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.
According 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.
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”?
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.
Check out our extensive reporting on the Mustang Crisis.