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THE ROUNDUPS

The Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service refer to their systematic and brutal roundup of wild horses and burros from public lands in the US as “gathers”. This sanitized word hides a cruel and costly system of forcibly removing these animals from the wild by stampeding them with the use of low-flying helicopters, over long distances in rough terrain, and often in intense heat, into trap pens that have been set up on the range. When these roundups happen during foaling season, foals can be forced to run long distances, sometimes for 10 or more miles, and suffer painful limb, spine, and hoof injuries that will never fully heal because their bodies are at such a tender developmental stage. Others become separated and die alone on the range, as a result of not being able to keep up with the herd. Pregnant mares and older equines often suffer injuries or collapse from exhaustion or overheating. Euthanasia is routine. 

 

Once trapped inside the pens, panicked family bands and herds are torn apart. Foals and injured equines are trampled underfoot. Wild horses and burros have strong bonds with complex social structures and will cry out for their family and band members. Many stallions have been documented injuring themselves while trying to protect, access, or defend their family members as they are forcibly separated. Stallions routinely break their necks and legs attempting to jump the barricades. Those who survive this ordeal are transported to barren, crowded, disease-ridden, and shelterless government-run holding facilities, paid for by US tax payers at approximately $50 million a year, where they are sorted by gender and age for adoption, sale, or long term holding. In 2022, disease broke out at a facility in Colorado killing 146 wild horses. With approximately 70,000 wild equines being held in facilities all across the Western States, the roundups increasing each year, and and the BLM's stated carrying limit being 78,000, wild horse advocates are concerned about what the future holds for these animals.

A few of the wild horses and burros that have been captured are released back onto the range, with the mares being treated first with PZP or GonaCon. These fertility control pesticides have been shown to have devastating consequences for the health of these animals, as well as for the genetic viability of the wild herds they are returning to. The rest will be either be prepared for adoption through the Wild Horse & Burro Program, or or, if they are 11 years or older (meaning that they are considered unadoptable by the BLM), they are given "Sale Authority" status. This means that they lose all of the federal protections afforded to adoptable animals and become available for purchase by the public for as little as $10. Anyone, regardless of whether they have the ability to gentle a wild equine, or can provide suitable facilities to care for them, can buy one of these animals without any oversight or follow-up from the BLM. Any wild horse or burro that fails to be adopted more than three times (known as"three strikers”) will also be marked as Sale Authority and become available for sale. Those that fail to be adopted or sold will end up incarcerated for life in long-term holding facilities.

The loss of any federal protection for Sale Authority wild horses and burros is due to an amendment that was made to the Wild And Free-Roaming Horse And Burro Act of 1971 by Senator Conrad Burns in 2004. Burns was reportedly acting on behalf of ranching interests who wanted more of the wild horses and burros removed from federal land. The Burns Amendment, is a piece of legislation that requires the BLM to sell what they term "unadoptable" animals,"without limitation", meaning that there is no limit on how many horses can be sold in this way. In contrast to the adoption process, where the BLM retains “ownership” of the animal for a year during which time they are authorized to conduct compliance checks before transferring title to the adopter, title of ownership for a Sale Authority wild horse or burro passes immediately from the Federal government to the buyer at point of sale. These are the horses and burros that are at the highest risk of experiencing abuse and neglect, and/or of ending up in the slaughter pipeline. 

While we advocate for the responsible adoption of wild horses and burros from the BLM to prevent them from being sold outright or subjected to a lifetime of confinement in a barren holding pen, many of the BLM's adoption programs lead to fraud, abuse, and negligence. The Adoption Incentive Program (AIP), introduced in 2019 pays adopters $1000 to adopt a wild horse or burro. This led to many instances of people "adopting" multiple animals and housing them for a year, before cashing in their check and selling them at livestock auctions where they end up in the slaughter pipeline. The New York Times published an article detailing how these animals were being adopted by people who were unqualified or unwilling to provide proper care, and were simply enticed to adopt a wild horse or burro by the cash incentive. Similarly, the TIP Program (Trainer Incentive Program), which was run by The Mustang Heritage Foundation, and ended in September 2023, used a cash incentive to pay trainers to gentle wild horses and burros and prepare for them for adoption. This led to some unscrupulous trainers stockpiling dozens of wild horses and burros at a time and failing to meet the gentling requirements to prepare them for adoption, placing those animals at risk of abuse/neglect or ending up in the slaughter pipeline due to being unhandleable by their adopters. 

It is important to state that there are many responsible trainers who have helped to place wild horses and burros into good homes, and many people working for the BLM and the US Forest Service trying to do whatever they can to prevent these horrors from occurring. Yet, their hands are tied by a powerful, profit-led system that is corrupt at the core and much bigger than us all. Even some of those valiantly rescuing wild horses and burros from the kill pens are finding themselves caught in a web of corruption as the surge in so called"kill pen bail-outs" has been shown to unwittingly enable the corrupt activities of the kill buyers who take these animals to slaughter, simply freeing up space for them to hold more animals to ransom and funding their bidding at livestock auctions to purchase more animals. This bail-out racket has been called the Feed Lot Frenzy, and it is preying on the kindness of bighearted rescuers. Like many issues in our world, it is the larger systems that create the basis for these abuses to occur.

In the last two decades, the BLM's wild horse and burro program’s annual budget has skyrocketed from $19.8 million to $116 million. This has created a highly lucrative system of removing wild horses and burros that, combined with a cultural bias within the agency that views these animals as livestock, has led to the BLM funneling tens of millions of tax dollars to livestock operators to conduct the roundups. These are the contractors who pilot the helicopters, transport the captured horses and burros to holding facilities, and operate the giant feedlots that confine these formerly wild animals for years.

In 2022, more than 20,000 of America's wild equines were rounded up and taken to slaughter in Mexico and Canada. TheTentative Wild Horse and Burro Gather and Fertility Control Schedule for 2024 shows that a further 20,000 wild horses and burros are due to be removed from the wild in 2024. The violence of these roundups, and the subsequent horrors that these animals are subjected to, is an unequivocal betrayal of America's promise in The Wild Free Roaming Horses & Burros Act of 1971, that all free-roaming wild horses and burros, "...shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.". Since this Act was passed into law just over 50 years ago, more than 250,000 wild horses and burros have been harassed, captured, removed, and branded from those lands, to facilitate private and corporate profit, and many of them have met their deaths. 

In the first few weeks of 2024, in Nevada’s East Pershing Complex, wranglers contracted by the BLM have chased, wrangled and captured 2,246 mustangs and killed 24 animals. Roundup observers have watched and documented the horror of pregnant mares being chased for miles into traps; an orphaned foal dizzy with confusion; and a wild mare being roped, hog-tied and left lying in the desert before being dragged to a BLM truck. 

Trigger Warning: the videos below depict scenes of violence , including fatal injury

TIP trainer

Help Stop The Cruel Bureau Of Land Management Horse Roundups