The image of a wild horse running free through the plains and mountains of the Western United States is one worthy of the big screen. These majestic creatures have been roaming free for thousands of years, guided by their natural instincts. Sadly, the number of truly “free” horses is rapidly on the decline. Thousands of wild horses and burros are captured every year as part of regulated land management. Since the horse has no nature predators in the wild, there is concern of over-population compared to land capacity. Solution – capture a number of excess horses; send them to holding facilities with hopes of making them available for adoption. The truth, many end up in the slaughter pipeline…
Is the capture of America’s wild horses inhumane?
1. The Gather Process
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for the protection and management of wild horses and burros under the authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Herd sizes are monitored closely to ensure the number of horses does not exceed land capacity – known as Appropriate Management Level (AML). Once the AML is exceeded, “excess” horses are “gathered.”
Horses are flight or fight animals, that is, they will flee any situation that presents danger when fighting is not an option. They spook easily – wave a plastic bag at a domestic horse and it is the scariest thing on earth! Low-flying, noisy helicopters are used in the round-up process. The immediate response of the herds is to stampede, often for miles at a time. This causes panic, distress, injury (broken legs, becoming entangled in barbed wire) and ultimately death for some. The terrified animals are herded to a trap, large metal gates slamming shut behind them. Families are separated, torn apart. What happens next?
2. Holding Facilities
Once captured, the horses are placed in holding facilities awaiting their fate. Horses are highly social animals, living in tightly bonded herds. Families will remain together in the wild. Once captured, more often than not the young will be separated from their families, never to see them again. The holding pens are a far cry from their natural habit. Horses require space to roam and graze – the holding pens are cramped, filled with large numbers of horses competing for space. There have been reports of inhumane treatment of horses held in these holding pens, including the use of electric prods, kicking, hog-tying of foals. So now there are an excess number of horses residing in holding facilities – where do they go.
To quote the Rolling Stones – “wild horses, we’ll ride them some day,” can one truly remove all traces of a wild horse’s natural behaviours? The BLM provides a selection of the captured horses for adoption to the general public. Only a fraction of the thousands of horses, a mere drop in the bucket, are adopted out. This may appear to be an adequate solution; however, there is a lack in safeguards and screening processes. The adopted animals can quickly find themselves in auction houses, with no protection from being purchased by kill buyers whose primary goal is to make a profit by shipping horses direct to slaughter. It is estimated that nearly 100,000 horses are shipped to Canadian and Mexican slaughter plants every single year. The wild horse is not spared this horrific fate.
How Can You Help?
Educate yourself on issues of equine welfare and the plight of America’s wild horses and burros. Support local equine rescues and sanctuaries trying to make a difference in the lives of wild horses. To take away freedom is truly one of the cruelest acts human kind can inflict on the animal world. The horse, whether wild or domestic, has long suffered at the hands of people. Be the change you want to see in the world… you can make a difference.
“A thousand horse and none to ride! -With flowing tail, and flying mane, wide nostrils never stretched by pain, mouths bloodless to the bit or rein, and feet that iron never shod, and flanks unscarred by spur or rod, a thousand horse, the wild, the free, like waves that follow o’er the sea, came thickly thundering on…” – Lord Byron
Lead image source: Flickr