Threats to Wild Horses & How You Can Help

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Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971

In response to public outcry about the fate of wild horses, in 1971 Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act declaring that “wild 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; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.” Initially, The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) were appointed to implement the Act, but the BLM controls the herd areas and grazing issues.

Today, thirty some years later the fate of Wild Horses has not improved and is the center of controversy for cattle owners and horse owners. While the BLM asserts that the population of wild horses increases too quickly for the amount of public land available for grazing, other animal protection groups report different facts. BLM removes Wild Horses and Burros and either offers them for adoption or puts them in holding pens, to control the population.

The actual issue appears to be one of public land grazing rights. Along with its other responsibilities, BLM also issues public land grazing permits to cattle ranchers, so when a wild horse is removed from public land, a cow takes its place and a cattle rancher gets to graze his animal for a minimal cost.

Adopting a Wild Horse

One of the most successful programs the BLM has implemeted has been the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program. Although the program which takes wild horse including pregnant mares, weanlings, colts, fillies and older horses around the country to auction sites, has been successful there have been drawbacks as well.

Even though the program pre-qualifies well meaning potential owners, many people still don’t understand what kind of care and commitment wild horses require. Many horses are abandoned because the owner suddenly can’t financially afford to take care of them or changes their mind once they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into. Other horses end up mistreated because people don’t know how to train them for riding and don’t know how to ride horses.

Closing of United States Slaughter Plant

Many animal activists and individuals rejoiced when the last United States slaughter house in Illinois was forced to close its doors in 2007. Although the methods used to kill horses at the slaughter houses are considered inhumane by many groups, it was an effective way to control wild horse populations. Often wild horses who were sick, injured or too old were separated from the herd and sent to be slaughtered. Without that option, many unhealthy, injured or older horses are stuck in government holding pens or die needlessly of starvation.