BLM’s colorful and questionable auction

Sulphur stud, age 26

Sulphur stud, age 26

While fans of pretty horses are lining up and drooling, we were shaking our heads at the newly posted auction pages of the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro program. As much as we like to advocate on behalf of the BLM and their exhaustive efforts, we’re chagrined to find old and intact mustangs in the upcoming Sulphur horse auction.

It begins April 21 and is the result of an emergency roundup, conducted this winter in southern Utah. The agency rounded up 101 horses from the Sulphur Herd Management Area in response to growing horse/vehicular motor traffic issues. The horses were pushing out of their designated space and crossing Highway 21 where last year three horses were killed, likely by collisions with vehicles, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The Sulphurs, prized for their coloring and supposed lineage to Spanish conquistadors, now await their fate at the Delta, UT, facility. They include 26- and 25 year-old stallions. Eight studs with an average age of 19 are on the auction block.

whbprogram.-WidePar-000104-Image.WideParimage.2.2According to Gus Warr, head of the Utah’s Wild Horse and Burro program, Sulphur horses are some of the most popular. Private owners, breed organization representatives, and mustang sanctuaries are lining up, eager to raise their virtual paddles. High bids are expected, especially for the 26-year old grulla, who’s a stunner.

NickerNews and BestHorsePractices wonder if the welfare of these horses is being served. Our points:

  • As any adopter can attest, even very young mustangs struggle as they adapt to domesticity. Horses can get hurt in transport, in captivity, and in training. It takes a long time and a patient, knowledgeable trainer/owner to succeed and not get hurt in the process. “The older the horse, the more challenging it gets,” said Warr.
Sulphur mare up for auction

Sulphur mare up for auction

In this setting, it’s hard to imagine a positive outcome for a 26-year old stud. Could he die or be injured in the process? Yes. Could he be used irresponsibly for breeding purposes? Yes. Could he hurt his handler? Yes. Warr said he hoped the senior grulla would go to a sanctuary. “That’d be perfect for him,” he said. But how would that work while he’s still intact? Most sanctuaries host mares and geldings only.

  •  Regardless of their pretty colors, the world does not need more mustangs. It needs less.  Currently, some 50,000 sit unwanted in holding facilities. Read more here.
  • Adopters’ fervent pursuit of Sulphur colors is naïve and misguided. As Delta facility’s manager, Heath Weber, told me last year, “You can get a colorful horse, but you may get a whole lot of crazy, too.” Even the BLM’s page on adoption considerations states: “Do not select a wild horse based on color or looks alone. Base your selection on your goals for the animal.”

What would the possible, attainable and responsible goals be for old, untouched mustang stallions?

  •  The BLM acknowledges stallions and older horses have much lower adoption success rates. The agency has shaped policy accordingly; usually it gelds incoming studs and offers only younger horses up for auction. Warr said this year’s older Sulphurs were not gelded because of their age (the procedure can cause more bleeding in older horses) and because of their breeding potential.

The agency seems to be abandoning good, evidence-based policy because of the public’s thirst for what’s pretty and popular. That makes fiscal sense. After all, every horse adopted means thousands of dollars deducted from the cost side of the balance sheet. But how much will the horses suffer while adopters learn  “beauty is only skin deep”?

Madison Shambaugh and her bay mustang, Terk

Madison Shambaugh and her bay mustang, Terk

We’re sorry the potential outcome is not what’s best for these wild, old timers (in this case, that’d be a spacious long-term holding facility). We pray no one, horse nor human, gets hurt.

By the way, if you’re looking for real beauty, check out the success stories of the Extreme Mustang Makeover program. You’ll notice nearly all of the horses are downright drab compared to the Sulphurs. But their stories and transformations are drop dead gorgeous. Check out our own Emily Thomas Luciano and her gelding, Gus (below) Or watch Maddy Shambaugh and her bridleless gelding, Terk.

Emily Thomas Luciano and her mustang, Gus

Emily Thomas Luciano and her mustang, Gus


Check out our extensive reporting on the Mustang Crisis.

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  1. This is troubling news. I trimmed horses at a mustang “sanctuary” where the owner had taken in a stallion and 20 mares all legally adopted to her by the BLM. The property was 40 acres of dirt and housed over 40 horses and a few burros . This brilliant santuary had allowed the stallion to breed all the mares! The next spring the stallion went into a pen where he had been kept for over 3 years by the time I arrived on the scene. His hooves were severely overgrown due to his combative nature (mirrored the sanctuary owner’s attitude unfortunately). Even after managing to trim most of the mares, some of the foals and the stallion she ended our session with calling me a “troll” for my telling her my opinion on her mustang “sanctuary”. There is going to be a repeat out there. And this makes me sick.

    • Troubling indeed. I hope there are welfare agencies in the state where these mustangs reside. She should be held accountable. Good luck, Karina, and thanks for your comment.

  2. I viewed about 20 horses videoed in the recent Oregon internet adoption. I was looking for athletic movement. All five of the horses I liked were blacks and bays. The reason Mustang Heritage keeps pulling those for the makeovers is to showcase how awesome they can be.

    I personally have a mustang who was snatched up immediately because of her unique coloring. She was reassigned to me and came with a host of physical challenges. She will never be an athletic horse. It’s been a fantastic learning experience for me, but I’m a bodyworker, movement educator and trainer and had an amazing team help with diagnosis. I hope BLM continues to offer video for those auctions, though sadly people will still go for color no matter how compromised the horse may be.

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