NM Court: Placitas Horse Herd could be Wild

By as published in the Albuquerque Journal

“We reject the argument that all horses anywhere in New Mexico are livestock”

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has ruled that a herd of horses living in the Placitas area cannot be considered livestock if it is made up of wild horses. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has ruled that a herd of horses living in the Placitas area cannot be considered livestock if it is made up of wild horses. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

An appellate court has revived a lawsuit that sought to have a Placitas horse herd declared wild under state law, a ruling described by an advocacy group as a “huge victory” that would allow the animals to continue to roam freely and stop their roundups and sale.

“We reject the argument that all horses anywhere in New Mexico are livestock” simply because some horses are considered livestock, the court said.

The opinion by the New Mexico Court of Appeals interprets the Livestock Code and provisions involving “estrays” – the legal term for unclaimed domestic animals – as “pertain(ing) only to domesticated horses rather than wild, free-roaming horses.” It says the body of animal-related laws in the code requires the New Mexico Livestock Board to DNA test and relocate wild horses. And it sends the case back to the lower court for proceedings consistent with the decision.

The Wild Horse Observers Association, which brought the suit in February 2014, has advocated for the horses to continue roaming freely, while some Placitas residents have argued the horses have damaged the land and are a safety hazard.

The opinion last week by Appeals Court Judge Jonathan Sutin, joined by Judges Michael Bustamante and Cynthia Fry, reversed a trial court in Albuquerque.

Second Judicial District Judge Valerie Huling of Albuquerque had dismissed the lawsuit in July 2014 at the request of the state Livestock Board and a group of individual interveners who live in Placitas.

Wild Horse Observers, in its initial complaint, said the horses have never been owned or claimed by any private landowner, rancher, horse rescue group or Indian tribe. The unbranded horses – 40 at the time of filing – have roamed on public land near Placitas since at least 1965, according to the association.

About 25 of the horses were impounded and auctioned by the Livestock Board, which contended the horses were not wild and that carving out a wild horse exception to livestock laws would mean they weren’t subject to transportation, inspection and anti-cruelty laws.

The Court of Appeals said the board is required by statute to search for the owners of stray livestock for the benefit of the legal owner. State law requires that a wild horse captured on public land to have its DNA tested, and if it tests positive as a Spanish colonial, to be relocated to a state or private wild horse reserve. If it isn’t a Spanish colonial, it must be returned to public land or put up for adoption by the agency on whose land it was captured – in this case, the 560-acre Placitas Open Space managed by the City of Albuquerque’s Open Space Division.

Livestock Board executive Director William Bunch said, “Essentially, this appeal is trying to force regulation based on an incomplete genetic foundation. So it’s going to be hard to enforce. Certainly we will try to comply.”

Wild Horse Observers Association hailed the ruling said on its website as “a huge victory.”

“This appellate court decision has far-reaching ramifications for the historic and beloved wild horses of Placitas on further roundups, auctions and sale, use of PZP contraception for herd management, DNA testing and more,” the statement said.

8 comments on “NM Court: Placitas Horse Herd could be Wild

  1. These horses are Hero’s of the United States this country would not be what it is without them they should be put on the endangered list for all time, the Mustang is the backbone of this country, protect them, stop killing them, remember all they did for us. honor them.

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  2. The DNA testing to prove Spanish origin is only part of the story and should not be the gold standard for determining the status of any free-roaming horses. We have learned in the past few years that horse DNA from aeons ago is genetically equivalent to that of modern horses, and we also know all Spanish horses originated in the Americas. There is also compounding evidence supporting perpetual existence of equids in N. America up to the arrival of the Spaniards and their (initially very few) horses. We need a better system than DNA to differentiate wild from domestic horses. Without it, we should assume any unbranded, untattooed or un-saddle scarred horses are wild and to be respected as such.

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  3. FOR THE WILD HORSES OF PLACITAS
    GARY L. BROWER, Placitas, NM 2006

    There are artists in Placitas
    who create beauty from nothing,
    and there are these horses
    who have nothing but beauty
    of body their ancestors gave them,
    creating when they run
    a changing dapple of sun
    on their shiny skin.

    These wild ones don’t know
    their existence, their freedom,
    their wildness, the natural artistry
    of their lives, their hoofbeats
    across the open space,
    the unshod pattern of hoofprints
    are a nuisance to some.

    When these equine phantoms
    suddenly appear among people,
    you hear the comments:
    What are they doing here?
    Why aren’t they tamed?
    Where are their owners?
    How did they get out?
    Why aren’t they dog food?
    Why should they take up land?
    They’re costing us money,
    costing us time, costing us
    trouble, costing us something
    when they are nothing to us;
    homeless of the high desert,
    lost out of history, even if they
    are descendants of jacas
    left by Spaniards centuries ago,
    they are discards of society
    who refuse to stop at our stoplights.
    Our fears of lack of control
    have taken equine form.
    After all, if horses can run wild,
    what about children, what about
    chaos in the universe?

    We know our society traps us
    to keep us in check, know
    we often trap ourselves, others.
    How dare these creatures
    run across straight lines
    we fear to cross.

    These last wild horses
    turn their long faces to you,
    their long muzzles, large eyes,
    warn their death
    will kill your freedom,
    after they are a memory,
    a small herd of historical footnotes,
    a myth that once wild steeds
    roamed untamed, like the
    village, unincorporated.
    Look again at the long faces
    of these caballos desiertos,
    the long muzzles, large eyes.
    They have no master,
    perhaps this is what bothers you?
    They speak to your subconscious,
    perhaps this is what frightens you?
    They are not harnessed to work
    as you are, perhaps this
    makes you resentful?

    Look again at this orphan herd,
    their long faces, muzzles, large eyes.
    If they run wild, remember,
    they are not your children,
    not from outer space
    but the open space.
    They didn’t cross artificial
    lines in the sand
    like poor immigrants
    searching for survival,
    they are simply here
    trying to survive
    in an unforgiving land.
    Ask yourself: Is there no space
    for them anywhere on the land,
    in the mind, in our lives?

    Does their equine lineage matter
    more than their existence?
    Bureaucrats, projecting their own nature,
    say these animals must be
    either “wild” or “feral,”
    insist they abandon their horse trails
    for a paper trail, or die.
    For if they are killed,
    they would at least be saved,
    like Orwell’s non-persons,
    from being the non-horses
    they now are, on land not theirs,
    with lives they shouldn’t have.

    We divide, subdivide ourselves
    down smaller and smaller,
    drawing more and more
    straight lines, artificial borders
    across the horizon,
    strangling on rectangles,
    squaring wildness out,
    fencing out free range,
    cutting down old forests,
    fishing out oceans,
    hunting down animals
    bigger than we are,
    shooting down birds we don’t need,
    polluting water we need,
    destroying our planet-home,
    with our habit of habitat destruction,
    till nothing is without control unless dead,
    inside or out, not even yourself,
    till you have trampled everything
    free and wild into the ground,
    the syllables of the word “freedom”
    lost like yucca blooms
    in breezes over the mesas,
    till these wild beings
    are only gusts of wind
    blowing through your mind,
    whipping up the dust of Placitas,
    blowing it into your eyes,
    leaving you blind
    in your own land.
    GARY L. BROWER, Placitas, NM 2006

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  4. Susan blumenthal is rounding up horses at this very second and the placitas sheriff’s dept is not doing a gd thing. This is a violent nightmare! Our own local law enforcement is ignoring the courts ruling!

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