||December 23, 2004
Kill Horses, Don’t They?
by lyle e davis
You hear them first. A
rumbling thundering sound of a herd of magnificent wild horses.
Then you see them. You
admire the rugged beauty, the grace, the sheer natural elegance of the wild, and
Then you hear another
sound. It's a helicopter . . . flying as low off the ground, banking left and
right keeping the herd in a tightly knit group.
We hear them coming . . .
we hear the whinnies . . . the clattering hooves . . . snorting, grunting,
frightened screams. Those alpha mares lead the herd fearlessly, but they are
beginning to doubt their ability to lead the herd out of danger this last time.
The stallions hang back, as best they can, making sure no mare or youngster
slows down. Traditionally, the stallions stay in the back to fight the danger
that is approaching. Problem is, stallions never learned how to fight a
Historians say more than
2 million wild horses roamed the United States at the turn of the 20th century,
some of them descendants of horses brought here by Spanish conquistadors in the
early 1500s. Others are the offspring of farm, cavalry, ranch and mining animals
that escaped or were turned loose on public lands.
Now, the BLM says there
are about 36,000 wild horses across the country, over which they have
jurisdiction. There are more wild horses in Nevada that are controlled by the
state, still others in other western states. Some are on Forest Service land.
They hope to trim that herd to 26,000 by 2006.
It's roundup time and
it's the beginning of the end for these beautiful, wild horses. Although they
were supposed to have been federally protected - Congress some 25 years ago said
they were "living symbols of the American West," most will wind up on the dinner
table at restaurants in Europe and Asia.
As cattle boomed,
competition for grazing land prompted ranchers - as well as hunters and "mustangers"
- to gather, and often randomly shoot, the wild horses.
In the 1950s, Nevada's
Velma Johnston, dubbed "Wild Horse Annie," started a letter-writing campaign,
predominantly among schoolchildren, to save the animals.
In 1971, when poachers
had reduced the estimated wild horse and burro population to about 25,000,
President Nixon outlawed the hunting and killing of the animals and designated
them as a natural resource.
You are witnessing the
end of a family. Wranglers hide in the bushes . . . each to be paid around $300
for each horse they catch . . .and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) staffers
are there, being paid to observe.
The “Judas horse” is
slapped on the rump . . . this is the horse trained to lead the herd into
captivity. The Judas horse bolts into the open gates of a trap and the herd
follows. A hidden wrangler pulls a latch and the gate slams shut.
Now, due to recent
legislation, the BLM has a mandate to go out and capture more and more horses,
freeing up more and more rangeland for other, more valuable uses, or so the
argument goes. Animal activists are in an uproar and are seeking reversal of
the legislative hiccup that allowed this situation to develop.
Meanwhile, the BLM wrings
its hands and pleads for understanding. Resources are being stretched, they
say. 25 years ago we implemented a program to capture the wild animals and put
them up for adoption. They argue that by limiting herd sizes, the program
prevents starvation and furthers an ecological balance. That may be the goal.
But what actually happens? We shall see.
Once captured, the horses
are separated by sex and age. They will live in holding pens for 30 days.
Plans call for the stallions are gelded, treated for worms and vaccinated.
(However, most stallions are not gelded by the BLM. It takes a special chute
that can be turned into an operating table for them to be gelded. Most wild
horses are adopted as stallions and cannot be gelded till they are gentled
enough for a vet to approach and handle them.) All receive freeze brands on
their necks. Horses can be adopted at placement centers or at regional
centers. The adoption contract requires the adopter must keep the horses before
receiving title. Once title is received, the horse(s) may be sold at auction or
to other private parties. Often these auctions are frequented by 'killer
buyers,' men who buy for the slaughterhouses.
Killer buyers will buy
loads of horses, then pack them into trailers, then ship to slaughterhouses.
Inside the slaughterhouse the horse is shot in the forehead with a special stun
gun. It only stuns the horse and does not kill the horse. It is then bled by
workers, wearing white coveralls and rubber boots. Often the horses are not
dead when the butchering begins. One can hear the screams of the tortured
Horse carcasses are
rolled into the boning rooms, where about 10 workers cut them into chunks. They
are bagged, iced, and trucked off to Chicago and flown to Europe.
There are two
slaughterhouses remaining in the US, both in Texas. Beltex and Dallas Crown,
both owned by foreign interests from Belgium.
A Sad Legacy
According to a recent
investigation by the Associated Press, the BLM over the last 25 years has lost
track of 32,000 wild horses after their adoption; this, in itself, is not
surprising as the BLM would have no jurisdiction over the horse(s) after they
had been adopted. What is disturbing is the allegation (disputed by some in the
horse world) that 90% were eventually sold to slaughter, according to the wire
BLM denies the claim. But a recent study conducted by the agency found that in
1995 and 1996 alone, 700 wild horses adopted through its program were sold for
Mary Knapp, a BLM spokesperson in Washington, said that each year 266,000 horses
are slaughtered at packinghouses nationwide--including wild and domestic animals
and former racehorses. "So we figure that 700 is a pretty low percentage," she
Since the program was begun in 1972 following the federal Wild Free-Roaming
Horses and Burros Act, 175,000 wild animals have been placed with adopters who
pay a minimum fee of $125 for each (though the fee may be higher or lower. A
horse with a blind eye, for example, may go for less. A handsome horse may draw
considerably more than the minimum of $125). Before receiving title,
adopters must demonstrate proper care for the animal for one year.
BLM says it needs to thin out the wild herds to keep the animals from
reproducing to the point where they crowd public range lands and risk driving
themselves into extinction. In tightening its reins over the program, the BLM
now requires potential adopters to pledge under federal penalty that horses
won't be sold for slaughter. And the agency pledges to conduct better follow-up
once horses are adopted.
the past, animal activists say, the BLM has allowed commercial traders to adopt
hundreds of animals at a time--horses that were eventually sold to feed an
international market for horse meat. The agency also failed to follow up on
countless adopted horses and had no idea of their eventual whereabouts, they
Legislative Power from
Herds of horses have roamed the grazing lands near Elko, Nevada, for more than
100 years. Much of this land belonged to the Western Shoshone People who signed
a treaty that granted passage through the land -- but not ownership rights.
Nevertheless, the government claimed the land, and leased it to ranchers who now
want the horses removed so that their cattle will have more feed.
Recently, the Bureau of Land Management accelerated the removal of the horses.
Many of these animals may be sent to slaughterhouses or forced to live out their
lives confined to "prison pens" -- at the taxpayers' expense.
Bill Directs BLM to Sell
Wild Horses and Burros
This as a result of legislation that was termed by some as the "Final Solution"
for Wild Horses.
Over 50 percent of this country's wild horses live in Nevada, whose landscape is
dominated by the Great Basin -- a vast desert etched by more than 160 mountain
ranges, stretching from Utah's Wasatch Range to California's Sierra Nevada.
Enter Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, with the apparent support of Senators
Byron Dorgan, also of Montana, and Harry Reid of Nevada, all of whom inserted
into the Senate appropriations bill a rider that directs the BLM to dispose of
excess wild horses and burros "without limitation" including at livestock sales
and public auctions. This action could conceivably initiate the largest
wholesale slaughter of horses in North America. Here is the actual language
"(1) In General. - Any excess animal or the remains of any
excess animal shall
be sold if -
"(A) the excess animal is more than ten years of age; or
"(B) the excess animal has been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at
least three times.
"(2) Method of Sale. - An excess animal that meets either of the criteria in
paragraph (1) shall be made available for sale without limitation, including
through auction to the highest bidder, at local sale yards or other convenient
livestock selling facilities, until such time as-
"(A) all excess animals offered for sale are sold; or
"(B) the appropriate management level, as determined by the Secretary, is
attained in all areas occupied by wild free-roaming horses and burros."
This means that all horses and burros ten years and older, and any horse or
burro unfortunate to have been sent to three adoptions but not be adopted, can
be dumped at a public sale. There are some rumblings within the BLM Wild
Horse/Burro Program that is opposed to actively enforcing the new legislation.
Many of these folks care deeply about the wild horses and want nothing to do
with expediting their possible journey to a slaughterhouse.
bill further states that "Any excess animal sold under this provision shall
no longer be considered to be a wild free-roaming horse or burro for purposes of
this act." That statement dissolves these animals' safety net (which had
been granted by virtue of the 1972 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act)
and without question nearly all of these animals will be acquired by the killer
Having no line item veto authority President Bush signed the omnibus bill into
There are two primary points to this issue raised by animal activists
The measure itself is extreme. It requires BLM to "dump" huge numbers of
formerly protected wild horses onto the marketplace.
The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was strongly supported by the
American public and passed unanimously by Congress in 1971. Senator Burns gutted
this long standing public law through a rider surreptitiously slipped at the
last minute into the huge spending bill, avoiding any public scrutiny or debate.
While the above bill mandates the BLM to proceed against all wild horses and
burros throughout the nation, the bulk of attention focuses on Nevada. Here's
The Bureau of Land Management estimates 32,290 wild horses currently roam on
public lands across the western United States. More than half of them - 17,679 -
are in Nevada, and 14,000 remain in seven BLM long-term holding facilities in
Kansas and Oklahoma.
85 percent of Nevada is public land and most of it is managed by the Bureau of
Nevada's Velma B. Johnston, later known as Wild Horse Annie, spearheaded the
popular movement that inspired passage of the 1971 National Free-Roaming Wild
Horse and Burro Act. (This was the first law passed to protect mustangs and
burros from being target practice for "cowboys" and from being herded by
aircraft to be sold to slaughter (see the movie "The Misfits") was passed in
1971 due to a huge letter writing campaign spearheaded by Johnston, and it
consisted almost entirely of letters from school children. It was and still is
the highest number of letters received in Washington on any issue except the
Diana Linkous, a horseowner and trainer, living on a horse farm in southern
Maryland, and a very interested and knowledgeable observer of what is happening:
are almost 33,000 wild horses out there. If the BLM follows this directive there
might wind up being 5,000 wild horses in this country. I hate to think what will
happen to the rest, as slaughter houses do not cater to the proper methods to
kill a horse... they use the same methods they use on cattle, and horses are a
much more nervous animal, often not being dead before they are hung and slit
open. I've seen film, and the screams are horrible, the sight pitiful. (Editor's
Note This comment is a frequent one by horse lovers. And there is documentary
proof. An undercover videotape was made at a slaughterhouse in Texas. You may
wish to confirm this by going to
Warning This videotape
is very graphic and painful to watch.)
To me, the answer lies in an efficient contraceptive program for the mares. It
would not be cheap, but it would be cheaper than holding thousands of older
studs in government facilities. If the reproductive rate could be lowered
enough, the constant pressure to round up and send out for adoption some 7,000
or more horses a year would lessen considerably.
The BLM has been piddling around for years with a contraceptive program (which
works on the Maryland owned herd of feral Assateague ponies), and never put it
Cattlemen in Nevada, as well as mineral interests, want fences up to keep the
wild horses and burros out, and cattlemen in particular want the horses out of
the publicly owned rangeland which they lease for a ridiculously low cost per
This rider can be reversed by passing another law. It would take a public
campaign to do it."
Currently, two foreign-owned slaughterhouses in the United States are killing
horses for human consumption. They are BelTex Corporation in Ft. Worth, Texas,
and Dallas Crown in Kaufman, Texas. According to the US Department of
Agriculture, 50,564 horses were slaughtered in 2003. In addition to the horses
killed in the two US-based plants, thousands more are transported under
deplorable conditions across our borders into Canada and Mexico to be
Horses are often transported for more than 24 hours without rest, water, or
food, while unprotected from weather extremes in thin metal-walled trailers.
Sick and/or injured horses frequently are forced onto double-deck trailers that
were designed for short-necked animals such as cattle and sheep. Following years
of waiting, the US government approved substandard regulations aimed at
improving the conditions in which horses are transported to slaughter.
Once at the slaughterhouse the suffering and abuse continue unabated. Often,
horses are left on tightly packed double-deck trailers for long periods of time
while a few are forcibly moved off.
Callous workers, using long, thick fiberglass rods, poke and beat the horses'
faces, necks, backs, and legs as they are shoved through the facility into the
to extreme overcrowding, abuse, deafening sounds, and the smell of blood, the
horses exhibit fear typical of "flight" behavior - pacing in prance-like
movements with their ears pinned back against their heads and eyes wide open.
While Federal law requires that horses be rendered unconscious prior to having
their throats slit, recent documentation (the videotape referenced earlier)
shows that repeated blows with captive bolt pistols are often necessary, causing
excruciating suffering. Horses writhe in the holding stall (known as the "kill
box"), legs buckling under their weight after each traumatic, misguided and
ineffective blow to their heads. Death is not swift for these terrified and
The Other Side of the
BLM calls the 1972 legislation an impossible law.
BLM has never had what it calls an "appropriate management level" of horses on
the range, meaning the number of horses the land can support as determined by
do that means rounding up horses and sending even more into sanctuaries in the
Midwest. Today, seven ranches - four in Oklahoma and three in Kansas - keep
around 13,600 wild horses. That's almost as many horses as what is left on the
range in all Western states except Nevada and Wyoming. The BLM plans to open up
to four more sanctuaries.
is this what the act intended, to keep so many horses in a never-ending welfare
"We're dealing with an animal population," a BLM official said. "It's not
something you get to a point and walk away." The appropriate management level,
now so attainable according to the BLM, is in danger of not happening because
the agency frequently runs out of money. This year, Congress allowed the BLM to
borrow $7.6 million from other programs so it could continue rounding up horses
BLM wanted to get 10,500 horses off the range this year, but only 3,400 were
gathered before the horse and burro program ran out of money for roundups. The
BLM still hopes to round up 6,000 horses this summer, officials said.
Critics say the program is just a numbers game to the BLM, a constant cycle of
removing horses from the range and shipping them to various facilities. Some
horse advocate groups even accuse the BLM of trying to get rid of herds because
they want to destroy the wild horse program.
1988, John Hughes received a BLM contract to keep the horses on his Oklahoma
ranch. He has another contract to keep 2,000 wild horses on a second ranch and
still keeps cattle on leased ranches. He is paid $997,000 per year to allow
these 2000 horses to run free on his ranch land.
love the cattle business, but it requires a large amount of capital. This is a
great combination for us. There's no question about it," Hughes said. "This
gives us steady income."
Taking wild horses has also been good for Wyoming ranchers Ben and Pauline
Middleton, who house 28 horses at their rural ranch.
sounds like a good, win-win deal for everybody," Pauline Middleton said. "The
horses are certainly happier when they're out of the corral. We felt we were
Officials with the BLM horse program in Wyoming, said they receive a few calls a
month from interested ranchers, especially those who want to reduce their cattle
Last year, 550 people asked to review the BLM's contracts for two sanctuaries
before they went out to bid; only 18 people submitted bids.
the contracted ranches, stallions are gelded and mares are kept separate.
Sanctuaries are always full or close to it.
They are intended to house older horses, ones no one would adopt, but there are
so many horses on the range that more than 2,200 younger horses have ended up at
the ranches. The BLM hopes most of them will eventually be adopted, but for now
"They're beautiful on the range. They really are," said Larry Johnson, a member
of the Wild Horse and Burro Program Advisory Board, a panel that advises the BLM
on horse management. "You can't fault a public for wanting to protect that
resource. It's the right thing to do, but at the same time, the public has to be
willing to pay for it."
BLM spends about $6.8 million a year, or $465 per horse placed in a long-term
bureau plans to reduce wild horse populations, which reached an estimated 42,000
in 2000, to below 30,000 by 2005.
Big Money in Slaughter
While the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) has been charged with administering
the multimillion-dollar federal program created to save the lives of wild
horses, there is evidence to suggest that all is not succeeding as well as it
could, or should.
Nothing in the law prevents anyone from selling horses to slaughterhouses once
they gain ownership. While it is common for old or lame horses to go to
slaughter, nearly all former BLM horses sent to slaughter are young and healthy,
according to slaughterhouses.
program's rules let anyone adopt up to four horses per year, paying $125 for
each healthy animal. If the adopters properly care for the horses for one year,
they get title to them in the form of BLM certificates bearing a number
freeze-branded into each horse's hide. Using freeze-brand numbers and computer
records, the AP traced more than 57 former BLM horses sold to the
slaughterhouses since September. Eighty percent of them were less than 10 years
old and 25% were less than 5 years old. Horses are often ridden well into their
government spends up to $1,100 to round up, vaccinate, freeze brand and adopt
out a horse. Although adopters pay a minimum of $125 for each healthy horse, a
lame or old horse can be bought for as little as $25, or even acquired free.
After holding the horses for a year, adopters are free to sell them for
slaughter, or to private parties. The sellers find no shortage of horsemeat
buyers. The demand for American horsemeat has long been strong in Asia and
AP matched computer records of horse adoptions with a computerized list of
federal employees and found that more than 200 current BLM employees have
adopted more than 600 wild horses and burros.
Rock Springs, Wyoming, the BLM corrals are run by Victor McDarment, whose crew
rounds up horses from open ranges in Wyoming and arranges adoptions. According
to BLM database records, McDarment has adopted 16 horses. His estranged wife
adopted nine. His children adopted at least six. His girlfriend adopted four.
His ex-wife adopted one. His co-workers in the corrals and their families
adopted 54. McDarment said he could not account for the whereabouts of all the
horses. "I don't keep track," he said. Some ended up with Dennis Gifford, a
Lovell, Wyoming, rancher and rodeo contractor who said he has tried to breed
them for rodeo stock. He said he is sure some of McDarment's horses were
slaughtered. They have to end up somewhere, Gifford said. What the AP study
did not show is that these horses were adopted over a period of 20 years,
which is not that unusual for horselovers; further, some of those horses are
bound to go lame and may have, in fact, gone to slaughter. That, too, is
normal. Many horse people have complained that the AP story was incomplete and
made unnecessary and inaccuate inferences directed toward BLM employees and/or
The Legislators Defend
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that
funds the BLM, placed the measure in a 3,000-page year-end spending bill after
consulting with Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., Burns
spokeswoman Jennifer O'Shea said.
"We've got to get the number of animals down to appropriate management levels
and keep them there, but do it in a way that doesn't bankrupt us," Burns said in
a statement. "This language is a step in the right direction."
Lawmakers have expressed frustration with the BLM wild horse program. Costs have
gone up as more horses have been taken off the range and placed in
government-run holding facilities.
Giving the BLM the authority to sell the horses could solve agency budget
problems and let it continue gathering thousands of wild horses from public
lands. The agency manages herds in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho,
Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
spokeswoman Celia Boddington declined to comment on the congressional action.
Horse activists also urge immunocontraception, a birth-control method
implemented in the last decade by the BLM, should have been implemented earlier
to cut down on the number of horses that could now be sent to slaughter with the
Immunocontraception is a birth-control method that uses the body's immune
response to prevent pregnancy.
Humane Society of the United States endorses it and works with several public
agencies to develop it. The BLM has injected 2,000 mares with it since 1992, and
it has been very successful.
the immunocontraception system had been in force longer, these horses wouldn't
be going to slaughter," activists say. "But this will make money for the BLM,
and that's what matters to them."
Horse activists have come up with battle plans to combat what they see as
unnecessary slaughter of horses. They argue that the did this successfully more
than 20 years ago and they believe it can be done again.
Oppose the Bureau of Land Managements overzealous wild horse round-up policy,
which often leads to unadoptable wild horses being slaughtered, by writing
Honorable Gale A. Norton
Secretary of the Interior
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20240
How you can respond
E-mail, phone or fax the
president. Tell him that you are unhappy with the passage of Rider #142.
Call, email or write your senators and members of Congress.
Contact information for United States Senators.
Barbara Boxer - Democrat
Humberto Peraza, District Director
Diane Feinstein -
619 231 9712
202 224 9629 (Washingont)
Rob Filner - Democrat
Duncan Hunter -
(619) 579 3001
Darrell Issa - Republican
Attn Phil Paule -
Contact information for
Members of Congress
Congressman Randy "Duke"
Cunningham - Republican
613 W. Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA. 92025
737 8438 737 9132 (FAX)
Washington FAX (202) 225 2558
Libby LeGrice District
Press Secretary Harmony
Ask your Senators and
Representatives to not allow the American government to initiate potentially the
largest wholesale slaughter of horses in history. This language must be repealed
and other solutions written into law.
The actual legislation to
which you should refer is Rider #142 in HR-4818 (The CONSOLIDATED APPROPRIATIONS
"If we get 5 calls on an
issue, we don't pay much attention. If we get 25, we start, and when we get 100
we sit up and take notice."
Texas Congressman Lamar
Smith, Marble Falls Town Hall Meeting, Saturday, June 7, 2003.
Other Sources on this issue
(an email from W. Lamm)
Feel free to list my email address:
and/or the web site for the LRTC Wild Horse Mentors
Take care and thanks for
your coverage of this issue. Not only is it a terrible law, but the sneaky,
underhanded way it was slipped into the spending bill smacks of everything most
Americans hate about today's politics!
Willis Lamm, President
LRTC Wild Horse Mentors
For a listing of adoption
centers for wild horses/burros
Wild horses, by state,
Here is a breakdown by
state offices of wild horses and burros removed and adopted through the Bureau
of Land Management program in fiscal year 2003.
horses and 444 burros removed; 174 horses and 128 burros adopted.
1,106 horses and 624 burros removed; 788 horses and 258 burros adopted.
horses and 0 burros removed; 150 horses and 38 burros adopted.
States: 0 horses and burros removed; 1,904 horses and 357 burros adopted.
horses and 0 burros removed; 103 horses and 21 burros adopted.
horses and 0 burros removed; 134 horses and 41 burros adopted.
3,938 horses and 148 burros removed; 121 horses and 3 burros adopted.
0 horses and burros removed; 853 horses and 163 burros adopted.
horses and 0 burros removed; 225 horses and 62 burros adopted.
horses and 0 burros removed; 141 horses and 28 burros adopted.
3,110 horses and 0 burros removed; 188 horses and 1 burro adopted.
Note: An additional 201
horses and 83 burros were adopted through the national office.
Source - Bureau of Land Management