Wild Burros

Unpacking the Wild Horse Deaths at Warm Springs

     Photo by Carol Walker

We wanted to share excellent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) work by American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC):

SOURCE:  American Wild Horse Campaign

Unpacking the Wild Horse Deaths at Warm Springs

by Brieanah Schwartz, Government Relations and Policy Counsel, American Wild Horse Campaign

The Warm Springs Roundup was conducted in October of 2018 as part of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) planned spay experiments to be conducted on mares from this Herd Management Area (HMA). The BLM reported that 846 horses, 41 burros and 2 mules were removed (however one escaped) and 32 animals died because of the roundup operation. In response to the large number of animal deaths, AWHC submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to understand the reasons why so many animals died during this operation.

Wild Horse Deaths

The responsive documents we received noted that most of the foal deaths were related to the roundup operation. For example, a three-month-old filly was dead on arrival to holding. The vet on site noted that acute head trauma during the transfer from the trap was suspected, meaning she was likely fatally trampled or kicked in the trailer. A colt also died overnight at the trap site, suspected capture shock (also known as myopathy) and a six-month-old filly was found dead on arrival at holding also suspected of capture shock. Foals were not the only victims of the operation. Sadly, a three-year-old mare, who had a weaning aged foal, crashed into a panel of the trap site and died instantly from a broken neck. It was suspected that she was trying to escape.

We also saw the unfortunate, continued misuse of euthanasia for Angular Limb Deformities (ALDs). As we have reported before, angular limb deformities include “conditions were indicated by club feet, severely overgrown hoof walls, collapsed heels, limb deformity, arthritic joints, toes pointed out at the fetlock, and lameness.” The vet recording paperwork does not require any system of rating the severity of the deformity or any scale by which the agency can determine if the deformity is severe enough to impede quality of life. Therefore, one can only assume that if no lameness is reported, and the animal was living and thriving wild and free prior to the roundup, then any euthanasia for ALDs is simply unnecessary and cruel. Many domestic horses live long lives with some of the deformities that BLM euthanizes wild horses for as they come off the range. Even wild horses have been observed by our team and coalition members usually living long and fulfilling lives with deformities such as those that BLM states as a reason why it must kill many of our federally-protected wild horses. During this roundup, horses were euthanized for ALDs such as a club foot, having a fetlock turned in, knees turned out, and even for a sway back. Again, these horses were living their lives without significant issue before this roundup operation occurred, yet now they lost their lives simply because of human intervention.

Public Response

The documents we received in response to this FOIA request also illustrated a history of disregard for public input and concern about wild horse welfare during roundup operations. The responsive documents included a series of email communications between BLM employees discussing whether or not it was necessary to respond to our complaint letter about violations our field representative observed to the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP), Standard Operating Procedures, and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WHA).

We sent the BLM a letter on October 8, about a week into the roundup, and expressed concern that the horses were being pushed too fast, causing young foals to fall behind and be separated from their mothers. This concern was validated in the responsive documents we received which noted foals dying from capture shock, a condition that develops when a foal is pushed past the point of exhaustion and noted that foals and mares were paired in the trap site, not always with the correct pairings. In fact, one vet noted that a filly was paired with a dun mare, but that they were unlikely related.

The internal email discussions about our letter concluded that our letter did not warrant a response. However, a response was discussed.


14 replies »

  1. From Citizens Against Equine Slaughter

    Posted on February 17, 2019

    One declaration written by Burn’s BLM Rob Sharp to the court stated that if BLM was not able to do the experiments they would not release all 200 horses, which was what the approved plan stated. We called this emotional blackmail then, and after bringing this up on the BLM Facebook page for their wild horse and burro program…just the next day…BLM loads online a new proposed plan to return less than half what was approved in the previous APPROVED plan.

    “Despite the DR being vacated, the conditions that caused the BLM to determine that approximately 652 animals were excess and needed to be removed from the range remain present and necessitate the current decision. To that end, this determination of NEPA adequacy (DNA) assesses whether the 2018 EA adequately analyzed the environmental impact of permanently removing wild horses and burros from the Warm Springs HMA, the proposed return of horses to low appropriate management level (AML) for the HMA, and the treatment of mares to be returned to the HMA with porcine zona pellucida (PZP). This DNA in no part replaces or relies on the 2018 DR, which was vacated in its entirety.”


    BLM — you removed “850 or so” stating “only 652-ish” are to be permanently removed. The following email communication was received by CAES through a FOIA request. Note the author is BLM Public Affairs Specialist Tara Thissell.



  2. From AMERICAN HERDS 2009

    Shepherd-ing The Future

    “He is ALAN SHEPHERD and this could be the finest hour of his BLM career.”

    They brought him in from Wyoming, where he oversaw BLM’s second largest wild horse operation in the West. He is the “lead” contraceptive guy, the “lead” guy in new census studies on the Adobe Town/Salt Wells Horses, and now has been brought in as the “Lead” Wild Horse & Burro manager for Nevada.

    He was on the Team Conference Calls between July and September of 2008, after BLM announced they might euthanize tens of thousands of horses as he and others plotted “what to do”, which was finalized in the Draft Alternative Management Options Report (October 2008), so graphicly summarized by this recent Animal Law Coalition article by Laura Allen in, “BLMs Final Solution for the Wild Horses & Burros” and Equine Welfare Alliance’s, “BLM Slaughter Conspiracy” by Valerie James Patton and John Holland.

    Finally, BLM will no longer have to answer to anybody about “where” the horses and burros are going any more….

    He is Alan Shepherd and this could be the finest hour of his BLM career.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. This will be very hard to read but if anyone has any doubt as to what actually happens then this should straighten them out.In my opinion and as horrible as this story is, don’t allow yourself to be fooled, it was and still is not unusual. It is typical and nothing has changed since then except that they hide it better.

    Sheldon Fish and Wildlife Service Runs Foals to Exhaustion
    and Leaves them to Die in the Desert.
    [PHOTOS in original article – see link]
    A foal tries to keep up with its dam during a helicopter pass.
    Several never made it to the trap corrals.

    27 June, 2006
    By: Valerie James Patton, Susan Pohlman, and John Holland
    On June 6th, the Special Research Group exposed a plan formulated by the Fish and Wildlife Service to eliminate the Sheldon range wild horses and pay “mass adopters” $300 a horse to take them. The report showed that one of the adopters was operating out of a stockyard used almost exclusively as a transshipment point for horses going to slaughter. The report went on to denounce the plans of FWS to hold a helicopter gather in mid-June which is the height of foaling season in that region.
    The Fish and Wildlife Service responded to the massive public outcry, which included congressmen and even California Governor Schwarzenegger, by giving false assurances to all who inquired. Among other falsehoods, they stated that the foaling season was long over and that all the foals were at least three months old. Project manager Paul Steblein assured the public that they had done a helicopter survey and found all the foals in the refuge were at least three or four months old. The impossibility of such an assessment from the air was not lost on the horse advocates nor was the biological improbability. Their doubts and worst fears were soon to be justified.
    Realizing that the gather could be a tremendous public relations debacle, the FWS took extra precautions. These were not precautions to assure the safety of the foals, but precautions to assure that their fate would never be known. New gates were added, armed law enforcement agents were posted, and the public was kept back two miles from the holding pens. Then, a few concerned citizens were allowed just enough of a carefully staged view of the captured horses to lend credence to the assertions of the Fish and Wildlife Service. It was masterful stage craft to cover institutionalized callousness and cruelty of breathtaking dimensions.
    The gather, was done on Tuesday, June 20th. Immediately after the gather, FWS announced that all the foals had arrived with their mothers, and that none had been hurt. But almost immediately, a foal was trampled in the pens and had to be taken away for medical care. The assertion that all of the foals had arrived safely with their mothers was belied by the fact that 16 to 18 of the mares showed signs of recently giving birth but had no foals with them.
    FWS went on to say that only one adult horse had a minor injury. But there were horse advocates who knew better because they had listened to the radio communications between the FWS and the crews in the field as they discussed what to do with a horse with a broken leg. The decision had been made to shoot it.
    The lies had only begun. The story of the lost foals began unfolding even as FWS personnel were busily cleaning up a stream of aborted foals from the mares in the holding pens. By Monday, the 26th, nine foals had either died at birth or been aborted in the pens, but there was worse news to come.
    Thursday, stories began trickling into the Sheldon office of foals abandoned on the refuge and dying of exposure and dehydration. A rescue mission was launched on Friday. The Catoor’s helicopter returned to the puzzlement of some uninformed onlookers, and an air ground search was made. To some it was a mission to rescue the foals, but to FWS it was more likely a mission to rescue the illusion of their humane gather. According to reports, by the end of the day, eight foals had been found. Five were dead and three were clinging onto life. It is reported that Fran Steffan (Forever Free Mustangs) took these foals to get veterinary care and that they are expected to recover.
    As if all of this were not damning enough, the FWS announced that they are still planning to give Gary Graham, the agent that operates out of a slaughter yard, “a few” horses. “A few” turns out to be Sixty Two! Where will these horses go? If the answer is the Los Lunas stockyard of killer buyer Dennis Chavez, their ordeal has only begun. Horse stockyards are notorious for the diseases they harbor and there can be no doubt that the Sheldon horses, lacking exposure to these diseases, will be infected in a matter of days.
    Mustang advocates have long decried BLM’s decimation of wild herds with little or no justification, but nothing even remotely like the Sheldon foal massacre has ever been documented. To date, nine foals died or were aborted in the pens and about fifteen foals were probably left to die a slow death in the high desert. Three of these foals survived days of abandonment, and one foal that arrived with the adults survived trampling in the pens. There are still many pregnant mares and foals under a month of age in the crowded pens awaiting their fate. But why?
    Sheldon management has given a variety of improbable reasons for their obsession with eliminating their wild horse population. At first they said they competed with the pronghorn antelope and sage grouse, but when an FWS study was cited that concluded there was no adverse relationship between these species they changed their justification to the fact that the horses were damaging the water resources. This was never established in any scientific way (the last Environmental Assessment having been done in 1980 when cattle were wallowing in the streams and ponds) and has been highly contested by experts in wild horse behavior.
    Whatever the reason, the FWS has invented a plan that uses taxpayer dollars to encourage people to take large numbers of the wild horses, while prohibiting individual or small adoptions. The result will be that people like Graham will take the money and the horses will pay the price.
    We may never know the true reason for the Sheldon management’s inhumane war on our wild horses. What we do know is they are government employees charged with protecting our common heritage, and that when challenged they came back with a clear answer that they do not work for us and they will do what they very well please!
    [This alert is based on data gathered by the Special Research Group, an entirely independent volunteer organization. Supporting documents are available upon request. Contact John Holland at hollandtech@earthlink.net]



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