One subject that has captured me and not let go has been the plight of our nation’s wild horses and burros. Although the fossil records show that equids once roamed across North America, today these horses are known as “mustangs” after the musteno horses the Spanish brought to our country in the early 1500’s. No longer just referring to the descendants of those early Iberian horses, mustangs are today known as any of the wild, free roaming horses that live primarily in the west. Over time their numbers multiplied and by 1900 it was estimated there were nearly two million free roaming horses in the United States. The prairies and high desert would thunder with their passing. Today, the number of wild horses left on the range is less than 30 thousand.
In 1971, the United States Congress recognized mustangs as “Living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” You can read the entire Wild and Free Roaming Act by clicking here. The bill gave the horses Federal protection, but over time the issues surrounding their management by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management have become complicated and highly charged, as various interests compete for the resources and lands the horses live on. There is tremendous disagreement over how the mustangs and burros should be managed, but all parties agree the current policies are no longer working. Repeated roundups have led to more than fifty thousand of these animals being kept in holding pens across the United States, many in conditions that have caused controversy and public outrage. There are now more mustangs in captivity than left on the range. And their numbers in the holding facilities continue to grow.
What I have learned in my research is that no one group or agency seems able to find the solution to the problem by themselves. The States are all broke, the Feds are struggling under the weight of their own care for the animals and the non-profit world, blessed as they are with good-hearted people, simply does not have the funds to take on the sheer number of horses needing homes and land to roam. Collaboration may be the key to solving the problem, but political divisions and distrust have kept those who love the horses and those who manage them, very far apart. In this section of the website, I will highlight stories that illustrate the deepening plight of the mustangs and burros and the solutions that may exist to save them.