Hi everyone! Today I’ll be writing about one thing I am very passionate about…it’s close to my heart and matters a lot to me. What about you? What do you feel strongly about and perhaps feel you should do something about? If you can’t think of anything, I encourage you to search around. Being truly passionate about something is important in more ways than one — I think one of the most important is that you will almost certainly encounter people who feel strongly the opposite way, and there isn’t a finer way of showing maturity and respect than engaging in a civil conversation with that person. I don’t see that nearly enough right now…there’s lots of strong feelings, but not nearly enough willingness to listen to the other person’s side! It’s okay to disagree, but please, please do not attack the other person. Listen, truly listen, to their feelings and value their opinion as another human being. With that, I now bring you one of my strongest passions.
The American Mustang: No, this is not the car — sorry if I disappointed you! You may not even know there are currently 67,027 wild horses and burros ranging on public Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands right now in 11 western states (blm.gov). Wild Mustangs (and burros, later on) have ranged for hundreds of years, and the population has risen and fallen as the years passed. By 1971, though, the population had declined to a dangerous level (due to a variety of factors, a predominate one being ranchers killing them because they were eating their cattle’s grazing lands), and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act was put in place to protect these historic symbols of America.
Forty-six years later, we are now in the complete opposite situation — we have too many horses and burros for the land to sustain. The BLM has established an Appropriate Management Level (AML) for each Herd Management Area (HMA). Each HMA can vary greatly in acreage, but the 111 HMAs that currently exist add up to about 31.6 million acres. I know that’s a lot and it seems to work out to about 470 acres per animal, except it’s not that simple. Only 29.6 million of those total 31.6 million acres are managed by the BLM, and of those 29.6 million, large portions are leased out to farmers to graze their cattle on. Some people even reside in an HMA. In short, there’s no easy way to describe an HMA — you’re dealing with 111 different pieces of land in 11 states, and within each state, the climate can vary enormously. An HMA in Oregon may be quite lush and able to sustain far more horses and burros than one in arid Arizona, for example.
Thus, the maximum AML for all 111 HMAs is 26,715. The BLM has set this based on each HMA’s climate, acreage, other inhabitants, and any other factors that may affect the well-being of the horses and burros. This number is to promote healthy conditions on the range and ensure each HMA can adequately support the horses and/or burros that live in it. It doesn’t take much math to realize the current level of horses and burros (67,027) is over 2.5 times more than the AML (26,715). How did this happen? One, female horses and burros on HMAs are having a baby (or twins) pretty much every year, starting around the age of three and continuing their entire life (or until they’re rounded up). Thus, if just one mare is allowed to stay on the range her entire life, and let’s say she dies at the age of 20 (a normal lifespan of a wild horse), she could have had 17 babies (or more). Now let’s say her particular herd has 20 other mares. If they all have a baby the same year, there are now 21 babies — the herd has increased by 21 — in just one year! And this is just a small sampling; it pales in comparison to the 67,027 total horses and burros currently out there.
Another factor that has contributed to the huge current level is finances. The BLM is controlled by the government, which means they only have so much money to spend on managing the wild horses and burros. The BLM is not only in charge of all these animals; they also control other public lands, recreation, hunting, energy and mineral extraction operations, and much more. The Wild Horse & Burro Program is only one area of their focus! To try to control the herd levels, they hold roundups periodically throughout each year, or treat and release mares with a type of birth control (it’s not 100% effective, and it only lasts for a year). But all of these procedures cost money and take an enormous amount of time, energy, and planning, so if any of those are not available, the roundups or birth control treatments simply do not happen. But the Mustangs and burros don’t simply put breeding on hold, so in the meantime, the herd sizes just keep increasing! Eventually, the HMA will become so overgrazed and overworked that it cannot grow anything to sustain the horses and burros, and they will literally starve to death, eat dangerous plants that kill them out of hunger, or wander in search of better forage and end up getting hit on a public roadway. This is devastating and terribly sad, but it’s the stark reality of what happens without management, or under-management.
So what can we do? The BLM holds adoption events throughout the country several times each month, and an organization called the Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF) holds several competitions each year called the Extreme Mustang Makeover, where trainers are assigned a wild Mustang, given about 100 days to train it, and then compete after those 100 days to demonstrate their horse’s skills. Following the conclusion of the competition, all are auctioned off to happy new owners who get a trained symbol of the American West for a very fair price. Many of the trainers are willing to stay in contact with you after you take the Mustang home, and help you in case you have any problems. Some will even take the horse back home with them to put in another month or two of training, then bring it to you. The MHF also has a program called the Trainer Incentive Program (TIP), where you can go to an adoption and select a completely-untrained Mustang or burro, let a TIP trainer do the initial gentling, and then you can officially adopt it and have many happy years together!
My suggestions on how to help if you’re interested:
- If you want a horse, I highly recommend you consider adopting a Mustang (or burro!), either completely untouched (only if you have prior training experience or if you will be supervised, though!), TIP trained (only $125 for the Mustang; the training is free), or through an Extreme Mustang Makeover event (anywhere from $200 to over $1,000; it varies a lot). Different levels of training for each of those options ensures almost anyone can find the “right” horse for them.
- Go to https://www.blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/about-the-program or http://mustangheritagefoundation.org/ to learn more facts, figures, and FAQs about pretty much anything you want to, from how to observe horses and burros in the wild to adoption schedules and Extreme Mustang Makeover events.
- Donate to the MHF. They’re a 501(c)(3) organization and truly do a lot not only for Mustangs and burros, but also for the trainers who are involved in the TIP program or Extreme Mustang Makeovers. You can donate a set amount or you can purchase an item from their online store — it all goes to their dedicated efforts to raise awareness about the plight of the Mustangs and burros.
- Watch Unbranded (available on iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon either as digital or DVD/Blu-Ray). It’s an EXCELLENT documentary that does an outstanding job of showing all sides of the debate (leave the animals untouched, manage them, or remove them). It’s also pretty thrilling to watch for the story and scenic shots. I’m going to leave it at that because I really just want you to watch it, not read my review of it!
- Truly understand the situation Mustangs and burros are in right now. You’ll hear from people, sadly mistaken, who say we shouldn’t bother the Mustangs and burros, or that the BLM is removing all of them and there won’t be any left in a year. I’m sorry, but the data that I have listed above is 100% true. Mustangs and burros are in excess on public lands. They are starving to death. Babies are trying to nurse off of their dead mothers. And just leaving them alone will NOT take care of the problem; in fact, it will exacerbate it. Don’t take my word for it if you don’t want to — in fact, I encourage you to go to the BLM website. Read the reports and figures for yourself. Look up pictures of recently-rounded-up Mustangs and burros. Watch Unbranded. Heck, go out west to an HMA and see for yourself! Not every Mustang and burro is starving to death, but there are plenty. We need to get to a point where that isn’t an issue; where the 26,715 appropriate management level is met and not exceeded; where holding pens aren’t overcrowded with animals waiting to be adopted; and where horse people have the same passion I have, ignore the fancy five- or six-figure purebred Dutch Warmblood, and adopt an American Mustang!
Here’s Blondie, my own American Mustang!