Horse News

Dr. Nena Winand Strikes Back on Mustang “Metabolic Disorder” Theory

By Dr, Nena Winand, DVM/Ph.D – courtesy of Horseback Magazine

In an earlier article, Dr. Don Hoglund, MS, DVM, attacked Dr. Winand’s theory, here is her reply

ITHACA, NY, – The  original text printed on Ms. Picken’s website (I have not been able to locate it on the site) was taken from a personal email to her.  The email was in regard to Salazar’s plan and about metabolic syndrome as one example of the fact that solving the problem of these horses is not as simple as plunking 1-10,000 on a farm out east and letting them run, because there is grass available.  Good management is far more involved than that, as “Don” will know.  I believe the announcement of this plan was premature and poorly thought through.  In regard to Ms. Picken’s plan, as far as I know she is still negotiating with the BLM, and I am unaware of the details of how she plans to manage the project (from a veterinary/scientific perspective).  I believe that Ms. Pickens would have the where-with-all and contacts to enlist well-qualified advisors if the plan were to move forward.  That does not concern me.

I would suggest that if this veterinarian has concerns with my statements he proceed understanding this, as it can easily be proven.  Madeleine asked me if she could post the information and I gave her permission.  The email was intended to make Madeleine aware of the occurrence of metabolic syndrome in Mustangs (as defined by the BLM management, not as defined by “Don”, which is probably to some extent a debatable classification anyway among Mustang enthusiasts and scientists-I believe that the majority of “wild” horses being managed by the BLM today are descendants of feral, once domestic horses, rather than Spanish, or indian derived horses).  The identity (in a breed sense) of these horses would be best established by molecular genetic analyses, and although some marker studies have been done on specific populations, we do not currently have the tools to type horses in the manner that is available for dogs.
In my experience it is not uncommon in these horses in adoption situations (including semi-wild herds maintained on eastern pastures-which is what Salazar has recently proposed).  In point of fact many are “overfed” even on what would be a very minimal, tightly regulated diet for  horses of other breeds (even in the face of average exercise for a horse-which these days isn’t really enough but that is where we are at in terms of horse ownership and usage in America today).  I further stated that the syndrome affects many types of horses (basically easy keeper breeds/crossbreds-QHs, Morgans and Arabians were some examples given and I specified that it was a subset of individuals in any breed), and it would be foolish to dispute this this is the case as AAEP just had a session on it at the Convention.
So I believe we are in agreement on this subject:
>>  have no problem with the “metabolic syndrome,” argument that Dr.
>> Winand described. Once adopted into the domestic population I’ve seen
>> more potential metabolic syndrome cases in the pony and northern
>> European breeds and in the outer banks horses of the east coast than
>> in formerly free-roaming horses. Over-feeding is a problem in all
>> horses, just as is the polar-opposite – starvation.
And presumably this one:
>>  disagree with the use of the term Mustang. If we agree that mustang
>> derives from mustaño, meaning – loosely – owner-less, then owner-less is not
>> really a term that describes the horses that Dr. Winand mentions.
>> Tribal horses are Native American horses and horses on military
>> reservations are military horses. The other free-roaming horses are
>> state or federal public horses, even if crossing onto or through
>> private land. None are really owner-less. They are free-roaming and not
>> all are protected by the federal “Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros
>> Act of 1971, as amended.” Feral is a construct used by state
>> governments meaning estray, usually falling under estray laws, to
>> describe a once domesticated, gone-loose animal.
This is not what most people assume is meant by the phrasing “Eastern and Midwestern refuges”.  Including BLM employees.  However, the grass and terrain in OK and KS is more suitable for Mustangs than it is out here.  Just turn them out in KY as you would for TBs and let them eat free choice and see what happens.
>> Since the horse is a grasslands animal, decades ago I advised the BLM
>> to set the sanctuaries in grasslands states. They didn’t need my
>> advice, they chose smartly and placed them in Oklahoma and Kansas.
I also am in agreement with this, although a well-run, scientific based private refuge with a good board of directors located in the west would certainly be preferable to eastern refuges that are contracted as was the case with the Meduna setup, particularly if oversight is still the responsibility of the BLM.  Fertility control is absolutely necessary for managing these populations today.:
>> I agree, cold weather is not a great time to capture any horse. How
>> many cold-weather captures have you attended?
>> In my estimation, the free-roaming horses should me managed in the
>> wild, using fertility control and other non-lethal measures for
>> population control, studied by taxpayer funded research through the 10
>> state universities where free-roaming horses live, managed by the
>> Natural Resources
>> departments, and if a free-roaming horse is captured it should be
>> trained by one of the active four remaining prison inmate horse
>> training programs. The free-roaming horse population should never drop
>> below 26,000 in the ten western states, where they currently exist.
Finally, my concerns are more directed at the general handling of these animals by the BLM, the apparent lack of good science behind the population management (perhaps it exists but that is not apparent to the public), the plan for accelerated gathers at this time without a clear path for long-term placement of the existing 33,000 horses as well as those projected to be gathered this year.  The use of contractors that have been convicted of selling Mustangs to slaughter, and continued poor management of the adoption program.  I am not alone in this criticism as a recent GAO concluded that the BLM’s operations were problematic on many levels.  The comment was not directed per-se at specific handling of Mustangs either during gathers or subsequently, by veterinarians.  However, I would caution my colleague that one should not assume all of the veterinary care provided to these animals is of a uniform quality-that is unlikely to be the case.  In fact, we are often limited in terms of what treatments can even be undertaken when working with wild animals in range settings.  Some of us are likely better equipped than others to do this, and some care more than others and have a different value system than others regarding their patients-this is simply reality.   I am sure there are many really god people in the BLM, too, but it is not a functional program (with respect to managing this animal population) and has not been successful, and this is being conducted at the expense of tax payers, and it involves public servants and public property.  These horses belong to all Americans, and there is little effective communication between the BLM and the public about them.
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6 replies »

  1. This all makes complete sense to me. In this day and age surely are horses can be managed humanely. Why can’t the BLM see this? Why on earth are they in such a hurry? Thank you for this.


  2. Of course they are going to dispute the term Mustang – even though DNA has proven they are Mustangs. Testing was done in the Pryors proving their heritage but the anti-horse folks still call them feral. Could it have something to do with EU regs that will not accept any wild equidae other than zebra meat? If they are Mustangs, they cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. What they don’t realize, if they term them feral, how are they going to certify that they haven’t received any banned substances? After all, if they’re feral, they don’t know who the owner is or what meds the horses have been given. Next, they’ll be painting black and white stripes on the Mustangs…

    I would seriously question the credentials of any vet that approves of what the BLM is doing. They must be the same vets that never saw what was happening at the horse slaughter plants or the vets that allow downer cows to be tortured. They all need to reread their oath.


  3. I disdain the term FERAL, its an ugly term. That being said, some of the free roaming horses may very well be descendants of domestic horses turned loose by MAN or escaped. I even read where MAN loosed TB stallions to “improve” the wild horses. Either way, if MAN “helped” mother nature along, then MAN should be held accountable for their continued well being, their long and short term HUMANE treatment.


  4. Feral is a term used to disqualify humane treatment and to diminish the genetic, wildlife status of the mustangs. One might argue about the burros, but it does not qualify that they be treated any less humanely and still should be granted their space via the 1971 Act.

    Feral is a “we have an animal control problem”’s used as a qualifier for removal and death.


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