We must act to save America’s wild horses

By Marty Irby
Posted 7/17/20

What was once a matter of sustenance and survival is now considered a matter of cruelty. Horses are no longer worked to death, and they are not raised for food. Because of their historic place in transport and labor, they are respected and honored for their long record of service.

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We must act to save America’s wild horses


In 1891, just five years after migrating from Germany to the U.S., a 21-year-old Frederick Trump set out in search of prosperity and fortune on the Western Frontier and soon settled in the newly admitted State of Washington. Like many other entrepreneurs, he’d heard tales of financial windfalls in the West, mainly through mining for gold and silver.

Despite the opportunities mining presented, Young Frederick Trump sought a different path and began “mining the miners,” staking claim to land that he had no intention of mining, and instead began building hotels, restaurants and boarding houses, eventually working his way north along the White Pass route to Canada’s Yukon territory, opening a tent restaurant in the Spring of 1898.

Horse meat was not uncommon fare because these work animals perished as a consequence of overworking and dangerous passages. The White Pass route included the notorious “Dead Horse Gulch,” so named because drivers whipped animals of transport until they literally dropped dead on the trail. Trump and others took advantage of these supplies of fresh meat and served them up to the miners and other pioneers and settlers.

After building his fortune on the backs of these horses, Frederick Trump later settled down in Queens, New York where his grandson, and the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump would be raised.

What was once a matter of sustenance and survival is now considered a matter of cruelty. Horses are no longer worked to death, and they are not raised for food. Because of their historic place in transport and labor, they are respected and honored for their long record of service.

Americans don’t eat horse meat today, and lawmakers have shuttered all the remnant horse slaughter plants in recent decades. Congress routinely passes a year-over-year prohibition on slaughtering horses just to make sure nobody gets back into this ugly enterprise.

But in May, the door back to slaughter was reopened when Trump’s Bureau of Land Management, an agency long known for their mismanagement and mass roundups of our iconic wild horses on public lands presented its latest scheme to Congress.

The blueprint calls for the roundup, removal and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of wild horses, many still unborn. These horses are the descendants of the equines who blazed the western trails.

Congress gave an additional $21 million to the BLM in fiscal year 2020, and BLM appears intent to use the money on massive roundups, even though nearly 50,000 wild horses and burros are already in holding pens and eating up the budget of the agency.

A small group of pro-horse-slaughter lawmakers — who themselves are pushing for roundups and creating the problem — are using the cost-of-care argument as a justification to slaughter the horses.

With BLM threatening to double or triple the number of captive horses, those lawmakers will see their case fortified. In short, there is a crisis brewing, and we may see a revival of the debate over the merits of horse slaughter.

It’s not surprising to see the Farm Bureau and Cattlemen’s Association advocating for BLM’s plan — these organizations treat horses as nothing but livestock and have long pushed for horse slaughter.

They and their friends at BLM call the wild horses the greatest “existential threat” facing public lands. But it’s an illogical statement, considering wild horses are only on a small fraction of federal lands. Livestock graze on 88% of BLM lands and outnumbers the mustangs and burros by 37-to-1.

Instead of manufacturing a new crisis, BLM should implement humane fertility control as a way to maintain safe and sustainable population levels on our public lands. The PZP contraceptive vaccine has been recognized by the National Academy of Sciences as the most promising and cost-effective method for managing wild horse populations.

It’s a humane solution that can be administered to female horses via a dart injection. A dose is $30 and takes one treatment per year and becomes self-boosting after 5-7 years. By comparison, warehousing costs around $1,600 per year.

Several herds in the U.S. are currently managed very successfully with this vaccine, and because every horse herd is different, a PZP program is customized based on that herd’s geographic location. With its “roundup” culture, BLM just has an irrational aversion to using it.

While BLM may round up at least 20,000 horses this year, we can prevent that kind of mass mismanagement and inhumane treatment of horses moving forward. Our lawmakers have the opportunity to land on the right side of history — and the American taxpayer — by requiring BLM to implement PZP contraceptive in 2021.

And in recent weeks both the White House and the House Committee on Appropriations have dealt a bad blow to horses.

It’s a one-two punch with Trump’s nomination of William Perry Pendley as director of the BLM, a longtime advocate of depopulating wild horses and burros from federal lands, and a key Congressional committee allocating an additional $21 million to roundup and pen more wild horses and burros in 2021.

If Pendley is confirmed by the Senate, and no restrictions are placed on this gross waste of tax dollars, then the horses we all care so deeply about may be doomed next year.

For the horses at risk this year, they can only rely on the strength of the president to tell the bureaucrats at BLM and Pendley that he doesn’t want this swampy, costly plan. While he may recognize that a century ago even his own grandfather treated horses in a very utilitarian way, it’s a different day and a new era in our treatment of animals.

Overworking horses, slaughtering them, rounding them up in mass is no way to treat horses in 2020.

We hope the Congress and the president will turn around this situation and spare our wild horses and burros, and we are lobbying relentlessly to that end.

You can join us and help by contacting your Members of Congress here and telling them to stop the wild horse roundups.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and a former 8-time world champion equestrian rider.

Irby, horses