The wild mustangs are on a precipice in Congress right now. On one hand, the House lifted the prohibition on opening U.S. slaughterhouses. On the other, the BLM budget funds the Wild Horse and Burro Program and does not authorize sending captive mustangs and burros to sale for slaughter. Still waiting to see what happens in the final budget.
Beyond the immediate nail biting about the fate of a couple of our national symbols, we all need to start thinking comprehensively about how to address mustangs and burros. It is over simplistic to say they should all just stay wild on the range. It will not happen. There are too many other factors that must be accepted – corporate ranching is powerful and people like steak in this country; there simply is not enough land available to support continued growth of the population (partly because we have killed off our top predators and they have limited populations); and other species, like sage grouse and pronghorn antelope, also need their space.
Let’s say we accept a certain number of mustangs and burros will be captured from the wild annually, how can we do a better job rehoming them? First off, we need an all hands approach. If we could find enough funds to support trainers who are savvy with mustangs to impart their knowledge to other good trainers that just lack mustang experience that would be one angle. Second, we somehow need to start putting as much pressure on the big breed associations that people did on the thoroughbred racing industry. Get them to stop washing their hands of the fact they are glutting the market with cast off horses in their zest to get money from registration fees . Too many folks are over breeding and then culling domestic herds of Quarter horses, etc…. Those lucky enough not to go for a ride to Mexico or Canada may end up at rescues and sanctuaries. Third, we need a marketing campaign far beyond what the BLM is able to manage on a federal budget. Something along the lines of the AdCouncil’s iconic anti-pollution ad of the 1970s. Something that will shake ordinary folks and make them give a darn about the horse that built the west. We also need burros lovers to step up.
We need all of the proud mustang and burro owners across the country to show off what their animals can do. As much as Horses Without Homes advocates for rescue horses being every bit as awesome as expensive private purchase horses, we need to shout out the stories of the mustang’s versatility and the burro’s gentleness and usefulness .
No one part of this effort will work by itself. It has to be a national strategy. What about mustang only classes at big name horse shows? Beyond the limited mustang makeover projects, there has to be a way for ordinary horse people to feel comfortable with a mustang. Maybe open houses? Let people see these horses? What about auditing mustang gentling clinics (not crammed into 48 hours, but something where people can go once a week over the course of 2 months to show the progression)?
What about getting some great images out there of mustangs competing in a variety of disciplines? I know there are mustangs competing in dressage, showing jumping, ranch classes, etc…. sadly, most all of the images that crop up when you google mustang are pictures of unhandled horses on the range. When I google thoroughbred I see on the first page images of dressage, racing, 3-day eventing, bareback riding, iconic race courses, fox hunting, and photos of shiny horses.
We also need to speak out about the re-zoning of land to the exclusion of all livestock. I know all of you have seen new neighborhoods go in on what was once agricultural land or land that was horse friendly. The developer comes in and gets it re-zoned so that people can no longer keep horses. If we expect to keep horses within reach of ordinary Americans, we must keep zoning that allows livestock in the suburbs. It cannot be only for the wealthy or concentrated into a few select areas.
I do not profess to have all the answers, but I feel reasonably confident that if we do not start speaking with one voice and provide a range of options, Congress will decide the mustang’s fate for us.