I’m a horse lover — and I also consider myself to be a conservationist. But when you examine the current controversy surrounding wild horses in the western U.S., there isn’t as much overlap as you’d think. The more radical management proposals, like culling and slaughter, are pissing off animal rights activists, and while everyone is busy arguing about what’s best for these animals, their numbers continue to explode. Some reports suggest feral horse populations can double every four years, and there are already over three times as many horses in the western U.S. as the land can sustain. Adoption and birth control are the most “friendly” solutions, but they also require the most resources, and this won’t help every animal. With a stricter limit on how many horses can be snapped up for slaughter outside of the U.S., we’re seeing the noose tighten even more. We are past the point of finding a perfect solution, and for every month we wait, the uglier it’s going to get. ⠀ Earlier this summer I visited Nicole in Nevada, and we spent the better part of an afternoon watching a group of wild horses, comprised of a stallion, two mares, two foals and one male yearling. Though one of the mares looked a bit old and skinny, they were all in good shape and very much a cohesive family unit. I photographed them on a long lens, and as I inched a little bit closer, I spoke softly. I know they’re “wild” animals, but they had definitely encountered humans before, and we seemed to have some sort of a strange understanding with one another out there in the middle of nowhere. I began to wonder what traits make mustangs “adoptable” these days. Would any of these horses be ridden by a loving owner someday, or would they run wild for the rest of their lives? And, if they left this little patch of idyllic desert land, would they starve to death, or would they end up on a BLM holding facility? If laws changed, would they be shot, or shipped off to Mexico, where they’d be slaughtered in conditions far less humane than those that once existed in the U.S.? The more I read, and the more experiences I have, the more I start to question everything…
Elisabeth Brentano @acharmedwoof I don’t *want* to support slaughter (and I know I’ll get ripped apart if I come out as being for it), but it’s an option we have to seriously consider, given the pickle we are in now. I grew up with horses and I love them, and it’s not hard for me to separate feral animals from those bred as working animals, but I know this isn’t the case for everyone. The fact that you can adopt the wild ones just throws everyone for a loop, I think. Are they pets or problem animals? Can they be both? And it’s such a hard pill to swallow, but this is where we’ve gotten ourselves and we have to step it up and own our mistakes. I really like your idea of the carcasses going to predator sanctuaries, because as we both know, there are thousands of animals that could benefit from that. ✌️
Ben Masters @elisabethontheroad it’s unlike any other topic. Good on you for shedding light on the terrible situation it’s in. While it’s not ideal, I believe that putting down the horses and donating the meat to animal shelters and zoos is a good way to honor the life of the horse. If the population can be decreased and then steriliazation and fertility control utilized to slow the population growth to where the number removed equaled the adoption demand, then it’d be a perfectly sustainable program. But unfortunately I think things will get much uglier before they’re better
Elisabeth Brentano @bencmasters oh, am I happy to see we are on the exact same page. Now, if we could get everyone else on board. 🤦🏻♀️ I grew up riding and horses are probably the first animals I ever really bonded with. They are smart, sensitive and when you form a trusting relationship with them, it’s so much bigger than having a pet...it’s a partner. So of course it kills me to say that reduction is (part of) the solution, but...it’s not permanent. And hopefully the way the media covers it will show us we need to do a better job managing and planning. With horses...and most everything else. ✌️
Vance | Nature Photography Interesting read! Definitely makes you think. I think sometimes people want to think conservation is blacjnd white when in reality, it is rarely that simple.
mika So nice💙
Jo Mayne Beautiful captures and an uncomfortable conundrum to go with...
SiaJoo And yet nothing is being done to control human population, 7+ billion that is not sustainable, arguably the most invasive species on the planet. At the root of it, it's a human problem not a horse problem.
Harold Cundal Amazing thank you!
Lisa Van Akin Thanks for bringing awareness to this situation. I agree we can’t ship these animals off and give them an even worse end of life experience.
Caitlin Cimini | Rancho Relaxo We have 8 rescued wild mustangs from the BLM. They are incredible. After much research and many visits to Nevada and surrounding areas, I am 100% certain that rounding them up is the worst thing we can be doing. They sit in holding facilities until they are adopted, purchased outright and taken to slaughter (3 strike mustangs) or die of old age. The absolute best solution is to implement birth control as well as stop allowing ranchers to graze their cattle on public lands - because allowing them to do this in abundance is kicking these horses off the land. Some ranchers see wild horses as competition for cheap forage on public lands. (Thanks to tax subsidies, ranchers pay grazing fees on public lands that are a fraction of market rate.) Livestock grazing is authorized on 155 million acres of BLM land. BLM Wild horses and burros are restricted to 26.9 million acres of BLM land, the vast majority shared with livestock. You do the math.
Eric it seems like we either cull them now or contend with a mass die-off later that would involve longer suffering
Elisabeth Brentano @boochaces I agree that we need the appropriate balance w/ ranchers, bc many are not as conservation minded as they claim to be; rather, it’s all about the bottom line. Money and politics shouldn’t be the driving force behind management solutions, but if there is a true overpopulation of horses (and I hope we can agree that there is...), we need to address that. Our inability to find a solution has only exacerbated the problem, and we are past the point of keeping everyone happy. Adoption and birth control are part of the solution, but as I wrote above, this will not work for every animal. I’d like to volunteer at a rescue ranch, but I don’t have the means to adopt a horse, and this is the case w/ many others. So what do we do with the rest of the horses until we get their numbers back to a healthy level? While holding facilities are not great options either, we have to consider the volume we are dealing with. And in collecting horses for adoption and vet care, aren’t we rounding them up? It’s my understanding that not every horse is darted with hormones from the ground, and many roundups are for a combo of adoption, vet care and yes, grabbing animals for the holding facilities. And aren’t some folks protesting the roundup practice in general, not just the holding facilities? If people keep protesting roundups, and fail to understand the numbers game we are playing, how can we expect to reach a solution any time soon? And who is ultimately going to fund this? I see a lot of armchair conservation w/ regard to this topic, and it’s frustrating. I love horses and I don’t want them slaughtered or crammed in holding pens, but I don’t want them to suffer due to a lack of management, either. And given how many people are on the planet, and how much climate change is affecting ecosystems all over the world, we can’t just let nature run its course, bc we have altered the course of nature. As such, management is necessary, both to maintain balance in the wilderness, and with communities. I’d certainly appreciate it if you could pass along any resources I can share here, bc this is an extremely complicated topic, and I would love to look into all perspectives.
Caitlin Cimini | Rancho Relaxo Actually, the birth control is implemented through darts - so no rounding up is necessary for that process. The funding that is now going into rounding up the mustangs and keeping them in holding pens can go toward the monitoring and administering of birth control instead. It is actually much more simple than so many realize. But I understand the issue itself is not so simple due to how much money is involved and how out of control it is. Greed is such a major factor in this. https://americanwildhorsecampaign.org/issue is a great place to find the charts and statistics. And @freewildhorses @skydogsanctuary are two of my favorite accounts to follow regarding the issue. ❤️ I am so glad to see you speaking about this topic in general. So important. ❤️ If you ever plan on being on the east coast, you are more than welcome to stop by and meet our mustangs.
Suzanne Cruzen @siajoo Yes, and away from topic; let’s give tax breaks for having a kid(s). I think those days are over- the need to have a lot of kids because in the past disease took the lives of many children. But we need to step up and deal with current populations, horses notwithstanding. Let’s tax heavily those who have more than 2 children. (Let the bashing begin). Yes it’s a human problem, and now it’s a horse problem. Because we are human, we are never going to agree on “how” the problems are solved, just that they “are” solved and that they go away. If we just allow euthanasia every time a species gets out of control, like we’ve done to the wolves, what does that say about us as a species in general? That it’s okay to overpopulate ourselves, but it’s not okay for other species to do the same and let nature handle it herself? Of course we don’t want to see the horses suffer a nasty death of starving out there, in pens, or no pens. But where does our responsibility lie in our own overpopulation caused problems? Overpopulated human species, more demand to eat meat, more demand for crops to feed the masses, and now less land for the animals. In the mean time, while nothing is going to happen anytime soon to fix these types of problems, I appreciate posts like these because it at least gets us to talk about it. We definitely need to talk about it, then find solutions. ✌🏼
Jude Allen Mista Ed