Horse News

The War on Wild Horses of the West Continues

Source: by Leslie Macmillan as published in Esquire

Celebrities are fighting it, deals are being brokered, and two proposals are sitting in Congress to end it. So why are horses still being slaughtered in droves?

Photo by Sam Minkler Navajo activist Leland Grass (right) confronts horse buyer Jeanne Collom

Photo by Sam Minkler
Navajo activist Leland Grass (right) confronts horse buyer Jeanne Collom

BLACK MESA, Ariz. — The West is on the verge of a wild horse crisis, according to the Feds. An estimated 33,000 roam freely on public lands and even more on tribal lands. Under a 1971 law, the Bureau of Land Management is supposed to protect these horses and control their numbers so that they don’t ravage grasslands or die of starvation.

But critics of horse roundups contend they are a profit-driven enterprise sanctioned by the federal government and driven by business interests like cattle ranching and extractive industries that want to clear land for development.

“The only way to get at those resources is to get rid of the horses,” said Navajo activist Leland Grass. He has been trying to stop roundups of horses, which are often bound for Mexican slaughterhouses, on the Navajo reservation.

Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly recently made national news, saying he had reversed his position on horse slaughtering and ordered a moratorium of the roundup of horses on the reservation. Actor Robert Redford and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who have formed a foundation to protect wild animals in the West, brokered a deal with the nation’s largest Indian tribe to find humane alternatives.

“It’s a big lie,” said Jeanne Collom, a horse buyer who said roundups are still taking place on the reservation, and she has been buying them.

This was confirmed by Erny Zah, director of communications for the Navajo Nation, who said roundups will continue until an agreement is signed between Richardson’s group and the tribe.

On a late September afternoon, the scene at one roundup on the reservation was chaotic as teens chased horses on ATVs and dirt bikes into corrals. Collom said she buys horses for just $20 a head.

“The population is growing and the range is shrinking,” said Elmer Phillips, the head ranger for the Navajo Nation. “What comes along on the range nowadays is a different kind of creature: most of these horses are inbred and under 700 pounds.”

But critics say the data the policy is based on comes from an environmental impact study commissioned by Peabody Energy in 2008 as part of the permitting process to expand a coal mine it operates on Navajo land. The coal mine fuels the Navajo Generating Station power plant, which is majority owned by the U.S. Interior Department. Interior oversees the BLM, the agency responsible for managing wild horses, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which issues grazing permits on the reservation and contracts with horse buyers, including “kill buyers,” who buy horses bound for slaughterhouses.

Asked whether that study informed the horse policy, Zah said, “It’s definitely part of it.”

Peabody Coal did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Many of the horses rounded up that day were not feral, but owned by Navajos who either lacked a grazing permit or exceeded the maximum allowable number of two horses per permit. Collom said rather than going through government red tape to purchase horses, she tries to buy directly from owners coming to claim their animals. “That’s why I hang around the corrals,” she said.

At one point, three women came to claim horses they say were taken from their property, and an angry scene ensued. “These are performance horses, not Rez horses,” one of the owners shouted.

Head ranger Phillips ordered journalists there not to document the event, telling me and photographer Sam Minkler, who is Navajo, “I will escort you off the reservation.”

As we’ve previously reported, the Obama administration has included a proposal in its 2014 budget that would effectively ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption by preventing money from being spent on inspection of slaughtering facilities. In the next few months, a legal fight to block the opening of horse slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Missouri will reach its final stages.

Meanwhile, Grass and his grassroots group Nohooká Diné sent a resolution to legislators in Washington, DC urging them to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, currently pending before Congress. Protecting horses on Navajo land is important, Grass said, but a national bill is critical to ensure there is no incentive for horses to be taken from our lands or elsewhere for slaughter.

Horses hold an important place in Navajo cosmology. Leaving the roundup, Grass pulled his truck off the dirt road and cut the engine. A couple of the horses glanced over, swished their tails. “Look at them,” he said. “Their mane is the thunder and their eyes are the stars. They possess the same fundamental right to life as we, the five-fingered ones, do.”

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28 replies »

  1. I feel like starting a cheering section for Leland Grass. He has really stepped up to the plate! Thanks for every single voice, commenter, protester, Facebooker, journalist, activists, horse owner, advocate, human being, old, young, tall, small, whoever you are, wherever you are, no matter what you do, to those in Congress who are signed up to help us stop this, to all the politicians, and Native American’s to every person from every walk of life. Thank you! I can’t even begin to cover the spectrum of who all is fighting this, but I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone! I want to start a cheering section for your morality, values, and concerted efforts to stop this. From Attorneys fighting, Advocates in the trenches, to the people at auctions watching and documenting, to the people who keep an eye on BLM, can we see a future movie in the making? HOW the Horse World Was Saved? Yeah, Keep on fighting, keep on fighting! We can’t back down, it’s not in your vocabulary or mine now, Authors fighting with pen and voice, and people donating to save those they can and adopting anyone they can to help…to the people who have horses with disabilities I SALUTE YOU! To those caring for the Wild Horses and (you know its NOT the BLM) we SALUTE YOU! To every person in the United States that is saving or already had or has horses even before this started THANK YOU! Thank you for being in our industry!~ Thank you for Caring! Thank you!


  2. Someone asked how they can help with this today, I told them simply, grab a handful of mane, dig in your boot heels and pull those horses away! They surprised me when they yelled really loudly YEEHAW! I am in! After I got myself back together I explained you can help in a million ways. So please if we can get an article written explaining how the people who are just joining it can get aquainted on what to do, it can say simple things, like adopt a horse, be an advocate, help your fellow horsemen and women, start a facebook page, connect people together, the more people we reach from here on the better we will do!


  3. I went over to the Esquire site and left a comment. There is always somebody that claims that mustangs are either feral or some other silly nonsense. Every one needs to go to the site and leave a comment that would help to educate the readers. Most of these people have been raised in housing developments, condos or apartments. Very few have ever had access to horses. They are ignorant as to where their food comes from so you can imagine how little they know about anything that walks around on four legs and hooves.


  4. Keeping us informed with lots of information is the way to go and this is exactly what’s needed…thanks to Esquire, for doing the story. I so admire Leland Grass for his compassion and appreciation of our wild horses and I agree “they possess the same fundamental right to life, as we, the five-fingered ones, do.” Thanks to Leland Grass and the many others who so strongly believe in our wild horses right to remain free, in the West and are doing everything in their power to make it a reality. Our beautiful majestic wild icons, of the West, deserve nothing less and we must do everything in our power to protect them for future generations.


  5. I have two questions this article didn’t answer.

    One, is Ms. Collum reselling the horses she buys, and to what end?

    Second, I don’t accept the argument that horses prevent anyone from accessing mineral leases on public lands. They are not organized in mass herds and roam dozens of miles per day. Where I live it’s not uncommon to find a hundred elk parked on the highway in the middle of the night… and this is considered good wildlife management, not a traffic hazard or access problem. We just slow down or die fools!

    Can someone explain to me in a legitimate way how so few horses could possibly be impeding anyone’s development rights? All the wild horses in America can’t even begin to drink enough water to frack one well one time, for instance. Further, they have a legal right to exist on public lands, so the argument fails on that score as well.

    Is there any legitimacy to this access argument that somehow I am not understanding? I’ve seen drill pads in areas which enclose both horses and cattle, and the infrastructure is not fenced off in any fashion, enough that I have concerns about toxins in grass-fed beef grazed on public lands.


  6. Anyone who has truly connected with the soul of equus ‘knows’ that they are holy, sacred beings and we humans need their magnificent light to illuminate our path on this earth. Those that don’t well…

    ~”I have come to believe that the only real monsters or devils on the earth are the humans that treat other living beings as chattel…” 10/13~


    • Icy Spots:

      There are a few reasons why the equine holocaust continues:
      (1) ignorance (wild equines ruin the land, aren’t native),
      (2) greed, avarice (this is MY land krap); and,
      (3) the wild equines are literally the canaries in the coal mine for the health, conditions and management of Western lands that are highly coveted (my number one reason, actually). The high rate of the stripping of resources and contamination of the those environments would come to the attention of the US Public much sooner. The thieves and murderers want as much time as they can get to get everything. Once the lands and waters and habitats are destroyed, they can’t fix it, be held effectively responsible in all reality and will have their cash and/or be dead. The US Public will essentially be holding the “Love Canal” handbag.


      • Denise, thanks for replying. I do understand a lot of the issues, but even your comment #3 fails the logic test. We still have access to public lands for many other activities unrelated to wild horses, so any excessive waste of resources etc. is being witnessed already by at least someone. Most of these activities are regulated as well, so regardless of your politics or the potential environmental harm, they are not happening behind closed doors. The few and dispersed herds of horses cannot by any stretch of the imagination be impeding resource extraction, and I doubt they ever have.

        I’ve heard arguments about traffic hazards, water use, and habitat destruction, all of which are ultimately flimsy arguments as well, especially when compared to other users of the same lands. ATVs for example, scar desert lands far more destructively than a few bands of horses can.

        So I remain on my quest to find any truth in the argument wild horses are any threat to development on public lands, any different than any other protected species.



      • IcySpots:

        I think you might be confusing my propositions of wild equine killers and their B$ “facts” as mine or even legitimate arguments.

        There is NO argument against “Wild Equines”, most importantly because they have a Congressional Act protecting them….not like this….not what states and USDA and DOI are doing to them….just do the math from 1901 to present, including moo-moo’s.

        I repeat, they are being removed because it is a big bovine versus equine penis contest (bovines have more human interest) and the land rapers don’t want photos of bands of wild equines photographed dead around water holes, tanks, etc.

        That was my point.


      • Denise, thanks for your reply, but on re-reading, it does seem your item #3 is your opinion, not a paraphrased version from the cattle industry point of view.

        I understand your point but don’t agree it could be a principal reason for the removals. If, as you posit, these “rapers” didn’t want any photos being circulated of their works or the dead animals around watering holes, why would this argument not hold for all other wildlife species as well? Why are we not seeing roundups and removals of, say, deer or elk, species also protected for the public on public lands and requiring water? Or even cattle, which at least theoretically get visited and rounded up by people from time to time, and not all of whom are in the employ of
        “thieves and murderers.”

        Your words imply there are so many wild horses, and the public lands so densely populated, and that have so many citizens watching them, that some supposedly illegal development activities would be seen by the public which would not be seen were all the horses removed.

        I believe there are too few horses too widely dispersed to impact developer’s permitted activities in any significant way, so my question stands.


  7. So, the round-ups continue on the Navajo reservation even though an agreement has been made!? That sounds to me like a violation of trust!! This whole case scenario of slaughtering our horses is incomprehensible. I along with many others will fight until this is stopped. I so respect and appreciate Leland Grass for his wisdom, compassion, and insight. All in life deserve respect. All in life are equal.


    • Susan:

      Just as it did when Nixon signed the Act and the Navajos(?) said they’d stop the roundups and humane handling and protection.

      Lies are time bought for more slaughter and land rape and confiscation..


    The Mustang Conspiracy: Sex, Drugs, Corruption, and BP. Part 1 in HD
    PART 1

    What, you may ask, could “Sex, Drugs, Mustangs, Corruption and BP” have incommon? That’s not only a fair question, it has an astounding and disgusting answer that exposes one of the most bizarre, unethical, horridly sad and disturbing conspiracies we’ve come across yet

    Please note, we said Conspiracy, not Conspiracy Theory. That’s very important.
    In this two part Special Report, ATS News’ Mark Allin interviews George Knapp in Las Vegas, Nevada about a very dark and very real travesty that is being played out by a cast of bad actors from the U.S. Government (U.S. Department of the Interior and its subsidiary agencies; The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and The Minerals Management Services (MMS)), “Big Agriculture”, and “Big Oil”. It all starts up in the Northern Deserts of Nevada where the U.S. Federal Government, in a Unanimous Vote of the U.S. Congress, set aside millions of acres of public lands for the indigenous wild horses, or Mustangs as they are properly called, back in 1971.

    The idea was to make sure this piece of “Americana” was protected from human encroachment and allowed to live free on the lands their ancestors roamed millions of years ago.� Congress charged the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management with the stewardship of both the land and the Mustangs. What we reveal in this interview shows not only that the Bureau failed horribly in that stewardship, but did so by colluding with big industry to destroy the very beings they were entrusted with protecting. The scandals are numerous and tawdry, the lies are plentiful and ludicrous, the attitudes are sadly predictable and the result is the wholesale destruction of the American people’s culture and waste of the American people’s treasure(read tax dollars) by their own servants.

    Part one covers the history of the BLM’s lies and provides the factual counterpoint to those lies from a former BLM employee, Craig Downer, who quit in disgust and has proven the BLM’s data is false. Part one also covers the investigations into the bogus data used to support these lies, via FOIA work done by a private citizen, Cindy MacDonald, that shows what the true motivations are behind these heinous acts. We’ll also get a glimpse into George’s 20 plus year investigation of this activity , the truth about the horses, their land and how it’s been handed over to Big Agriculture (Corporate Cattle Ranches) and Big Oil,� all at the expense of the U.S. Tax Payer and in violation of U.S. Federal Law.



    The Mustang Conspiracy: British Petroleum and The Ruby Pipeline
    PART 2

    In Part two of our hard hitting ATSNews Special Report: “SEX, DRUGS, MUSTANGS, CORRUPTION and BP TOO”, ATSnews’ Mark Allin (AKA: Springer) and 17 time Emmy Award Winner, KLAS 8 News Now (Las Vegas, NV) Investigative Reporter, George Knapp discuss the unbelievable corruption, sex and drug parties and payola schemes that transpired between the MMS and several Big Oil Companies. The Inspector General of the U.S. investigated the “Culture of Substance Abuse and Corruption” that ran rampant through the Denver Office of the MMS and several big oil companies from 2002 through 2006. The U.S. Taxpayer was bilked out of
    hundreds of millions of dollars, the environment was utterly neglected, the affected areas populations were at great risk (and still are), all for the betterment of a handful of Big Oil Companies’ bottom lines.

    You may be surprised to learn that revenues generated by Royalties paid to the U.S. Government, in return for exploiting the oil reserves under public lands, is the second only to TAXES in total gross income for the U.S. Government. That’s a double edged statement. On the one hand, it becomes obvious why government is so happy to allow things like “self regulation” to companies like BP, in spite of their abysmal record. On the other hand, it begs the questions “Why do these appointed (NOT elected) officials sell these royalties for only pennies on the dollar compared to their fair market value? Why do they totally disregard the laws of the land and allow these companies to do whatever they want to increase profits and control costs by avoiding, or totally ignoring, health, environment and safety regulations?”


    Because our public servants are, literally, IN BED with these companies.
    Finally, part two also discusses the alleged, “real reason” for the very recent Mustang round ups off the horse’s legal land. The 675 mile long Ruby Natural Gas Pipeline that runs right through the Calico Herd’s protected lands. After hearing about this pipeline, ATSNews’ Mark Allin started doing some good old fashioned investigative reporting of his own to see just who was behind this pipeline, who would benefit from it most. What he discovered is disturbing but not surprising. The same Corporate Raiders who have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars, created environmental disasters all over the U.S. (and many other parts of the world) because they just turn their nose up at safety regulations, best practices, and common sense are ALL involved with the Ruby Pipeline.

    The same bunch of villains who have plundered our public lands for decades, destroyed lives through their negligence and horrid lack of concern for anything but huge profits are now destroying yet another piece of Americana, the Wild Mustangs of the Great Southwest. Watch part two and find out who these corporate thugs are and hear Mark’s plea to the ATS Community to help us expose the rest of this story!


  10. Wild Horses and Burros are FEDERALLY PROTECTED. This poses a problem for those who covet America’s public lands and natural resources….not the least of which is WATER.


    • Louie, did you read my question? The few remaining wild horses and burros canot by any stretch be a significant threat for water or other resource consumption when compared with other legal uses of our public lands. Water use to frack one well, one time, can range from 2-8 million gallons, and a single well can be fracked many times before playing out. Can you explain how so few hardy (and scattered) horses can possibly impact water use in any comparable (read: threatening) scale?

      I also don’t see an inherent conflict with a pipeline, unless it is all fenced off and horses can’t cross over it, but I doubt this is the case along it entire length. The Alaska Pipeline was designed to enable caribou migrations and did so. I’m no fan of pipeline projects but this seems insufficient cause to justify the extent of wild horse and burro removals to below genetic viability.

      My question remains unanswered.


      • Icy Spots:

        Your question does not remain unanswered; the answers you have been given either do not suit you, escape you or you have another agenda unseen to those trying to explain this horrific situation.

        And please remember that many “protected” (need to define that by Fed agency, state and/or other org that impacts animal and land management) species/animals are subject to exterminative practices by regulatory “authorities” every day,


  11. IcySpots, water and industrialization of public lands may not be the entire answer, but perhaps, are part of the equation. AMERICAN HERDS is an excellent source for information:
    Enter the Ruby Pipeline, a $3 billion dollar project that will span Oregon, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah and runs smack dab through the middle of the Calico Complex (not to mention the just rounded up Beaty’s Butte HMA in Oregon as well as skirting Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge).

    On September 14, 2009, Ruby Pipeline, LLC. responded to a request by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding issues surrounding the pipeline. On page 30 of 40, the Energy Commission asked Ruby to, “Discuss Ruby’s approach to preventing problematic right-of-way reclamation due to wild horses and burros grazing, and provide a summary of discussions with the BLM addressing this issue.”

    Ruby’s response was, “Ruby will work with the BLM to minimize wild horse and burro grazing along the restored ROW for three years. Possible management actions would be to provide water sources away from the ROW, include low palatable plant species in the seed mix such as sagebrush, temporary fencing with gaps, and/or reduce wild horse populations following BLM policy in appropriate management areas.” BLM wild horse and burrow resource specialists were consulted in developing this management approach.”

    So BLM needs to “minimize grazing” along the Right-of-Way (ROW) for three years and may plant food horses and burros hate to eat in order to do it and/or “reduce wild horse and burro populations” to accommodate it. And if you are wondering just what the heck they are talking about during that vague reference to the “possible management actions to provide water sources away from the ROW”, word on the street is, the Ruby Pipeline is going to blow right through and permanently impair at least one of the major summer water sources wild horses have been relegated too (from all those closed fences for exclusive livestock grazing in the pastures).


    Monsanto lovin’ “Conservation” Cowboys push to kill wild horses
    October 28, 2012 Debbie Coffey

    When representatives of Conservation Districts with ties to Monsanto attended the last Bureau of Land Management’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting, they not only pushed for the roundup of wild horses & burros, they pushed to have the wild horses & burros sold for slaughter.

    Wait a minute, these organizations have the word “conservation” in their titles, don’t they? So what’s going on?

    Right before the last Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting in Reno, the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) had their big annual meeting in Las Vegas. The NACD meeting was sponsored by Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, DuPont, Sygenta and Pioneer, the biggest producers of the genetically engineered crops on the planet.

    At the NACD meeting, Callie Hendrickson, appointed by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to represent the general public (is Monsanto the general public?) on the National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board, gave a presentation. She made unsubstantiated claims regarding wild horses & burros, including the statement that wild horses “degraded resources for all.”

    Conservation Districts
    There are about 3,000 conservation districts in the U.S., and since they’re established under state law, they vary in what they’re called and how they’re funded. There are elected and appointed positions on governing boards. Their partners include the Department of Interior (BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish & Wildlife Service) and USDA (Forest Service, Farm Service Agency).

    Considering this, keep an eye on the ball for appointed officials on various Boards of Directors, with overlapping duties, like Callie Hendrickson.
    Callie is the Executive Director for the White River Conservation District in Colorado. She has also served as the Vice President of the National Association of Conservation Districts, and was a registered lobbyist in Colorado for the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts.
    Callie has been, and is, pushing to have the wild horses and burros run off their federally protected areas and slaughtered.

    After the big NACD annual meeting in Las Vegas, Callie went up to Reno and took her seat for the first time on the Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board. Gary Moyer and Neil Brennan, who are on the Board of Supervisors for the White River Conservation District and work with Callie, came to this meeting. (Gary Moyer is also on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Conservation Districts and the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts). Chris Freeman was there to represent the NACD.

    They all pushed for the roundup and slaughter of wild horses & burros.


  13. And there’s another question that needs an answer:

    How does a BLM wild horse holding facility have connections to a horse cloning company?

    The Indian Lakes Road/Broken Arrow BLM holding facility where the BLM is holding our wild horses in Nevada has a sign hanging at the entrance:

    Troy Adams Broken Arrow USA.
    The link to the website for Broken Arrow USA is no longer active. The Broken Arrow Ranch of Lincoln, CA was featured on animal cloning company Bovance’s website .
    The sale of Broken Arrow Ranch’s cattle clone was listed at the Denim and Diamonds Sale and the last address in the middle column is: Broken Arrow Angus Ranch, Troy Adams, 345 Karchner Rd,, Lincoln, CA. 95648, phone (916) 645-1924 Pharmaceutical company Geron ( (TX. ViaGen and Trans Ova Genetics (of Sioux Center, Iowa) own Bovance, the animal cloning company (which featured Broken Arrow). 

    Most, if not all, of Geron’s board of directors each sit on the boards of several other pharmaceutical companies. ViaGen is very actively cloning horses:


    • Louie, thanks! I will delve into your comments later this evening.

      Denise, this may surprise you but I am trying to find answers and your suspicions of my supposed “agenda” are perhaps understandable but are not much appreciated.

      As I see the available facts they don’t stack up, and your information didn’t change that for me. The existing excuses for removals don’t seem sufficient for the horrific practices and expenses.

      In my opinion, we have little hope of making systemic change without understanding how and why it is functioning as it is, no matter how passionate we are about the the current situation. So I appreciate your fire but please aim it elsewhere; I am not the enemy here.


      • OK…what is YOUR answer?

        MY info, which is based on extrapolative information based on historical facts doesn’t work for you? OK….but the funny thing is my opinion as posted is a result of the very same reporting that Louie posted for you.

        And you didn’t even take the time to read all that Louie posted?…before slamming me and dismissing Louie?l
        You prove my point….thank you.


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