Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

Report: How to improve BLM wild horse gathers

Ecotrope | Dec. 3, 2010 7:58 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:43 p.m.

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The Bureau of Land Management has released an report from the American Horse Protection Association on the agency’s wild horse roundups, which have been criticized by horse advocates as unnecessarily harmful to the animals. The AHPA launched a pilot observer program this year to watch the roundups in three management areas, including the Stinking Waters Horse Management Area in southeastern Oregon.

AHPA solicited the expertise of four equine specialists, who attended the roundups and concluded the horses were, in general, handled with proper care, but they also made more than a dozen recommendations for how the roundups could be improved.

The helicopters used to gather the horses did not appear to cause “undue stress,” the specialists concluded, though the horses were more anxious once they were herded into pens. The report states the helicopters themselves herded the horses much like “a dog working sheep”:

“Generally, horses did not exhibit undue stress or show signs of extreme sweating or

duress due to the helicopter portion of the gather, maintaining a trot or canter gait.  At the

Stinking Water gather, two horses (a stallion and mare) that had eluded initial capture

were sweaty and breathing rapidly but both recovered within 30 minutes.  Rather horses

showed more anxiety once they were closed in the pens in close quarters; however, given

time to settle, most of the horses engaged in normal behavior with few vocalizations, few

agonistic encounters or breeding-oriented behavior. …

… The helicopter’s precision was favorably noted, and compared to a dog working sheep. It

was reasonably quiet – no louder than riding lawn mower, and stayed quite distance from

herd driving them down to the trap sites and utilized space well. The only time the

helicopter got close was when it was pushing the animals toward the final section of the

trap.”

The observers made more than a dozen recommendations for improving the roundups to make them less stressful for the horses including some that responded to signs of stress they saw at the roundups:

The report cites a number of horses at Oregon’s Stinking Waters management area that were hogtied, and one with pre-existing injuries that was killed after being deemed dangerous and unadoptable:

“At the Stinking Water gather, a 23 year old stallion jumped out of the pen and escaped

the trap site.  About ½ mile from trap, he was subsequently roped and his legs were tied

while in a recumbent position, and eventually was transported in a two compartment

stock horse trailer back to the Burns Corrals.

There were a number of additional horses that were roped and hogtied at the Stinking

Water gather without injury, and one small young foal was ground roped from a pen to

quickly remove if from mature horses without incidence.”

The specialists later concluded:

“If at all possible, horses should not be roped or tied down in a recumbent position for

prolonged periods of time, especially coinciding with exhaustive or over-heated

conditions.  Strict criteria should be established to determine the initiation and purpose of

this practice. If necessary to implement these procedures, these horses should be

identified, marked, and/or confined separately from the others in the gather and observed

for any injuries or metabolic conditions for the next 48 hours.  This could be achieved by

moving these animals to designated, smaller holding corrals.”

The report concludes by asking BLM to review each of the observers recommendations and either implement them or explain why they can’t be implemented.

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