illiteracy / animal abuse / whatever (insert your cause of choice) could be fixed with one donation from Bill Gates / Warren Buffet / T. Boone Pickens / whatever (insert billionaire of choice)..."
But that never happens. Here it might actually happen. My only concern is that with her plan to sterilize all the horses, and to never refuse a BLM captured horse in the future, that this a) doesn't encourage the BLM to gather more than usual so as to zero out the herds (as many believe is really their ultimate goal) and that b) there is a plan in place to preserve the best representatives of the mustangs. I would hate to see Kigers or Pryor Mtn. mustangs, or any of the other genotypically and phenotypically similarly isolated herds go extinct in the wild because of someone's good intentions.

Linda Reznicek said...

I didn't know Pickens planned on sterilizing all her mustangs, but I think that's a good idea--to sterilize most--enough to keep the population controlled. Hopefully, and I'm sure she will, hire good people to manage the herd--as the HMAs were originally managed--with an eye toward quality--less inbreeding, etc. I'm very concerend about the BLM, too, and how they're going to manage from this point forward. It's going to be interesting.

Mikey said...

Hi! Love your blog too! Argo is GORGEOUS, wow, he really turned into a looker. So glad you've got him and you know some of his history and appreciate him. He sure is magnificent. I bet he's fun to work with too!

SkyBar Farm said...

Thank you for the links to look through. Mikey, I love your blog, I laugh so much when I read it.

SkyBar Farm said...

Thank you for the links to look through. Mikey, I love your blog, I laugh so much when I read it.

Paigeley said...

honestly we wouldn't have this problem if we could geld some of the wild stallions, at least then we would have a substainable amount of land per horse