Wild Horse Education

Disease in Holding Facilities

Pigeon fever in holding, 2021

For over a decade we have been reporting to you on injuries, disease and deaths in BLM holding corrals. Over the last couple of years it seems like we are reporting on a new outbreak or facility closure every other month.

The latest closure is at the BLM Litchfield corrals outside Susanville, California. The facility is closed due to an outbreak of strangles, a highly transmissible and potentially severe illness in horses. This disease is so transmissible that simply walking through infected soil and then going home to your own horses can spread the disease.

The continued increases in funding for the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program (since Path Forward was first incorporated into the report to Congress for 2019 funding) have steadily increased roundups, overcrowding facilities that already had staffing issues and a lack of a nationwide facility policy for infectious disease. 

A record number of wild horses and burros were funneled into the system in 2022. 

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A few outbreaks of disease from 2022:

Last year Litchfield and Palomino Valley Center (north of Reno, NV) both had outbreaks of Pigeon Fever. Before the expiration of the standard period for spread of infection, BLM began running wild horses through the alleys and equipment for gelding (above); we doubt they disinfected the chute between geldings.

In April of last year 9 horses were found dead at Canon City that had been captured from the West Douglas Herd Area in July/August of 2021. On April 25, after 57 wild horses died in rapid succession, it prompted cancelation of adoption events and. began quarantine. 145 horses died through April 23 (this number does not include any stillborn). The culprit was Equine Influenza, strep zooepidemicus bacteria, a disease preventable through vaccination. It was discovered that, even though these horses were captured 9 months ago, they had not been appropriately vaccinated.

In May of 2022, an extended closure of the Wheatland facility due to a strangles outbreak began. About 3/4 of the animals housed in the facility (capacity 3,000) were demonstrating signs of the rapidly spread infectious disease and 19 died. The facility was only able to reopen in March of 2023 for an adoption event.

Colt recovering from strangles (abscess burst) at PVC

BLM has overloaded facilities.

As fast as they can get the paperwork done to approve a new facility or expand one, they cram horses and burros into that space. Many off-limits to public view facilities have taken in thousands of wild horses and burros directly from the range. There was a time BLM only used they facilities as “overflow.” In other words, wild horses and burros coming in from the range went to an open to the public facility for branding and (at least) a chance to be seen and brand documented so a home could be found. Now BLM just crams as many as possible (50-100) onto the online auction every few months out of the (tens of) thousands that it has removed from the range in the last 4 years.

Every year we used to tell you of perhaps one facility closure or outbreak.

Now it seems like every month there is a new outbreak of something, somewhere. Overcrowding of understaffed and inadequate facilities will cause the unnecessary spread of disease. 

BLM does not follow standard equine husbandry practices; they run the program like they are moving cattle to slaughter. Perhaps cattle going to slaughter have a higher standard for disease transmission?

From ringworm to strangles, moving wild horses and burros in and out as fast as possible is dangerous. No domestic equine boarding barn or facility would ever allow. the type of contact and mingling that BLM routinely engages in. A horse removed from the range could be placed into “general population (a mix of all herds in the facility) as fast as a few days from arrival. BLM has no quarantine period or pens designed for the purpose of quarantine.

Back in 2013 we made a list of a few of the transmissible infections and diseases we have seen at holding facilities. Concerns include the diseases you see in the news that close a facility (like the current closure in Litchfield) and diseases that never make the news. You can access the list HERE.

Just how overcrowded are BLM facilities? More here.

Coming soon

As we move forward into “legislative season” and the budget is being debated for next year and several bills that will create one more budget line item (funding) for minimizing on-range populations… can we all begin to address the tragic fact that every dollar BLM gets goes into the remove and stockpile machine? 

We need to ask for a funding freeze, an accounting from the program, reviews of humane handling (during capture and in holding) and, for ONCE, make on range herd management planning a priority?

Our team is working on a legislative breakdown we will review and make public soon.

Help keep us in the fight


Categories: Wild Horse Education