Reality of Wild Horse Slaughter

Caught in a Tangled Web, the reality of wild horse slaughter

Stone Cabin roundup, 2012
EDIT 2018:
The fiscal year 2018 budget has presented stressful challenges in content and engagement. This is a long article began in 2012 and edited multiple times. The intention of this piece is to break through some of the confusion on jurisdictions as it applied to management and legislation. To read about where we are right now click HERE.  Bookmark this page to help you navigate the distinctions between federal, state and tribal jurisdiction. 
The budget debate for the fiscal year of 2018 has just ended. Usually a budget is passed before a calendar year ends. Fiscal year budgets run from October through September. The debate for 2019 has begun already. It holds exactly the same hurdles as we just jumped. This “hamster wheel” of advocacy in the legislative arena repeats every year with debates in how the government will fund activities; provisions. Until we repeal the Burns amendment (passed in 2004), that allowed the sale to slaughter for wild horses, and pass the SAFE Act, that will prohibit the shipment of an unsafe/unregulated food product, horse meat, it will repeat every year.
The issue of slaughtering American horses for foreigners to eat is a real “hot button issue.” Several times in American history a market for horse meat was attempted, and failed. Americans would not feed it to their cats and dogs. It was not a welcome addition to dinner tables. Yet horse slaughter continued to create havoc in communities where foreign companies, that skirted paying US taxes, destroyed communities such as Kaufman Texas.  The last US horse slaughter plant shut it’s door in 2007. Since then Congress has repeatedly defunded USDA inspections on horse meat keeping slaughter plants from reopening on US soil. But that has not stopped US horses from shipping across the border. Horse slaughter in and of itself is a sordid tale. READ about horse slaughter and take ACTION here:
Yet when it comes to America’s wild horses the “web” that governs sale and slaughter becomes rather a tangled one. There is a lot of misunderstanding of how the multiple layers of the US government effects wild horses going to slaughter. The “emotional punch” of an American Icon of Freedom being served up for a foreign dinner plate adds a component that stirs outrage in the hearts of most Americans… yet does not stop those motivated by the money they can make from trying everything in their power to override the wishes of the majority of Americans and the law.
The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 was a great intention, as were many environmental protection intentions of the day.
The Act was not made stronger, it was weakened, with a lack of engagement.
Today we face a political mess that has created the reality the horses live. The political push fueled by resentment of federal authority over public lands is pushing hard to resume “mustanging,” sending free roaming horses to slaughter for profit…
But that is another article. 
One of the McDermitt Reservation horses at the slaughter auction. The issue of “jurisdiction” is one of the stumbling blocks to gaining public understanding. The wild horse is the only animal in our nation defined by where it stands, not what it is. The word “wild” technically only applies under law to a subset of free roaming horses and burros. The use of legal terminology is critical for any understanding of the plethora of propaganda, misinformation and determining any appropriate action.Every activity in the US has a “jurisdiction” that it is “accountable” to. As a simplistic example you would not pay a parking ticket fee to the division of child services. If a crime is committed that exists in a state that falls into a group of laws like “kidnapping” as an example, if the perpetrator stays in the state it is prosecuted within the state, if you cross state lines you have now committed a federal crime.In 2011 we created a pdf that attempts to simplify outline jurisdiction. The pdf is available under “free book” in the “Reading Room.” In that section you will also find a glossary of terms used in public land management and a section on roundups:

This article was written in 2012 and has gone through multiple edits to keep it current. The jurisdictions have not changed, but some of the specifics have.

Horses that are unbranded and engage in “free roaming” behavior fall into several categories, primary ones listed below along with jurisdiction:

Beautiful stud will be castrated and held for 14 days. Then he is sold with no real protection from slaughter. Virginia Range

1. Virginia Range NV- Jurisdiction Nevada Department of Agriculture

Horses within the 200,000 acre area outside of Reno Nevada are called “Virginia Range” horses. These horses exist on state land/private property and are under the jurisdiction of the Nevada Department of Agriculture. These horses are essentially “managed” in a “complaint and remove” system. After removal the state issues a “notice” and any private party can claim horses by showing they are privately owned (branded or other proof). If horses are not claimed they are then sold. Currently the Department of Ag agreed to give a rescue group a “first right of refusal” to purchase these horses. This had been allowed in the past and the Dept of Ag stopped doing this and simply sent the horses to the livestock auction for several reasons a few years ago. The “agreement” that currently exists has now led to the public misperception that horses are “safe” after removal and Complaints increased in the last year. This has burdened the “rescues.” NO agreement has been reached on additional management options (wells, birth control, fencing, etc). NO agreement was reached that these horses would not be sold at auction if the rescue did not purchase them. (Nev Dept of Ag “agreement” here)

This article was written in 2012. The agreement mentioned above has gone through a number of changes, disagreements and drama storms of it’s own. As of January 2018 the agreement was cancelled and this entire area is under yet one more upheaval a the state, perhaps in desperation, looks to literally give away ownership of all of the horses living in the Virginia Range. The state does not want to deal with this anymore. It is a very tense time for anyone that cares about these horses.

McDermitt Reservation horses at the Fallon livestock auction. This baby is one of our rescues.

2. “Reservation horses”- Various Tribal Authorities

This issue becomes very emotionally charged partially due to the lack of any unified or consistent “management.” In many instances tribal authorities remove and sell these horses into the slaughter pipeline. Sometimes these removals create a huge public interest; many times happen without any knowledge outside the borders of the reservation. Legally these are NOT considered wild horses but the private property of tribal members; most often seen as domestic livestock by the tribe, just like their cows.

At this moment (5/2014) the Yakima (Yakama) tribes in Washington state are removing and selling horses through a known killbuyer they have worked with before. Sorting and handling of horses that have lived “free roaming” can be a time consuming task. Foals have very little value as meat and some killbuyers simply let them die in pens, or simply shoot them, instead of spending money on feed as there would be no profit in the sale later for meat. So this killbuyer loads the semi trucks with adults and ships them out and then “brokers his by-product,” the foals, to “rescue.” This time around the asking price is $100. a piece. The Killbuyer and broker make a nice handful of cash. This is a recurring thing and happens with regularity. This time they have no BLM roundup to compete with in the press… so it is in the public eye. (As a note the Yakima have been pushing for a horse slaughter facility on tribal land. They have repeatedly refused assistance to PZP treat, train and adopt out their horses). As these horses exist on reservation land the jurisdiction lies with tribal authorities. Fast cash is the name of this one… for the tribe and the killbuyer. It is the end of the lines for hundreds of horses every year.

For the horse? This is a very dangerous jurisdiction.

We have recently seen similar actions in New Mexico with the Navajo and the Pauites of Nevada. In 2018 we saw the Navajo announce “hunting permits” for horses. That action was cancelled.

These horses are considered private property and not under any US federal or state jurisdiction.

However if the SAFE Act is passed there will be no killbuyer to ship horses across US highways for slaughter. The SAFE ACT (for domestic horses) is the focal point to protect these horses.

Sheldon USFWS roundup, we are in active litigation to protect them from slaughter

3. Sheldon Mustangs- United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

The USFWS is managed by the Department of Interior (DOI). However USFWS wiggled out of the provisions of the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act that gave “protections” to wild horses on federal land. Even though these horses have significant documented history as an important living historical monument to America’s “war horse,” we have failed as a nation to give them any protections and they will be removed from the range forever in 2014.

The “management” of these horses has consisted of removals and then payment made to contractors to take the horses off the range. This has repeatedly landed Sheldon’s into the direct line of slaughter.

A constant confusion in messaging contributed to the demise of the Sheldon. News media would publish press releases from inexperienced groups, social media memes, etc and the public would write to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and not USFWS. The process of engagement under USFWS uses completely different terminology and went almost unengaged by the public at large.

Edit: After the writing of this piece in 2013, the Sheldon herds have been removed forever. (Since 2008 we struggled to get the public to understand the differences as we fought for this herd. This tragedy of Sheldon can not be repeated. Messaging just for a headline, corruption in the government and even attempted blackmail to keep the truth silent, led to the lose of Sheldon, forever. 90% of the last of Sheldon shipped to slaughter. “Bred in captivity” got more attention and funding than the fight to save the herd in the wild. It can not be repeated.)

Owyhee stallion designated for "sale authority" and shipped to other facilities and places unknown

4. Federal Public Land- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (and Forest Service, USFS, that had a footnote)

The vast majority of free roaming horses and burros in the US are under the jurisdiction of the BLM. All of the other US jurisdictions combined are a mere fraction of the land base managed for wild horses under BLM.

BLM is  governed by the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRH&B Act). However it is a misnomer that this law is the only law overseeing management.  Please see this link for a few of the other documents you must know in order to understand the web

The major intent of the passage of this legislation was protection for wild horses and burros from “capture, branding, harassment and death” as is stated at the beginning of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRH&B Act). “Mustanging,” a brutal practice of capture and sale to slaughter, had outraged the American public. In 1971, an election year, Richard Nixon signed the Act into law. However the law had a huge backlash from those that had profited from running horses down in the desert, hog tying them to wait for the kill truck and then grinding them up for fertilizer and chicken feed. These individuals were often the livestock permittees, or their families and “cowboys,” that felt the federal government had no right to claim jurisdiction and take away their ability to make a profit (even though they were eliminating our American Mustang from the landscape). The anger has not faded.

(We have written and successfully litigated provisions of the Act that still maintain the original language of “humane” handling. Much is available on our site and may be very pertinent as the issues of slaughter continue to be raised).

Lathered animals chaotically enter the trap. BLM has no humane handling policy

* Forest Service does not have Herd Management Areas (HMAs) they use Wild Horse Territory (WHT). Forest Service is supposed to manage in conjunction with BLM. Many WHT’s border HMAs. and many of those areas do have some form of overlap in management. Forest Service is even more of a mess than BLM with more staffing and budget issues. Most often we see a “pass the buck” management style. In many instances the law blurs and it becomes unclear if Forest Service is held to the 71 mandates or not? We need a new law.


Much of the original intent of the law was undercut as special interests lobbied to remove protections, remove horses in favor of more livestock and generally attempt a return to “the good ol’ days.” The most outrageous was the “Burn’s Amendment.” This addition to a massive omnibus spending bill in 2004 had legislators claiming they did not know the amendment was in the bill or they would not have signed it. (see the last section of this article for more).

BLM immediately halted “kill” sales (or claimed to) after public outrage became apparent. In an interesting article that appeared in the Las Vegas Sun in 2005 we have Burn’s staff saying Nevada’s Harry Reid helped craft the sneaky legislation and vehement denials from Reid’s staff. The article describes the legislation this way “At the center of the issue is the controversial ‘Burns amendment,’ which was introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. The amendment allows the BLM for the first time in the agency’s history to sell wild horses to anyone, including horse traders looking to make a quick buck by selling the previously protected animals to slaughterhouses.”

Please take a moment to read about the Burns Amendment under our Slaughter Investigation tab or at this link:

So as a result of the backlash, and the likely illegality of the method used by Burns to get the legislation through, Congress began to “defund” the provisions of “sale authority” that created the “without limitation” aspect of the provision. In other words… BLM could still “sell” horses, instead of using the “adoption” requirements. However they could use “no tax payer money” (that means transport, employee salaries to approve such sales, or any money whatsoever) to sell wild horses to slaughter. The “defunded” provision also disallowed the euthanasia (killing) of a healthy wild horse. So without repealing the provision of “sale authority” Congress limited the scope of it.

This set up the yearly fight to “defund” the provisions of unlimited sales, slaughter, of wild horses we face today.

Dave Philipps and Laura Leigh geting "wired" at Blue Wing for the Travel Channel

Now we have a provision of the Act limited by Congressional authority through “Appropriations,” or what the tax payer actually pays for. Appropriations is spending by the government, the budget, and it is a fight every single year.

In 2012 Wild Horse Education assisted Pulitzer prize nominee Dave Philipps in an investigation that showed 1700 wild horses were not only sold to one kill buyer, Tom Davis, but that the US tax payer had even paid the shipping costs (

Since that story broke BLM changed the sale authority policy in January 2013 to limit sales to 4 animals within a six month period. The new policy also states that transport must be provided by those making the purchase (remember BLM paid your tax dollars to ship those 1700 wild horses to Tom Davis). However the fine print still allows BLM to “over ride” this policy under their discretion by an “act of the Secretary,” now Sally Jewell. (Read more about the “Memorandum” issued by BLM on sales here:

(** As of the writing of this piece in May of 2014 BLM has still issued no official statement on the “investigation” they initiated on the Tom Davis “incident.” They have not complied with the Government Accounting Office (GAO) and supplied the material on their “investigation” into this matter by “2013.” However Ken Salazar is no longer the Secretary of the Interior after threatening to punch journalist Dave Philipps in the face if he asked any more public questions about wild horses at a campaign rally for President Obama).

A provision of sale authority applies to “unadoptable” animals going from the “adoption” program into the “sale program” after being offered for adoption three times and being passed over. This is called “Three Strikes.” You can read more about three strikes horses and the debacle that creates here:

Many wild horses slip through the cracks. Particularly those that are kept out of public view

What does all of this mean for a BLM horse right now?

Today… right now… it would be a violation of BLM policy and a violation of the Appropriations bill… for BLM to kill healthy wild horses in holding or ship them to slaughter. Right now… that is a truth. Yet with everything “BLM” there are a multitude of layers.

Issues of “slaughter, no slaughter” are simpler in jurisdictions where protections do not exist. But in the management of the vast majority of our wild horses the issues get muddy.

RIGHT NOW we have a huge “anti wild horse” campaign run by those that compete for every blade of grass that grows on public land, the livestock industry. Rooted in resentment over “federal jurisdiction of public lands” this is a highly politicized minefield.

Litigation and multiple PR videos and articles are being written (in what is again an election year where propaganda has a habit of running thick) against wild horses and pushing this notion that “wild horses are over running our western landscape and bringing on the apocalypse” and the only way to “save us all” is to start killing wild horses.

First we have the NACO legal action aimed at removal and destruction of wild horses in Nevada: We have intervener status and are actively involved. The case is not likely to go any further than the first round of Dismissal briefs (a programmatic challenge is not allowed) but if it is allowed to continue in the courts in any form, we are working to address each area in full.

We have a propaganda storm that includes such gems as “Rangeland Under Fire.” If one believes the message of this documentary then the only alternative we have as a nation to avoid starvation and “taking a wheel barrel full of money to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread,” (quote from cattle rancher JJ Goicochea) is to get those damn horses off the range. Our narrator cites a national increase in seafood imports as a reason to support cattle ranching on public land… yet he fails to mention profits from cattle sales are at an all time high.

A multitude of County Commissioners are up for reelection and are “chest thumping” everywhere you look. Trying to regain their jobs in a tough economy we hear all kinds of bravado including a Commissioner organizing an ATV ride through an off limits historic site on BLM land. “Revolution,” even one that destroys artifacts and violates the rights of others, appears to be a political slogan in cattle country.

We have written a piece that focuses on the NACO action that pushes the sale to slaughter under the Burns Amendment here Having the background to this discussion will be important. At the bottom of an article we wrote back in January we have the NACO lawsuit filed in Reno, NV loaded and you can read it, and you should, at this link.

Now you will need to know that they (NACO attorney) use “WFWHBA” instead of “WFRH&B” to mean the “Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.” They also call the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report the American Academy of Sciences. So with that in mind I think you will get the gist of their argument.(Download a copy of the 400 plus page NAS report at this link

Without going into the entire complaint and where it fails (as “we” are a party to this litigation and there are issues that must remain between us and our attorney) this article will address a single area that pertains to this article (slaughter) and the questions we are receiving from the public. As an organization that has a primary mission of “education” we would be remiss in our obligations if we failed to respond.

See paragraph 3 on page 5 section labelled (d): set aside improper management actions alleged herin, such as the stockpiling of horses and burros in holding areas without compliance with the mandatory provisions of the Act; then it goes on to claim actions “unlawfully withheld.” If you continue to read the document you will see that what they want is horses killed outright or sold to slaughter.

We are getting multiple emails that address this.

We need to be perfectly clear here… the “Burns Amendment” has not been “repealed” leaving it as a “conversation” that those that want wild horses off the range, or those that want to make a profit from slaughtering them, can make. But that does not make their conversation a valid one.

To take action on Repealing the Burn’s Amendment click here

Today… right now… it would be a violation of BLM policy and a violation of the Appropriations bill… for BLM to kill healthy wild horses in holding or ship them to slaughter. Right now… that is a truth.

It does not mean BLM horses wont go to slaughter.

As with the 1700 wild horses BLM shipped to Tom Davis they violated expressed policy to the public and violated Appropriations. We are waiting (not quietly) for Congress to continue to push for accountability (beyond Secretary Salazar’s resignation).

Titled wild horses are considered domestics under law. Unless BLM changes policy and they hold perpetual title on a wild horse, wild horses will be governed by laws that govern domestics after title. (Take action to Repeal Burn’s Amendment. To take action go here)

However right now… today… it is a violation of policy and of the Appropriations bill for BLM to ship “truckloads” to killbuyers or to kill healthy wild horses.

A bit of history that is very important

BLM horses shipped to slaughter before the Burns Amendment. Many people forget a Judgement by Federal Court Judge Howard McKibben in 1987. The Order states in part “Therefore, this decision does not, contrary to the suggestion of the defendants, require the Secretary to determine the intent of the potential adopter with respect to the uses they will make of the horses after title passes. This decision also does not require the Secretary to reclaim horses where title has already passed. Nor does this decision address the question of inquiry notice and the potential resulting costs of enforcement and detection of violators. Those are matters more appropriately addressed by Congress, not this court. What this decision does address are those limited circumstances stipulated to here, where the Secretary knows in advance of the transfer of title that an animal will be exploited for commercial purposes once title passes. Under such circumstances, the Secretary has an affirmative duty to reject the potential adopter as unfit and to refuse to transfer title. While this may ultimately result in the destruction of the animals by the Secretary, that is an obligation imposed on the Secretary by Congress and it cannot be delegated absent legislative authorization.” The final sentence of the Order reads: “The Defendants are hereby enjoined and restrained from transferring the titles of wild free-roaming horses and burros to individuals who have, prior to the expiration of the one year “probationary period” prescribed by 16 U.S.C. § 1333(c), expressed to the Secretary an intent, upon the granting of title, to use said animals for commercial purposes.”

Furthermore in December of 2000 in U.S. District Court in Reno, Judge Howard McKibben told the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that it is moving too slowly and not working hard enough to implement “very simple steps” to prevent adopted wild horses from ending up at slaughterhouses. Judge McKibben asked the BLM to submit more information within 60 days on the number of horses slaughtered in the last two years and whether it has prosecuted those cases, and to state for the record that it will no longer title horses unless the adopter signs a sworn attestation not to use the horse for slaughter. This case was dropped by Plaintiff’s at the last minute. In interviews they cited horses not protected under the act as the reasoning, however it is this writer’s opinion that the explanation lacks specific cause to drop the suit. By reading the above order, and knowing the difficulties, we are aware that there is usually a lot more at issue than ever makes print, and we may never know why that case was dropped.

note: Judge McKibben is the same judge that gave us (Wild Horse Education cases) the first TRO and Preliminary Injunction to conduct at a wild horse roundup in US history and the same Judge that gave us another very important ruling against unjustified removals at Jackson Mountain

However it appears that shortly after this Senator Conrad Burns (with or without the help of Nevada’s Harry Reid) began to craft the Burns Amendment to negate the 1987 ruling (and it’s resurrection in 2000 in an additional filing)  by Judge McKibben.

The passage of the Burns Amendment sent extensive ripples through the entire BLM program.

Remember… Burns inserted his one-page rider into a 3,300-page omnibus spending bill right at the congressional deadline, and there would be no opportunity for either public or legislative debate. Even with protests from Congressmen themselves, President Bush signed the bill without removing the Rider. In May of 2005 the House created a bi-partisan bill to remove the Rider. But like any legislation it had to run through a committee and the Chairman of that committee was Conrad Burns.

The ONLY way to stop the challenge is to remove what NEVER should have been allowed. That amendment should have been removed by Bush before ever signing that bill. It was not appropriate in any way. We must remove the dirty hand of Conrad Burns from the ‘act’ forever.

 TAKE Action to help us Repeal the Burn’s Amendment

WE ARE FIGHTING AGAIN IN APPROPRIATIONS to stop wild horses from being killed and slaughtered.

WE ARE FIGHTING THE WHEEL OF CORRUPTION that sets this up every single year. The wheel must break if we are ever to see fair, sustainable, management of America’s wild horses.

~~~ Wild Horse Education is devoted to gaining protections for wild horses from abuse, slaughter and extinction.  Visit our website