Mustangs, Cattle, and Life In The Wild West

A wild bachelor stallion, near Las Vegas, NV, looking like a healthy wild horse should look, despite claims of starving horses.

By Catherine Ritlaw

Since I wrote about Mariah mustang, I've heard from several people regarding DOD and other horse-keeping issues. It's nice to know there are so many people who truly care about their horses and continue to seek new knowledge. Thanks to an article in NHM, I have added the remedy Symphytum Officinale to Mariah's treatment. She is doing quite well.

I'm sure by now almost everyone has heard about the amendment to the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 1971. Rider #142 was slipped into the federal appropriations bill HR 4818 at the last moment. It mandates that BLM will sell 'unadoptable' and 'old' (over 10 years) horses for slaughter. There was no public notification or discussion and very limited awareness of this rider in Congress and the Senate. It is now law.

[Update: House Resolution #297 has been introduced (see, Take Action) and American Wild Horse Slaughter Protection Act has been reintroduced Feb. 1 to outlaw horse slaughter in the US (see

6000 horses were slated to be shipped to slaughter beginning in January. It is still ongoing. Please call the US President (202-456-1111) and any and all representatives. They can all be reached through the switchboard at 202-225-3121. Keep voicing your opinion, please. Visit website and any other wild horse advocate sites. New details are unfolding daily. We must prevent this tragedy from continuing.

The wild horse and burro controversy has a long history. 100 years ago, there were two million wild horses and burros in America. Many were slaughtered for pet food in the 1930's. Many ranchers have advocated their death or removal. 'Mustangers' used cruel and brutal methods to capture them and sold them to the slaughterhouse. Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) fought for years to gain them federal protection. After all, they belong to all American citizens.

There are somewhere between l5,000 and 40,000 mustangs left in the wild. Most are in Nevada. Western ranchers can lease federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land for grazing. They pay $1.81 per cow per month to graze their cattle on our (American citizens) lands. Horses and burros are considered to be competition. The cattle industry has a huge lobby in Washington. BLM has been gathering the wild horses for over 30 years, making more room for cattle and for oil drilling. The remaining wild horses have been pushed into the harshest, most remote areas.

In 'open range' areas, such as where I live, private property owners must fence the CATTLE out, or endure the damage they do. They will eat your trees and garden, steal your hay, break into areas with water, and leave lots of cow pies behind. This is their 'right'. If you harm someone's cattle you have committed a felony. If you accidentally run into a loose cow on a dark road, you must reimburse the cow's owner. Any damage to your vehicle or to your person is your problem. Ranchers with grazing permits claim it is their 'right' to live as their forefathers did. Open range laws fail to consider the growing human population and increase in vehicle traffic. Cattle and other domestic livestock outnumber wild horses by as much as 150 to one in some areas.

Cattle do incredible damage to the environment. They often overgraze, eat trees, and foul waterways. In my experience, they are often ill cared for. Within six months of moving to my area, I found four dead cows within three miles of my home. The rancher was unaware that they were even missing from his herd. The beef raised on public (our) lands is less than 3% of our national production. Most beef is raised by people who own or lease private land. Ranchers who graze public lands are remnants of the old west.

A wild burro and friends, near Las Vegas, NV, happily managing themselves.

Personally, I agree with Bob Dylan, when he sang, 'The times they are a changin''. Let's send the ranchers to computer school and get the cattle off our public lands. Re-introduce natural predators (the wolf, which, after ongoing elimination attempts, are nearly gone, and the mountain lion) and let the wild horses and burros take care of themselves. It can work. I live within miles of the ‘‘Cerbat' herd. These horses are rich with Spanish blood and live in the mountains; BLM does no culling there. In areas such as this (Bishop, CA is another area), 3 out of 4 foals are taken by lions. The horse population remains steady and strong.

Our government (BLM) has already reduced herd sizes in most areas so that the horses are no longer 'genetically viable'. Biologists say there must be at least 150 horses (split into family groups) in a given area to allow for genetic diversity and a healthy gene pool. Herd sizes in some areas have been reduced to less than 100 head. You often hear claims that the horses are starving. All I know is that I've spent 11 years living in the Southwest and have regularly seen four wild herd areas - both horses and burros. I've seen hundreds of horses - only a few were thin. Personally I'd rather be wild and free than rounded up by helicopter and crammed into a holding pen.

As to claims that wild horses are 'non-native' and 'feral', recent DNA studies (geochronology) show that the modern horse is genetically identical to the horse which lived in North America 13,000 years ago. That same horse migrated to Asia, so became extinct here. Well, folks, the conquistadors did not 'introduce' the horse to America. They merely returned him to his ancestral birthplace. 'Native' status would place our wild horses, under law, into a new category for management considerations. They could no longer be considered as livestock-gone-loose. A fascinating and perhaps life-saving article regarding this subject was published in the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB) "Wild Horse And Burro Diary", spring 2003. Their website is

I hope everyone who loves horses and burros will work diligently to save them, especially from the agony of a trip to the slaughterhouse. Once they are gone, it will be too late. Remember, Equus Caballus evolved here, in North America. Had he not, we would all be horseless. These proud, intelligent and beautiful animals represent the freedom we all long for. They deserve our help.



- International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB),, 605-964-6866

- KBR (Kickin' Back Ranch) Wild Horse and Burro News,

- Wild Horse and Burro Freedom Alliance,,

- NAMAR, North American Mustang Association and Registry, PO Box 850906, Mesquite, Texas 75185-0906, 972-289-9344

-, The National Public Lands Grazing Campaign

- "Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West" available from NPLGC - c/o The Larch Company, 1213 Iowa Street, Ashland, Oregon 97520

- various magazine/newspaper articles collected over 20 years


About the author:

Catherine Ritlaw has a background in Veterinary Technology and Equine Science, and was a practicing Animal Health Technician before becoming disabled. She offers consultations in natural horse and pet care, environmental illness, and Lyme disease. She can be reached at (928) 530-0354.



For more information and updates:

Let 'Em Run Foundation, Inc.,, 775-847-4777

International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB),, 605-964-6866

American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign -, 877-853-4696; AWHPC, PO Box 926, Lompoc, CA 93438

Return to Freedom -, 805-737-9246; RTF, PO Box 926, Lompoc, CA (same box address as AWHPC)

American Horse Defense Fund,, 301-983-3456; AHDF, 11629 Deborah Drive, Potomac, MD 20854

Wild Horse Spirit Group -,; 775-883-5488; WHS, 25 Lewers Creek Road, Carson City, NV 89704

Alliances of individual orgs:

Wild Horse and Burro Freedom Alliance -,

Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates -