The Reality of Roundups

Injuries, abortions, trauma and death are the common results of wild horse round-ups (or “gathers,” to use a placating euphemism). Read Wild Horses the Stress of Captivity, a report by Dr. Bruce Nock. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) claims a mortality rate of 0.5% in connection with captures. The agency is able to claim such a low mortality rate because it attributes to natural causes most injuries/deaths sustained during round-ups (e.g., Paymaster, NV, 2006: although 21 horses were euthanized on site, BLM claimed a zero mortality rate for the round-up).

Few deaths are ever deemed by officials a “result” of the removal operations, and injury statistics are simply omitted. Reports of horses that later have to be euthanized due to injuries sustained during capture are common. According to a Capture Status Report obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, 12% of the Golde Butte burros rounded up in March of 2007 were dead within six months of their capture. Just over two months after the Calico (Nevada) roundup ended in early 2010, 86of the 1,922 horses captured had died and an additional 40 heavily pregnant mares had spontaneously aborted. Read AWHPC’s report on the Calico wild horse deaths here.

Horses seen galloping during a round-up are terrified wild animals chased by helicopter and running for their lives (e.g., NV, 1998: nine young mares died, after a 1,000-mile truck ride to Colorado, of "capture myopathy," a condition in wild animals triggered by anxiety of capture). It has been documented that, long after they have been adopted out, BLM-captured horses will still react in terror to a helicopter flying overhead. We are aware of at least one young girl killed when the mustang she was riding panicked as a result of such an incident.

As wild horses are driven into holding pens, closely-knit family bands are broken up; foals may be separated from their mothers, trampled, or sometimes, too exhausted to keep up with the herd, left behind to fend for themselves out on the range; stallions, suddenly crammed in close quarters, will fight. At the holding site, BLM makes “liberal” use of its euthanasia policy: horses with physical defects such as club-feet are euthanized, including adults that had managed to thrive for years in the wild (e.g., White Mountain, NV, 2007: eight club-footed horses between the ages of 2 and 10 euthanized).

BLM routinely turns a blind eye on abuse by its two main round-up contractors. To quote an eye-witness to the 2006 Sulphur round-up in Utah: “In all my life I have never seen such blatant abuse and neglect and just plain lack of compassion for horses, or animals in general for that matter.” It is not uncommon for contractors to drag a listless body into the round-up pen to collect their fee, as they get paid per horse, dead or alive. In 1992, BLM's primary round-up contractor was indicted on federal charges of selling 77 wild horses to a Texas slaughterhouse after illegally rounding up the horses via helicopter.

Round-ups are often conducted in secrecy, with heavy police presence to keep the public at bay. Once in a while, BLM and its contractors will invite the public and the media to a carefully staged capture, where a few horses are trotted into a pen. Members of the public are positioned at the holding pens, usually during the first few days of a round-up, so they are generally witnessing the horses coming in from areas closest to the round-up site. As days go by, the further out the wranglers go, the more challenging for the horses who are run in large numbers over much longer distances.