Where Have All the Wild Horses Gone?

horses 700x467 Where Have All the Wild Horses Gone?

Credit: Laura Leigh © 2014

Did you know that in the last 40 years 50 percent of the world’s wild species have been decimated? Wiped off the planet. Never to be seen again except in books or on the Internet. In one word, extinct. It is a fact. Another fact, the decimation is still going on now, taking its toll on the wild horses and burros roaming freely on the ranges in 10 U.S. states by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Department of Interior (DOI). These are the very same government departments that are suppose to manage the public lands for diversity and multiple use. The public lands. The very departments tasked with protecting and preserving the wild horses and burros and their freedom to exist on public lands unharassed according to The Wild Horse Annie Act of 1959 (TWHA Act) and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WFRH&B Act). The latter was signed into law by Richard M. Nixon, our president at that time.

Both the Wild Horse Annie Act and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act were put in place to stop aggressive and inhumane roundups of these wild animals while granting them the legal right to live freely, unharassed, on public lands. So what went wrong? The BLM produced its own video to justify these brutal roundups. According to the video, in the 1950s they employed small planes. TWHA Act of 1959 effectively banned the use of small planes to conduct the roundups. A few short years later — and currently — helicopters are being used, replacing small planes, to continue the roundups. These helicopters are owned by private individuals, contracted by the BLM at exhorbitant rates, paid for by the taxpayers, you and me. Statistics reveal there are more wild horses and burros in short-term holding pens than exist freely in the wild. These captured horses are being sustained by the almighty tax dollar as well — amounting to millions every year.

To add insult to injury, the WFRH&B 1971 Act was recently amended in the eleventh hour by Senator Burns who slipped an omnibus clause into it without public input, knowledge or approval. This clause states that captured wild horses and burros can be sold “without restriction.” Those two words changed the intention and purpose of the WFRH&B Act and opened the door for “kill buyers” to purchase the once free roaming wild horses and burros for slaughter and human consumption overseas. Yup, people in parts of Europe and Asia eat horse meat. Although there are no horse slaughter houses in the U.S. yet,  the kill buyers figured out a way around that one. They simply pack the horses and burros like sardines into huge trucks, with poor or no ventilation, and drive them across the borders of Mexico and Canada to slaughter for profit and human consumption overseas.

Per the BLM’s own website, in “Fiscal Year 2012, out of 10,350 wild horses and burros gathered, a total of 80 animals, or approximately three-quarters of one percent (0.77 percent), died or were euthanized during gather operations; of those 80, 22 animals, or about one-fifth of one percent (0.21 percent) of the gathered animals, died or were euthanized because of acute injuries. Acute injury deaths include all animals that died or were euthanized because of acute injuries, such as spinal cord or head injuries, fractured limbs, or other severe injuries that occurred during gathers. Total deaths include all animals that died or were euthanized for any reason during gathers, including acute or sudden injuries or illnesses, as well as chronic or pre-existing conditions that required euthanasia (such as limb deformities, lameness, and poor body condition).”

These are stale, dated statistics from 2012. Although the 2015 roundup schedule is posted on the BLM website, current mortality rates are not for the years between 2012 to the present time.

Logically, and alternatively, none of these wild horses and burros would have had to die if they weren’t being harassed and chased at high speeds by helicopters. Young foals cannot keep up with the herd and end up snapping their own legs off, left to die on the range. Pregnant mares abort their unborn foals under this stress and duress. Wild horse advocates have witnessed these roundups first hand. They have photos and videos of helicopters clipping the horses as they run in fear, at unsustainable high speeds for miles over rugged terrain, while being pursued within inches by the helicopters. Further, and it’s a matter of record, advocates have been barred from viewing these roundups on public land. Public land. Begs the question, why?

If you watch this BLM video, you’ll hear the voice-over saying these wild horses are living on “millions of acres of public land.” Millions of acres. You will see healthy, beautiful herds of wild horses roaming freely on a landscape of “millions” of acres while the voice-over expounds on their beauty and value as historical treasures. Yet, at the same time, the BLM claims the wild horses and burros are overpopulating as they have no natural predators.

On that note, the wild ones’ natural predators are mountain lions and wolves. Need I remind you, mountain lions and wolves are “trophy” hunted yearly. Its called “hunting season” condoned by the BLM and DOI. Yet another travesty the BLM justifies by claiming these animals are overpopulating as well. A highly effective broad stroke by the BLM. But I digress. So, yes, the wild horses and burros have few natural predators on millions of acres of public lands.

Simply stated, the BLM has some clever public relations people on board.

The BLM bases the removal of the wild horses and burros on what they have named “Herd Management Areas” (HMA) and “Appropriate Management Levels” (AML). But who is determining those numbers? The BLM and the DOI. That’s like having the cat babysit the canary. I think we all know how that will turn out.

Horses have existed on this planet for millions of years. Well before humans. Their equine ancestors, according to fossils found in North America and around the world, were much smaller with cloven hooves. As a matter of survival, they evolved into the modern-day horse of which we are all familiar. Strong, big, sentient, hoofed animals able to carry double their own weight on their backs. Early man and horses have coexisted for millions of years. Horses and burros were domesticated to serve mankind for centuries. We have employed them in our wars, to build our railroads, as transportation to move us from the east to the west to settle new frontiers. A person could be hung for stealing horses in the 18th and 19th centuries. And, yes, we have eaten them in times of famine and war. Today horses are used for sport, pleasure and companionship. Cars have “horsepower” and trains, during the Industrial Revolution, were called “Iron Horses”.

Wild horses and burros travel up to forty miles a day natively for survival. They stay in one spot for a very short time. As prey animals, it’s inherently in their best survival interest to roam. Their roaming nature contributes to our eco-system. Their droppings carry seeds they have ingested to new areas miles away where these seeds then grow into plants and foliage. Horses only eat the tips of the grass never pulling up the roots. In contrast, cattle stand all day in one spot eating the grass right down to the dirt, roots and all, leaving nothing but barren land.

So what is really going on? Follow the money. Cattle ranching, fracking, urban development, mineral and metal exploitation, hunting and corporate greed have all taken their toll on the wild horses and burros on public land. Frankly, on all of nature and its inhabitants, including humans. The wild horse and burro advocates are up against strong opposition and pro-lobbying groups for the NRA, the cattle and meat industry, corporate oil drilling and natural gas fracking, which, I might add, uses millions of gallons of water to keep the boring drills cooled off, along with uranium mining to produce plutonium. You do know that plutonium is a radioactive metal, produced from uranium, and used to manufacture nuclear weapons? And that both plutonium and uranium are nuclear reactor fuels? And that both are extremely radioactive and deadly? All of these groups are very powerful and very well-heeled.

The wild horse advocates have no lobbying group and very little financial strength to hire one. Most spend and donate out of their own pockets to support the wanning, but needed, legislative changes. Meanwhile back at the ranch, our government continues to ignore and violate existing laws, in place for years, to protect the wild horses and burros to live freely and unharassed. Getting the picture now?

Wild horse and burro advocates are constantly on guard and on roundup sites in protest. Petitions run rampant on change.org and other petition sites demanding an end to these inhumane roundups. But the roundups continue ad nauseum.

Yet, wild horses are considered American icons, even by the BLM. Much like the American Bald Eagle who came very close to extinction. It is, and has been for years, a felony to kill one bald eagle.

Against all odds, the wild horse and burro advocates continue to fight the good fight. One some believe is a loosing battle. These dauntless folks are the only voice for the protection and preservation of these majestic animals to live freely and unharassed.  So they press on with the belief that the price of freedom is constant alertness and the willingness to fight back. Most times in doing so, tragically, lives are lost; the lives of the mighty wild horses and burros.

And their freedom is lost with it.

CONTACT: Wild Horse Education

Care to comment?

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  1. it’s great to read an article by someone who is as passionate as Miss Crismani is about her need to inform us all about the plight of America’s wild horses. Thank you for keeping us enlightened on the problem. I hope Miss Crismani will continue to follow the story and that with awareness and care for the environment perhaps we’ll see a happy end.

  2. Thank you Cate for the best summation of the plight of our wild horses I have ever read. The combination of the BLM’s insistence on both roundups and use of PZP fertility control when 70% of herds are already unviable will mean the extinction of our wild horses within a very short time if the public does not act to save them from the BLM. Another contact for information regarding our wild horses can be found at

  3. Thank You, Ms Crismani,
    There is no animal more noble than the Wild Horse on the North American Continent. It is, indeed, a very sad state of affairs when the Department entrusted to protect our horses, is instead, destroying them. And let’s not forget, BLM is run by Cattlemen for Cattlemen. It is time for a change in Washington before it is too late.

  4. Excellent article, Cate. Tells the alarming story of greed and thoughtlessness and wrong values by too many people today. We must learn to share the land and freedom with these magnificent animals, who have done so much for us. Now isn’t it time we do something truly good for them? Like letting them be themselves in a natural habitat of sufficient size and composition that they may carry on as long term viable populations?! See my book The Wild Horse Conspiracy on amazon. It is newly updated and with great Index and Bibliography, a well rounded book that can be used as a tool to save these animals.

  5. The BLM’s flagrant disregard and rampant slaughter (via exporting) of these majestic animals along with HOW it continues in a transparent way via the eyes of our media, clearly shows the “payoffs” agri-businesses and red neck ranchers are happy to provide, while BLM is WAY over its head with these Heard Area Pens…e.g. skyrocketed annual maintenance costs that taxpayers foot the bill with! A more blatant form of media…between the major broadcast news, huge social media efforts and out of home/billboard media must be coordinated and done pro bono from a group of credible ad agencies…to fight this “legal” justice that’s happening before all of us! THANK you for not stopping with your diligent reporting!

  6. At what point does a species qualify for being on the Endangered Species list? At this rate many breeds of wild horse will qualify, no?

  7. We live in a society greatly manipulated by the machinations of greed and corruptive deception. Thank you Cate and Laura for keeping to shed light on this silent preposterous war on our last wild horses. Most Americans are kept in the dark. We must speak out and force change to those who are victimized under regime like tactics for self gain. America can and must do better than being morally corrupted like this. DEMAND it.

  8. The persistent abuses of the public trust by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is well documented. Our wild horses are rounded up under the most brutal conditions and sold for slaughter in Mexico. This is the odious policy the president allows to continue, despite pleas and evidence from millions of Americans and those others concerned with the sensible treatment of animals. Read one aspect of the wrongdoing here: http://www.propublica.org/article/missing-what-happened-to-wild-horses-tom-davis-bought-from-the-govt

  9. This article is quite informative and should raise the consciousness of everyone, even those who acknowledge that we are in a very low place within the universe right now. Our natural environment will continue into the next generation of unbalance and unsustainability if our beautiful animals are not allowed to thrive. Man’s greed has justified the stripping our natural resources by continuing over-consumption. How can we justify our need to survive and thrive if indeed these beautiful creatures are not. If they are endangered, then aren’t we next?

  10. I support the continued existence of wild horses. However, to lump them in with endangered species is misleading. The wild horses in the United States are the descendants of domestic horses that escaped from the Spanish (and the native Americans, and the settlers). There were no horses in North America when the Spanish arrived. The horses that were in North America died out 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, in the big mega-fauna die-off that followed the end of the last glaciation. The wild horses have some “breed” characteristics from their Spanish (actually mostly North African, because North Africa is where the Spaniards got a lot of the horses they brought over)) heritage, but they are basically indistinguishable from domestic horses. And, of course, they can be domesticated and make pretty good riding & ranch horses.
    They will overpopulate and overgraze if not managed, although this is relative as they are competing cows on most of their range. By the way, your characterization of cattle grazing habits isn’t really correct.
    There are plenty of mountain lions in the West, but horses are big, aggressive animals that can easily kill a mountain lion. It is much easier for lions to go after deer and elk. However, there are proven ways to manage wild horse populations which do not involve rounding them up (contraceptive shots for mares, delivered with dart guns.)
    I agree that the round-ups are awful, and selling horses for meat is also awful, and I also think that taking horse herds & penning them for the rest of their lives is bad for the horses and a big waste of government money. But instead of linking horses to actual endangered species, which they are not, you should try to get people to focus on the policy changes that would make a difference for the horses, which would be to start a contraceptive darting program and make sure enough range is set aside as wild horse habitat.

  11. Exciting article about by PhD Steven Jones re: more recent surviving native horse in North America

    Here is a paper on the subject which I wrote which may be of interest; published (June 2012) in the latest issue of Ancient American. I hope it is helpful.

    Were there Horses in the Americas before Columbus? (excerpts)
    Dr. Steven E. Jones

    This letter is in response to a request from Wayne May for information regarding my research on early horses (Equus) in the Americas, before the arrival of Columbus. This interim material is shared in order to encourage a wider community to join in the task of gathering further evidence regarding pre-Columbian horses in the Americas, including a request for photos of pictographs, petroglyphs and engravings which may represent pre-Columbian horses.

    About twelve years ago, I began a project to seek horse bones from sites in North America and Mesoamerica for the purpose of radiocarbon dating. In this research, I was joined by Prof. Wade Miller of the BYU Department of Geology, archaeologists Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales and Shelby Saberon, and Patricia M. Fazio of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. My special thanks to FARMS and ISPART who funded much of the project in years past. We secured horse bones for dating, some directly from the field. Then state-of-the-art radiocarbon dating was performed at Stafford Laboratories in Colorado, the University of California at Riverside, or Beta Analytic in Miami, Florida, employing Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) dating methods. The reliability of the AMS method of radiocarbon dating of bones is delineated in: Radiocarbon, Volume 34, Number 3, pp. 279-291.

    The goal was to provide radiocarbon dates for samples that appeared from depth or other considerations to be pre-Columbian. The time frame of interest can be expressed in terms of “Before Present” by convention and extends from 10,000 BP (thus after the last ice age) to 500 BP (when Spaniards soon after Columbus brought horses to America). The prevailing paradigm holds that there were no horses in the Americas during this time interval; the Book of Mormon and a number of native American oral traditions hold otherwise. The samples in this study can be divided into two categories according to their origins: Mexico, and the United States.
    Forty-five Equus samples were obtained in Mexico. Based on AMS dating, there was one sample from the Ice Age period, and six from the post-Columbus period. Other samples had insufficient collagen in the bone to permit dating – collagen protein locks in carbon-14, permitting accurate C-14 dating. Thus, the laboratories require a certain minimum amount of collagen in order to proceed with the dating. There were no Equus samples found in this study in Mesoamerica for the time interval 14,700 BC to 1650 AD.

    By contrast, in North America, there are found Equus samples which do indeed appear in the time frame between the last ice age and the arrival of Columbus. The first of these was found in Pratt Cave near El Paso, Texas, by Prof. Ernest Lundelius of Texas A&M University. Prof. Lundelius responded to my inquiries and provided a horse bone from Pratt Cave which dated to BC 6020 – 5890. This date is well since the last ice age, into the time frame when all American horses should have been absent according to the prevailing paradigm.
    Another Equus specimen was identified by Elaine Anderson, an expert on Equus identification, at Wolf Spider cave, Colorado. It dated to AD 1260 – 1400, again clearly before Columbus. Note that horses arrived on the new-world mainland with Cortes in 1519 AD [Henry, Marguerite and Wesley Dennis. All About Horses. Random House, 1962.]

    In addition to this hard physical evidence, a number of researchers are looking seriously into oral histories of native Americans which point rather clearly to the existence of horses before the Spanish arrived. In particular, we note that research results have been published by Yuri Kuckinsky [http://www.globalserve.net/~yuku/tran/thor.htm ] and Claire Henderson [http://printfu.org/horses+north+dakota or http://printfu.org/read/the-aboriginal- … uT5MzLkq3m ]. For example, the Appaloosa horse appears to have been in North America before the Spanish brought European horses.

    A January 2012 publication describes progress in DNA analyses of horses which promises to open new avenues for this research: