We want your feedback on this one! (AND DON’T FORGET- DONATE TO HEARTS UP RANCH ON FRIDAY TO HELP US REACH THE MARATHON GOAL OF $4,000 IN ONE DAY!)
As we rode across California, the primary hot topic was “ridiculous laws.” We heard about all kinds of overbearing laws that limited personal rights as we talked to the locals. It was one of those subjects, that without prompting, always came up.
Nevada’s hot topic has been very different and has been spoken of with as muchpassion and difference of opinion as politics and religion! Wild mustangs. I never knew anything about the topic before this ride other than that they existed and I had been fortunate enough to get a couple pictures of them in the wild. However, we have learned a great deal since then and have heard both dramatically opposing sides of the story and everything in between. We thought we’d share some of the information we have learned- not to share our view, but so that you might be more educated on this subject. We would love your feedback, as I can not be certain that all of this information is 100% accurate, but it is my summary of what we have been told by a cross section of the population as we have ridden across the state. This is a longer blog, but worth reading and an issue worth considering that affects all of our tax dollars more than I ever knew. (Terry- I thought of you as I wrote this one! )
First- the horse lover’s side. As we know, mustangs are a part of our national heritage. They have been on the range for many years, and in some places, hundreds of years. They have astounding physical abilities that we have seen with our own eyes.
If you have been reading our blogs, you know that we watched incredulously as a mustang clambered straight up a craggy mountain face. Once trained, they make one of the best trail horses possible, not to mention that they are tough, strong, and sure footed. Horses are one of the most glorious creatures in God’s creation and are passionately loved worldwide. The folks of this view primarily want to protect all wild mustangs and are appalled at the stress they go through during helicopter roundups where it is not uncommon for a mustang to loose its life. Additionally, they stress that mustangs in holding pens are not cared for adequately due to short staffing and inability to handle wild horses enough to maintain proper foot and health care. There are many organizations that fundraise a tremendous amount to benefit the horses, rally together to try and get Congress to take more concern about the mustangs, and encourage the BLM to create better management practices.
The opposite side- are those who wish to remove most or all mustangs from the wild. These people mainly consist of ranchers, hunters, and “old timers” who have seen the changes in mustang management over the years. (Though, please understand that not everyone in these categories holds this view- it was simply more common.) These folks have educated us on the seriousness of a better management need for the wild mustangs. I admit, we were oblivious before, but this is what we learned. First, understand that the grass in Nevada consists of a tuft here and a tuft there, not grass everywhere like it is back East. In many places, there are too many mustangs for the land to support them. Sometimes this is due to cattle ranches using the grass to raise beef (which most Americans can not live without- so removing cattle is not the answer either!) But in other areas, mustangs do not compete with cattle and they are still overgrazing.
This means that they end up eating everything in sight, even plants that are harmful to them. This, of course, is detrimental to the land being able to recover, as well as takes away food that the elk, deer, and other wildlife need to survive too. In many respects, the mustang issue is similar to the wolf issue in Wyoming- as any wild species with no natural predator left unchecked for too long becomes a serious problem. The folks on the side who consider mustangs a pest also had other educational points to share. They showed us pictures of mustang herds whose needs had exceeded the water availability in the area. As you have learned in our blogs, Nevada is a pretty dry place. These mustangs were sucking mud trying to get water, and many were dying of dehydration. To make matters worse, they trampled and ruined the precious spring trying to get to water and in many cases, these springs never gave water again. This means no more water for horses, cattle, people, or other wildlife. We were informed that many mustangs in Nevada originated with ranchers’ domestic horses years ago that were essentially stolen from the government. They had enforced a fee for bringing in range horses (that had been put out on the range by the rancher) and many ranchers could not afford the fee per horse, so they simply left them on the range to become truly wild. Thus these folks are in favor of ranchers managing the herds that were “theirs to begin with”, using slaughter houses to remove the less desirable horses (“so they are at least used to feed dogs rather than rot in a holding pen”), and issuing tags to take them “dead or alive” and manage them “like a real wild animal.” These words were tough to hear for a horse lover, but nonetheless, they had pictures to prove their points.
Finally, there were all the in-betweens. These are the folks who recognize the magnificence of the mustang, but also realize and admit the challenges in managing them. These folks are in favor of some type of management, yet they often say the management is lacking or being done poorly. First, most people know that mustangs are regularly rounded up to manage the population and then they are adopted out to horse lovers who want to own a mustang. We were informed that many mustang roundups are done by helicopter due to the intense terrain that they live on and they avoid doing it during foaling season. We were told that most of these pilots are “skilled, know how to round up horses, and are not in a hurry.” They are moved, mostly at a trot, on average 7-10 miles to terrain where they were able to create a makeshift holding pen to capture them. The down side of this is that it is very stressful for a wild animal to be moved against its will or to be put in captivity. The average mustang travels about 20 miles a day, but forced movement is tough on the very young, the elderly, and the weakened horses who are already dehydrated or hungry. The more wild ones sometimes die from stress or breaking a leg or neck when they find themselves in a pen and frantically try to escape. Also, they can die of dehydration during the run- but is this due to the actual run or being dehydrated already? It’s hard to say. It’s a nice idea to adopt them out, but the reality is there are not enough people adopting mustangs to keep up with their rate of increase in the wild. This leads to BLM holding pens where the mustangs are kept indefinitely- until they are adopted, or die of old age or stress. Currently, there are anywhere from 25,000 to 75,000 wild mustangs in holding pens throughout the country- depending on who you talk to. This is to the tune of many millions of tax dollars spent in order just to feed them! Not to mention, these poor horses have a very gloomy life- with not enough staff to adequately care for them, no one to love on them, and no hope of ever being wild again. Many of them live in small pens the rest of their lives. Clearly, this is not a good option for the horses either. Other management ideas have been tried- such as temporarily capturing and vaccinating the mares to cause them to be sterile for 2-3 years to decrease the herd sizes. (I wonder why they didn’t do it to the stallions instead?) In all, there has not been a solution tried that has made most people happy, or has adequately benefited the mustangs.
For a topic that we were romantically oblivious to, we certainly have had our eyes open! I never realized that there was such an issue, or that all of us are feeding the horses with our taxes and should care about their welfare and how they are managed. We sure would love to hear your feedback on this topic and see if we can’t come up with some good ideas to forward to the BLM! Sincerely, Jeannette and Richard McGrath and our 4 beloved domestic horses.