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Why the BLM’s Cash for Mustangs program makes me nervous

If you Google “BLM cash for mustangs,” you’ll find a wealth of press releases extolling the virtues of a program that will surely solve the “problem” of mustangs multiplying like parasites and threatening the American landscape. This isn’t one of those articles.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know a little about the horse slaughter pipeline; which I believe is about to explode with formerly-wild, barely-trained mustangs.

Everyone should own a horse

Let me begin by saying I believe every human being should own a horse; not only because it would solve the problem of unwanted horses in the U.S., but because it would also bring about world peace. Nothing feeds the soul like time with a horse. That being said, not everyone should own a horse.

Yes, I realize I just totally contradicted myself.

Just because one should own a horse because of the spiritual and psychic benefits one might reap, and looking out your window at glorious mustangs romping through the meadow might be an amazing way to start your day; horse ownership is challenging and expensive, and not everyone can commit the time, patience or finances toward providing the level of care a horse requires and deserves.

Like parenthood – just because someone wants to procreate does not mean they should have children. And horses are like giant, expensive, accident-prone children. If it can happen, it will happen. If they can get into trouble, they will get into trouble. If it can maim them, it will maim them. You get the picture. And every little mishap is a potential $500 vet bill.

After saving dozens of horses from the slaughter pipeline, and seeing all of the human failures and excuses that land them there, I’m convinced the Bureau of Land Management’s program to pay people $1,000 to adopt wild mustangs is a recipe for disaster.

Guess who pays the price for the major Oopsie that’s brewing with the cash for mustangs debacle? I’ll give you a hint: It ain’t the BLM geniuses who came up with the idea, and it ain’t the people who get to pocket a thousand bucks.

Not everyone should own a horse

The first (and biggest) issue I have with the cash for mustangs program is the very point the BLM likely believes is its most brilliant – the cash.

When you offer up $1,000 – for anything – you’re going to attract the same charlatans we see throughout the slaughter pipeline. They’re the people who promise you the world (hauling, quarantine, hubbing, transporting), but deliver you a starved, neglected or abused (sometimes dead) horse in return. The slaughter pipeline is replete with money-grubbing opportunists who find shelter in the interstate nature of horse rescue, victimizing with impunity under the nose of law enforcement, which considers rampant crimes against horses and rescuers “civil matters.” Legit rescuers know them well.

These kill pen cling-ons have no business touching a horse, let alone owning one, but they’ll be the first “compassionate dreamers” in line to SAVE THE MUSTANGS; and they’ll drum up donations and probably even media interest as they scheme and scam their way to prosperity.

Not to mention, the BLM has a record of selling horses to kill  buyers, who – despite signing contracts saying they wouldn’t – turned around and doubled their money by selling the horses for slaughter. Pardon me if I have trouble believing the feds will do a better job keeping track of these horses.

While $1,000 might seem like a lot of money, your first selfie-ready cowboy hat and boots are the least of a new owner’s expenses. A thousand bucks is a drop in the bucket compared to the actual routine expense of caring for a horse, which starts at $2,400 per year – and that’s for domesticated, trained horses. We’re talking  about wild mustangs. You can’t just don your new little western outfit, jump on a wild mustang’s back and ride off into the sunset. You also can’t just slap a horse out in a pasture and call it good. How are you going to catch and halter your horse for the grooming, veterinary and routine farrier care it needs?

Horses require regular handling and care, and wild mustangs don’t cotton to being handled (hence the term, wild). Depending on where you are in the country, unless you;re a horse whisperer, you’ll right off the bat be paying a reputable trainer anywhere from $500-$700 for the first 30 days, on up to the stratosphere.

Compounding the core problem

America is overrun with unwanted horses. Nearly a decade after outlawing horse slaughter, the corrosive slaughter pipeline thrives, with America sending more than 100,000 horses to foreign slaughter every year. Why? Because we have more horses than we have responsible owners.

The BLM’s cash for mustangs program compounds the core problem – creating more unwanted horses, and more owners who are ill prepared to care for them. Unless the BLM is paying cash AND requiring owners to complete responsible ownership training, no amount of legal-eze written into an adoption contract will protect the horse from slaughter, because nothing moves faster than an overwhelmed owner with an unwanted horse.

Don’t get me wrong, nothing would make me happier than to look back in a year and admit I was wrong about the BLM’s cash for wild mustangs program. But I’ve seen too many horses discarded as trash for the most mundane human complaints: The horse got sick, the rider got too big, it was too expensive, the horse didn’t act right…so I have no reason to believe these horses will be any luckier.

If a well-trained, registered horse with a stellar pedigree and list of awards 14.3 hands high can end up on a slaughter yard, why would a wild mustang with no pedigree, no health records and no prizes fare any better?

So, what will work?

Until America is ready to address the core problem by producing more responsible owners and reducing the unwanted horse population, we’ll always have a thriving slaughter pipeline. That means educating new horse owners about the reality of horse ownership, or funding ownership alternatives like fostering or leasing. It also means passing legislation and ordinances to regulate breeding and mandate gelding (like we’ve done with dogs and cats).

Instead of paying all that money through a program that might harm horses, why not follow the advice of Jerry Hitchcock, the founder of Habitat for Horses in Texas? He recently told Horse.com the feds should just leave the wild mustangs alone and let them graze on land where it costs nothing.

“Let the ranchers leasing BLM land pay the same grazing rights costs as the rest of ranchers in the United States,” Hitchcock advised.

Or, if the BLM is just itching to spend money, give it to equine rights organizations that can divvy it among qualified rescues with established training, owner education and adoption programs. Give the mustangs to those rescues for protection, training and adoption to responsible owners.

Cockamamie, stop-gap schemes, buoyed by a media romanced by images of majestic creatures roaming artistic vistas, will do nothing but feed the hungry slaughter pipeline. I, for one, am tired of telling that story.