When used to describe a formerly wild horse captured by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the words “adopted” or “sold” carry very distinct definitions. This piece is presented as a discussion that may help clear up some of that confusion.
Overview on Adoption
In 1973, as wild horse and burro removals were beginning to be planned, Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) began the “Adopt-A-Horse” program. The first removals of wild horses had Velma Johnston and her camera present to oversee the operation and care of wild horses and the “adoption program” truly began. (Stone Cabin was the first official removal under the Act. You can read about Stone Cabin, history and last removal, here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/roundups/roundups-2012/stone-cabin-2012/ )
At the time it was estimated that over the lifetime of each horse, the average adopter would voluntarily direct around $20,000.00 of his or her disposable income to pay for hay, supplies, farrier and veterinary services and other expenses related to the training and maintenance of an adopted horses. (Today those figures are much higher). (You can read an “analysis” of todays adoption program here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/2014/03/27/analyze-this-blm-adoption-program/)
Information on how to adopt (applications and requirements) can be found on the BLM website here: http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/whbprogram/adoption_program.html
(*BLM initiated the “Freezemark” program to begin tracking and “titling” Mustangs in 1978. Prior to that wild horses and burros removed from the range were not trackable. Read about the Freezemark and how to read one here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/blm-freezemark/)
In December 2004 an amendment to the 1971 wild horse law that is referenced commonly as the “Burn’s Amendment,” changed the way BLM “placed wild horses and burros.” The “policy” was now “animals over 10 years old – as well as younger ones that have been passed over for adoption at least three times – are eligible for sale, a transaction in which the title of ownership passes immediately from the Federal government to the buyer.” Since that amendment took effect, the BLM has sold more than 5,500 wild horses and burros. (You can read about the Burn’s Amendment here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/burns-amendment/)
BLM insists it sells no wild horses to slaughter. In a “technical” use of the English language BLM does not “sell” to slaughter. However selling horses by the truckload, sight unseen, for $10.00 each is not a “placement” into a home. Those types of sales (with a handful of exceptions to sanctuaries) are to “brokers,” or “kill buyers.” This practice went on for a decade with BLM approving such sales and simply denying that they “sell” for slaughter.
In 2012 WHE president Laura Leigh met Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist Dave Philipps at Stone Cabin during a roundup. Philipps was interested in many aspects of the program but found that BLM could not deny Leigh’s assessment of the “sale program” This led to an investigation that revealed more than 1700 wild horses had gone to one man, Tom Davis, a known kill buyer. (Read the story here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/1700-wild-horses/)
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 (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. (Read more about the “Memorandum” issued by BLM on sales here: http://wheblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/blm-issues-new-sales-guidelines-for-wild-horses-vulnerable-to-slaughter/)
(** 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”).
“Three Strike” System and “What is a sale horse?”
In order to understand what exactly a “sale authority” or “three striker” is we need to look at the language created by the 2004 Amendment; “animals over 10 years old – as well as younger ones that have been passed over for adoption at least three times – are eligible for sale, a transaction in which the title of ownership passes immediately from the Federal government to the buyer.”
The first statement in this quote is the “half-truth,” of the “ten years and older” concept. This is not used as a concrete benchmark for “sale authority.” BLM can determine that ANY wild horse removed from the range is “unadoptable.” The bar for sale was set for stallions removed for Silver King at six years old. Any wild horse that was male was sent to Gunnison prison. There they were all gelded and any animal that was aged as “six or older” was shipped out immediately to what BLM calls “long-term pastures” (LTH). (Long term holding is an “off limits” place for the public. Two facilities have begun giving once yearly tours after First Amendment litigation was filed. LTH is a place where BLM violates it’s own sale authority policy “that all efforts will be made to place sale horses into good homes.” You can’t place a horse if people can’t see it).
“Sale” is a transaction in which the title of ownership passes immediately from the Federal government to the buyer. In contrast a wild horse “adopted” has a title transferred after 1 year of care. The distinction is that the federal government is authorized to do “compliance checks” prior to issuing title on an adopted horse. there is no such oversight on “sale.” A wild horse sold immediately loses it’s status as a “federally protected wild horse” and is immediately considered private property and subject to laws governing only domestic horse ownership. That means the horse can go to the “sale barn” and off to slaughter (as well as having no other federal oversight of humane care).
Not only does BLM reserve the designation of sale for any wild horse it deems “too old” (that can be any age at BLM discretion) it also deems wild horses or burros passed over three times for adoption as “sale eligible.” These animals are called “Three Strikes.”
(However it should be noted that the discretion goes both ways. A “three-striker” can be “adopted” for purposes of TIP training or to avoid the large “U” added to the branding process to denote the animal as a “sale” horse).
One of the greatest debacles of the lack of oversight in the “Three Strikes” program was a story that came out of Nebraska and a man named Jason Meduna. The “Three Strikes Ranch” was supposedly a “sanctuary” for horses that had been given “three strikes.” Instead it was a death camp. Affidavits stated “observed two dead mustangs and approximately 170 emaciated mustangs in the corrals.” The images surfacing from what was found after a warrant was issued were gut wrenching. They included a starved horse that was so weak it literally dug a semi circular pit as it struggled to rise before it died. You can read the court documents filed in Meduna’s Appeal after conviction of 145 counts of felony animal cruelty (more than 75 horse and burro carcasses were found strewn over the property) here: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ne-court-of-appeals/1556518.html
“Three Strikes” horses can be of any age or disposition. This designation in no way represents an “unadoptable” animal. Many adoption events are poorly planned and promoted. In the past the BLM regularly ships yearlings and two year olds around the country each spring or lists them on the internet. If an animal has the unfortunate circumstance to wind up at a poorly publicized event, or at a time of year where adoptions are not prominent, three strikes can be gained very fast. (A controversy exists because in a few cases BLM has suspended the “three strikes” rule and allowed a few horses to remain in the adoption program. But this is NOT the normal circumstance).
Sometimes a horses only crime is being of a common coloration, like being “just a bay.”
One such story is the story of a horse named “Wind.” This is her story in the words of her current owner published in an article in 2011:
“Wind was born into a holding facility in Washoe County, taken to Palomino Valley Center north of Reno as a weanling. Possibly for the first adoption attempt, she was given her first shots and wormed, booster vaccine given one month later. From there she was shipped to an adoption event in Lorton, VA. From they’re to West Plains, MO.
After that she was 3-strikes horse and sent to Pauls Valley, OK, where she was wormed for the second time in her life, given her annual booster vaccine and Coggins tested.
So, as a yearling, she was declared 3-strikes and sent to long term holding.
Emails were sent out to foster programs, and luckily, she and another 3-striker were chosen to participate in an equestrian program at a college.
So, I called, as soon as she said the 2 mares were: 1st of all, bays (my absolute favorite color) and then said: 3 strikes (she asked me if I knew what that meant, I do) I knew this was fated to be.”
So at one year old this baby was “unadoptable” in a three strike program. One of the very few lucky enough to have been included in an “email looking for foster programs.”
Here is another story of “Three Strikes” sent to us by Susan:
“These are my 3rd strike babies, the Sorrel mare (Shelby) only took a week to show me just what an amazing girl she is. But the Roan mare (Katori) has taken almost 7 months to learn to trust me to know that I am not going to harm her. She was so traumatized when I got her that her skin would crawl by just a touch, she is still terrified of confined spaces. So far there are only 2 people that she will allow to do anything with her (myself and my husband) neither one of these horses have ever offered to bite, kick or strike out at me ever. I wouldn’t trade a single minute I have spent with these two girls for anything.
And the little burro he is just too cool, he talks to us the minute he sees anyone coming down to the barn and is the greatest pasture guard I have ever seen. No stray dogs, cats or coyote dare cross his pasture.
The sorrel mare is 3, the roan is 4 and the burro is 10. I adopted all 3 last August. And if I had the room and time I would adopt more.”
That means one of her horses was “sale” at just 2 years old, the other as a three year old.
As of the writing of this page in May of 2014 BLM offers no “spotlight” adoption page for “Three Strikes” horses and burros. Even though BLM’s public relations handout says “BLM does all it can to place sale horses into good homes.”
Out of Sight, Not Out Of Mind
In our piece that “performs analysis” of BLMs adoption program, that BLM claims is a “failure,” is the basic fact that you can not adopt out a wild horse or burro no one has ever seen. BLM repeatedly ships adoptable horses into facilities it closes from public view. One such facility is the “Broken Arrow facility on Indian Lakes in Fallon, Nevada.
The Broken Arrow facility closed it’s doors to the public after Dean Bolstad (then in NV, not DC) wrote an email requesting the closure of the facility that stated in part the following: “We now have a favorable Calico Court decision and we need to seriously consider the toll that these tours are taking on our employees, our resources and the damage that is being done to BLM’s image as a result of the tours.” (This issue is part of our First Amendment Complaint in Mediation Ordered by the NInth Circuit Court. You can read a bit about it here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/legal-action/what-the-silver-king-suit-asks-for/) The request was granted even though the contract with Troy Adams, the owner of the facility, states weekly public tours were to be part of the agreement through December 2015. Since the closure of the facility and the subsequent filing of litigation, BLM offered twice yearly tours in 2011 and 2012. No public access has been allowed at the facility since October of 2012.
UPDATE note: In 2014 Leigh and the BLM entered into an agreement on access issues. The agreement began a basis for creating a mechanism for addressing ongoing challenges. The challenges stem from range management, access to observe removals and access to facilities. Broken Arrow (aka Indian Lakes) was reopened for tours and if the facility is used as intake, additional tours will be added. you can read here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/2014/07/28/blm-nv-creates-access-to-wild-horses-and-will-open-facility-to-public/
In Spring of 2014 the BLM shipped out the wild horse mares taken from the Blue Wing roundup in 2013 (Read about the roundup and the Travel Channel special where Dave Philipps, the journalist that broke the “1700 wild horses” story, meets Leigh again on the range: http://wildhorseeducation.org/2013/08/04/blue-wing-roundup-and-big-media-attention/). These mares and the new babies are now behind the closed door of Broken Arrow. These would have been the only mares that would give birth at the public facility, Palomino Valley. (Read HERE http://wildhorseeducation.org/2014/05/13/a-visit-to-pvc-and-a-surprise/) In exchange for the horses going into Broken Arrow BLM shipped the last remaining 80 mares from Silver King (out of 500 removed and their babies, uncounted and never seen) to Palomino Valley as Mediation is underway in the First Amendment case.
The Blue Wing babies (we will never know how many are born, live or die) are now out of site. A few may end up on a random Internet Adoption page in in 3 or 4 years marked “born in a holding facility.” Broken Arrow does not track mares and foals, they simply “wean” as a group without marking. However this year only Blue Wing horses SHOULD be giving birth (some Calico horses were noted on “public tours in 2011 and 2012” to be giving birth more than a year after capture).
How can BLM expect these horses to ever be adopted in any significant fashion if they are kept off limits? To date BLM has no statistical data base on how many of the horses become “Three Strikes” or simply ship to LTH because they were never seen.
In our modern America horse ownership is still a very large economic contribution to communities. There are an estimated 9.2 million horses in the United states. 4.6 million Americans are involved in the industry as horse owners, service providers, employees and volunteers. However the “horse owner” in America is changing. Those looking for that “ranch stock” are limited. Those looking for a pleasure or companion animal are rising. By simply promoting a wild horse as a number is not enough.
Listing things like the story of where the wild horse or burro comes from, personality, “three strike status,” and the creation of a humane care policy would all go a long way toward increasing adoptions and sales.
The first step in creating a “market” for any product is showing it’s value. Time to “up the game” BLM. The American wild horse and burro IS the “living symbol of the pioneer spirit of America.” These amazing animals have the world’s best feet and years of evolving on the range have created a sturdy horse that learns fast (you have to in the wild) and can exist in the harshest of environments where most domestics would need a “blankie” and lots of additional feed.
In the current situation where Counties and ranchers are banding together to call for mass removals of wild horses, and even the destruction and sale for slaughter of wild horses, “sale authority” and a designation of “three strikes” could lead to a death sentence. (Read about one action here by the Nevada Association of Counties that we are poised to fight in court here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/naco/)
It’s time we not only reform range management, but the entire attitude of the program. This is not pest management. Those of you working in the Wild Horse and Burro program have been given a privilege by the passing of the 1971 Act, the Act is the reason you have a job.
To view wild horses and burros currently available via the internet go to this link: https://www.blm.gov/adoptahorse/onlinegallery.php And remember “Three Strikes” can happen to any horse, at anytime. Being young and of color is not a guarantee.
Wild Horse Education is devoted to gaining protection for wild horses and burros from abuse, slaughter and extinction.