Visit to the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Facility

In response to several requests to check up on the horses and burros at the BLM Horse and Burro Facility that is about an hour and 20 minutes from where I live, we made the trip to the facility just outside Ridgecrest, California, USA.

The horses and burros responded with immediate curiosity as we drove around the perimeter of the giant corrals. Our new four-legged best friends crowded around us at the edge of the fence. They were, of course, expecting carrots. We did not disappoint them. We hoisted the 25-pound bag of carrots from the trunk and began the slightly difficult task of making sure each animal received enough treats. At each pen, we repeated the procedure of pulling out carrots and walking up and down the fence line, trying the reach carrots to the animals standing back and eventually tossing tidbits over the heads of the more demanding individuals at the front of the crowd.

I believe the horses standing back from the fence were older, and the younger ones crowded close around us. The horses appeared to be in good health, and the corrals were in good shape. Each wore a red rope with a number tag as an ID, and a BLM freeze brand on the left side of the neck.

All looks fine until one thinks about where these animals were and what they were doing a few short months ago. Most were probably grazing in some Nevada valley, peacefully feeding foals or splashing in a water hole. These once wild and free horses wait for visitors, or stand listlessly back watching.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, these are what we took while there:

Baby Burros

Captured Wild Horses

Even though the horses and burros enjoyed the carrots and are well-cared for at THIS BLM facility, their futures are uncertain. A lot depends on who adopts them and whether they are transferred to another facility.

This same week, I visited a local horse rescue… I was surprised at the number of horses that obviously carried mustang blood. There’s a look to the mustangs captured locally. But many of these did not wear freeze brands. Meaning they probably were born to mustangs adopted out by the BLM, but they do not have any of the meager protections available to the wild and freeze-branded mustangs.

The wild ones would prefer to remain wild. If asked, they would not want to give up their freedom so that cattle can graze there.

But no one asked them…

I was asked by someone from outside the United States, that since the US has so much space, there must be room for the wild horses somewhere?

This was an excerpt from my answer:

One would think what you say would be the case. That seems so right and logical…and we even have the “Wild Horse Protection Act” meant to protect them.

However, the issue has become political as people want that land or want the grazing rights or want to slaughter the horses to profit from the horse meat, and all these “wants” jocky to convince the government that there are too many wild horses on the ranges….and of course each voice offers its own view as THE way, and that way is what is in the entity’s best interest. Take a look in the group discussion forum, writings and journal entries, and you’ll see some of the stories.

The powers trying to lock up the horses dress it up as for the good of the horses, but there are other reasons for systematically trying to zeroe out the number of horses on various ranges. If the ranges are not fit for horses, why do other people pay to graze cattle there?

The Cinderella view is the wild horses are removed from the cruel and harsh ranges and the sweet BLM fairy godmother finds them homes with perfect horse whisperers who can transform wild range stallions and tough lead mares into dream western pleasure horses. In reality, people adopt a cute mustang and do not know how to handle it….so the horse ends up at auction or at a slaughter house pen….and many rescues work hard to save these horses. Many of the horses are not adopted at all and wait, and wait and wait in BLM holding pens. The BLM wild horse and burro facility nearest to me works hard to make sure these horses have their needs met, and the whole facility is open for the public to see….But not all of the facilities are so well run. The whole experience is traumatic to the horses, tears apart family groups and leaves areas with bands of horses that are no longer genetically diverse enough to be viable….meaning the remaining bands may eventually die out…

Regarding the trauma, this journal article by Gene Praag called Update on Wild Horse is one of the best that shows what really happens to horses before andafter capture in Utah.

On the issue of horse slaughter, Arla posted the article This won’t hurt a bit.

The problem is not just in t)he United States. Regarding similar issues, James of our group posted Wild Horse in Alberta Need Your Help.

….and don’t get me started on the bloodlines that are being lost. Really look at the horse photos in our Featured Artist Galleries. You will see horses fron varous regions around the world each carrying distinctive characteristics and bloodlines. Whether the band carries the blood of the conquitador’s horses from Spain or the plains painted horses or the west’s palominos or distinctive buckskins, special traits are being lost as these proud herd sires are being gelded.

Don’t get me wrong. Some mustangs hit the round-up jackpot and not only survive the round up, but find themselves going home with the right people who will give them forever home and either know how to handle them or get the right kind of help. I have a freeze-branded mustang mare, and she is wonderful. I love her quirkiness, individuality, spunk and intelligence. She may always hate helicopters and stock trucks, but she takes care of me and won’t budge if the saddle slips, for instance, until I can safely fix the problem…. I just am disgusted by how the round ups are handled, and really, I am disgusted by the whole process. I am sure there is a better way to make sure ranges are not overgrazed, but I am tired of feeling lied to by companies who do not care about the horses or the nation, and instead promote their own interests. There is so much momentum invested in how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does things, I am not sure anyone knows how to change things…

Further Reading:

  1. The Department of the Interior’s Plan to Manage Wild Horses to Extinction began in 2009
    Article from February 21, 2014
  1. Why I write about Wild Horses by Andrew Cohen.
  1. A Biologist Explains BLM Math
  1. Nevada’s War on Wild Horses November of 2013

Anyway, thank you reading and caring. Hope I did not write too much and scare you away… Please feel free to leave comments.

Journal Comments

  • Susan McKenzie Bergstrom
  • Corri Gryting Gutzman