By Monica Ross, HRL Guest Author
Our wild mustangs are in a dire state, caught between disputation and the powers that be. In the 16 US Code 1331 - Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.
What comes to mind when you read this declaration? When I read it I think about respect, honor and freedom.
America was built on the backs of horses. The wild horses were such a vital force in our history. They became the symbol of The Pony Express, with couriers on horseback crossing the nation from Missouri to California. They pulled wagons and fire engines; on their backs rode the most notorious train robbers and our country’s armies through war.
It appears a lot of Americans have forgotten that. People have lost hope. We need to find a way for people to fall in love with America again and to invoke the imagination of the recurring image of a multitude of wild horses racing in a line over mountains and prairies and through water, to understand why the protection of our wild horses and OUR public land along with all wildlife that calls it home are worth fighting for.
As I skim over news articles past to present, when it comes to the wild horses and burros they all read the same. Wild horses are brutally rounded up by aggressive helicopter contractors, running them to the point of exhaustion where they collapse. Running mares as they are giving birth to foals, running foals until their little legs are broken and they have no delicate hooves left. Running them into the trap in numbers that leave the horses crowded and confined, scared and confused, separated from their family units. Foals are trampled by larger horses trying to escape this small space they have been chased into, ending up breaking their necks and countless other injuries. Once trapped the contractors separate the horses by age and gender. If they survive, foals are separated from their mothers.
There are protocols set in place to ensure the safety of the wild horses and burros at roundups. The Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program Standards for Wild Horse and Burro Gathers are made up of three components which include requirements for trap-temporary holding facility design; capture and handling; transportation and appropriate care after capture.
Being an observer myself, the importance of having public observation is to increase government transparency and accountability. Having humane observers on the range enables agencies to take action and litigate with the government to fully comply with care and handling standards. Documenting roundups also provides a way to help lawmakers and the public understand how their tax dollars are often being misused.
Once horses are gathered they are loaded and taken to temporary holding pens, then put on livestock trucks to go to one of the 11 BLM prep facilities. There, the mares are treated with fertility drugs and the stallions are gelded. They are freezebranded for identification, then await their fate – to be sent to either a adoption facility, a private contracted maintenance, or long term facility. Needless to say, they will never see their families, or freedom as they know it, again.
As of December 2021, the BLM now warehouses nearly 59,000 wild horses and burros in off-range holding facilities. As private facilities, the public are not allowed to view the condition of the properties or the horses that are kept there. Some are known to have the horses knee deep in mud, urine and waste.
As we have seen recently, with the Cañon City, Colorado facility where hundreds of mustangs lost their lives at the hands of the BLM, shows it’s time for the American people to come together and be a voice for the Wild Horses and Burros. Too many mustangs lives are being lost.
The truth is that wild horse and burro rangeland is overrun by welfare ranchers. Not one acre of the land that was set aside for the wild horses and burros is protected for their sole use. The wild horse population is not overpopulated. The opposite, in fact – there are too few wild horses and burros on public lands, and unless they grow their survival is in jeopardy. They are being managed at such low numbers that their genetic viability will be impaired. BLM claims that they are starving again, which is untrue – if so, why are the cattle left on the range? If the cattle are so important to ranchers, why would they leave cattle out to starve? Every excuse given to take these horses and burros off the range is fabricated.
We see hundreds of sheep being herded through the very same land the wild horses were removed from. It's a very devastating site.
Is this how we treat our symbols of freedom? Be a voice for the Wild Mustangs. I'm asking you to stand up and say enough is enough, before there are no wild horses left for future generations. Before the legend of the wild horse is lost.