Sheldon NWR

Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and America’s War Horses, The Ultimate Betrayal


Lone horse at Sheldon


“This one isn’t just any old horse. There’s a nobility in his eye, a regal serenity about him. Does he not personify all that men try to be and never can be? I tell you, my friend, there’s divinity in a horse, and specially in a horse like this. God got it right the day he created them. And to find a horse like this in the middle of this filthy abomination of a war, is for me like finding a butterfly on a dung heap. We don’t belong in the same universe as a creature like this.” ― Michael Morpurgo, War Horse

(Denio, NV) Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under direction of the Department of Interior (DOI). Established in 1931 the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), is located in Washoe and Humboldt Counties, Nevada and Lake County, Oregon.The Refuge contains one of the last intact examples of a sagebrush-steppe ecosystem in the Great Basin.

Yet even though America’s wild horses inhabited the area before the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WH&B Act) was passed, unanimously by both houses of Congress, the refuge escaped the restrictions imposed by the Act. USFWS exists under the jurisdiction of the Department of Interior(DOI), as does the agency most recognized for managing wild horses and burros the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), yet they are still not bound by the Act of Congress intended to protect wild horses.

Instead the refuge manages these animals under the designation of “feral,” and deems them an invasive species and manages them as such.

In the “wild horse” world some of the most horrific conduct has occurred at Sheldon. Documentation has included foals left hog tied in the desert to die, horses healthy on the range leave holding at Sheldon in poor condition looking malnourished and repeatedly Sheldon horses are found in the slaughter pipeline.

The current Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for Sheldon states, “A list of adopters and certification and follow up will be conducted by Refuge Staff to ensure proper placement.”

"bone pit" at Shledon

“bone trail” at Sheldon

A group of citizens, knowing that Sheldon horses routinely end up at slaughter, followed many of the horses from range into the hands of Sheldon’s “carefully chosen contractors” and their findings were startling. First horses were documented on the range in good health, Sheldon refused to allow any observation at the holding facility, and the horses arrived at the contractors malnourished.

In the case of one contractor, J&S Associates (Stan Palmer), it appears that the lack of proper feed continued. At J&S foals were pulled from mares. The mares disappeared. The foals that were pulled from J&S by adopters were found to be extremely malnourished with one death reported. J&S (Stan Palmer) can not account for placement of the horses taken and it is reported that his “adoption event” was simply to tell folks to show up with a trailer and take horses. Sheldon, knowing full well the extent of the issues with J&S, has renewed the contract to send horses to this outlet that can not account for all of the horses it took, (at considerable tax payer expense of around $100,000).

The individuals that followed these horses, spearheaded by Bonnie Kohleriter, attempted to inform Sheldon, assist in finding placement options that actually protect horses, and to create an opportunity for Brian Day, manager of Sheldon, to “do the right thing.” Those talks apparently evaporated as removals this year doubled after Sheldon NWR received additional funding as yet from an unknown source. It appears that removing horses to satisfy other interests, mainly hunting groups masquerading as “conservationists,” outweighs any effort to treat the descendants of America’s “War Horse” with any protections from the ultimate betrayal, a trip to the slaughterhouse.

During World War I ranchers went into business selling horses to the military. All of Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and much of the area we now call the “Tri-State Complex” had horses “harvested” and sent into battle in Europe and Africa. It is estimated that a million wild horses went into conflict, none of them returned to American soil.

American horses from the open plains of the west were described by Captain Sydney Galtrey of the British Cavalry “in a rough and ready shape – they were shoeless, long-haired, tousled-maned and had ragged hips.  But they were tough; generations of their kind had become completely at home with roaming out in the open and in all kinds of weather.”

“You put your mask on him first,” said Grandpa “He can carry you out, you can’t carry him.”

These are the offspring of the horses that were captured in the American West, stuck on a train to the East coast, boarded a ship and if they survived the ordeal had a bit stuck in their mouths to serve not only the American Army but all of the allies in Europe as the supply of horses was exhausted during WWII. These horses served our military in both World Wars.

Shame on Sheldon and shame on America herself.

Empty pens at the Dufirina station waiting for horses, pic Laura Leigh

Empty pens at the Dufirina station waiting for horses, pic Laura Leigh

Notes by author below in preparing this article:

For the last three years we have tried to gain access to document removals at Sheldon and have been literally ignored. The “secrecy” at Sheldon is used to avoid public scrutiny. Roundups will occur unannounced and emails requesting observation will go ignored until operations are over. Attempts to document horses at holding are thwarted. Horses will be documented in good flesh on the range and arrive at the contractors showing signs of inhumane treatment.

This year Sheldon has already removed burros without a single press release.

This secrecy goes so far as to hide the fertility control experiments done on the horses at Sheldon. These procedures range from vasectomies to hysterectomies through the rectum and the Refuge does no follow up to see how this effects individual horses (how many die?) and how it has effected herd health. Observers in the refuge point to a lack of foals in the current, very healthy, population.


The Betrayal Part 2 coming soon.

~~~~~~ As all attempts to address these issues appear to have stalled it appears legal action is forthcoming. Please support the pending litigation and field teams at:

Categories: Sheldon NWR