Horse News

Moving Past Failed Wild Horse Advocacy

By: William E. Simpson II – Naturalist

As we all watch in horror and dismay over the BLM’s record roundups of American wild horses, it’s very clear that the past and existing advocacy tactics by most large non-profit wild horse groups, individuals, politicians, movie and music stars, etc. have largely failed.

A family band of wild horses symbiotically grazed-in a fire-break that protects an ancient forest.

And doubling-down on more of the same will simply guarantee the security of the pending failure, resulting in the extinction of American wild horses.

An analysis of why the advocacy has failed to prevent what we see happening (massive roundups) is long overdue!
And the paradigm of ‘going-along to get-along’ is also helping the demise of wild horses.
What is needed, and needed fast is; broad promotion and support of a new wild horse management paradigm that is naturally sustainable, and is ecologically and ecologically appropriate.
Such a paradigm is outlined and supported by research, and can be reviewed at:
It’s past due time to call-out what’s wrong and why, even if it’s awkward or may ruffle the feathers of some people at the big-money wild horse non-profits. They need to get over themselves and start putting wild horses first!
And in order to start that logical approach (admitting what has been done is not working and adopting a new advocacy paradigm and solution), many advocates now need to admit the existing advocacy paradigm is not working.
Spending more time and money on the current failed paradigm is just more time and money that is not changing the trajectory of the demise of American wild horses.
There are a few non-profit advocacy groups and individuals who will represent that my explanations of who I am and what I am doing is bragging or egotistical, in an attempt to marginalize me and/or my work, or that my critiques of their failures is unreasonably condemning of their so-called ‘good works’.
Make no mistake; I do agree there are a few good things coming from some animal protection organizations. For instance; Friends of Animals, whose litigation supporting an initial ESA listing for one herd of wild horses will hopefully bear fruit. Nevertheless, the much larger issue at hand is not being addressed.
But as it is correctly said; results are everything, and even a blind person can see what the results of 40-years of wild horse non-profits using over $100-million in donations has yielded; massive roundups and wild horses heading into extinction.
Because the people and businesses on the other side of the wild horse management debate, who have influence and say in the matter, haven’t been provided with what ‘they’ view as an acceptable alternative management plan to simply eliminating wild horses from all HMAs and public lands.
Eliminating wild horses from public land is obviously the present course of events based upon the so-called ‘Path Forward’, which includes these final nails in the coffins of the wild Ones:
1) Reduce wild horse populations in management areas to levels below the hard minimum populations of breeding adults required to maintain any chance for genetic viability; that number, is 250 breeding adults (hard minimum).
The reduction of herd populations below 250 breeding adults results in inbreeding and homozygosity in the relatively few remaining horses in HMAs; and,
2) Treating the few remaining wild horses with chemical contraception (PZP and GonaCon) adds insult to injury and is scientifically known to:
a) Cause social disruptions and breakdown of family bands; and,
b) Causes selective breeding that favors mares with poor immune systems, setting the stage for disease to overcome the few remaining wild Ones on public lands. Mares with poor immune systems can still foal after being treated with PZP, resulting in selective breeding that supports offspring with poor immunity as a trait. And the so-called contraceptive chemical GonaCon causes irreversible infertility in mares.
Fortunately, I am not like the many paid advocates at non-profit wild horses organizations.
It’s inconvenient truth that these paid advocates are influenced to some extent or another by money (and some by ego) and hanging on the purse-strings of donors and their donations for their own personal survival, and are thereby influenced by money, which arguably taints their perspective.
By not being beholden to anyone’s money and influence, allows me the freedom to make a clear unbiased assessment of the situation, and saying whatever needs to be said. Because for me the priority is about the survival of the wild Ones; their survival is the only thing that matters…
And that’s because so much of the co-evolved flora and fauna in North America also depend upon the continued existence of wild equids on the American landscape, living naturally and unmolested by humankind.
The empirical results we are seeing today across the public lands (the horrific decimation of the remaining wild horses in America), empirically proves that 40-years of organized, donation-funded non-profit advocacy has largely failed.
And their best idea, using PZP, is exactly what the minds behind the ‘Path Forward’ want, because they know what it really does…. it enhances the demise of the genetic vigor of America’s remaining wild horses.
I grew up in the life of ranching and forest management in the mountains on the Oregon-California border before attending Oregon State University as a pre-med science major.
After a long career spanning several professional vocations, I am now retired, living in a cabin, off-grid, in the mountain wilderness of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument on the Oregon-California border, living among and studying free-roaming native wild horses.
As far as I can determine, I am the only researcher in America that is living-among and studying free-roaming wild horses in a natural wilderness ecosystem, complete with apex predators (co-evolved predators of wild equids) and have been doing so for the past 7-years, 24-7, 365, four seasons a year.
The wild Ones have taught me a lot over the course of that continuous long-term intimate exposure to their otherwise secret lives in the wilderness. And it seems that not a day goes by without them teaching me something new, and I have so much more to learn from them.
Some of what the wild Ones have taught and shown me have been integrated into my study paper; “Impact of Wild Horses on Wilderness Landscape and Wildfire’ , which even though I have granted pro-bono publication thereof, most non-profits wont publish or share the paper with the public because it’s not their own work or idea.  Why? Worry it may erode their donation income? Maybe.  Ego? Probably.
Nevertheless, ReWilding Europe has published my initial revealing study about wild horse behavioral ecology at their online wildfire focused journal: GrazeLIFE:
I continue to live in my little cabin in the wilderness, and using a page from Jane Goodall’s book, I am continuing my study of the secret lives of wild horses.
My payment, which in my humble opinion is huge, is given daily via the privilege of the friendships I enjoy with the local wild Ones.
Most people don’t understand that periodic observations over a telephoto lens only provides a glimpse into the lives of wild horses.  In reference to Jane Goodall; she pioneered the observational methodology of ‘the embedded observer’ when she did her groundbreaking study of the Apes in Gombe Africa. 
Thanks to what I learned from Jane Goodall’s example and results, in 2014, I embedded myself into a wild and free roaming herd of native species wild horses in the wilderness (there are horse fossils in my study area), where I have been accepted by most of the lead mares and stallions as a sort of ‘symbiont’.
Gaining status with the herd families took nearly a year and many sacrifices, which I am hoping can now benefit the greater advocacy with new information that can inform and provide the proper background for implementing a greatly improved wild horse management paradigm that would offer the government agencies and livestock producers an acceptable alternative to the current catastrophic failure in management paradigms (roundups & chemicals), that is quickly pushing the wild Ones into extinction.
These days, I am seen by the herd as a friend, and I am accepted to the point where I can walk among them, sharing breath with band stallions and lead mares, pulling-off ticks, and making very close observations of condition, parasites, injuries, and intimate behaviors and communication between family members and family groups.
Not long ago, I made and published a novel discovery about wild horses!
Wild horses are expert botanists.
Wild horses know what all the plants in their ecosystem are good for; in the case at hand, the herb Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). 
Pennyroyal has been used for time immemorial by the local Shasta Natives as an insect repellent.
And thanks to my ability to be in very close proximity to the wild Ones, I was able to smell the odor of Pennyroyal on the members of several family-band members, who had rolled in the herb to control pests and parasites.
This is just one example of many I could make about why period studies at distance and/or using telephoto lenses, or with wild horses already separated from wilderness and nature, provide less than optimal information into their behavioral ecology.
Naturally, I was amazed when I had observed first-hand that horses are keen botanists, and I believe this is a previously unknown, unpublished discovery.
HERE is my published paper on the value of being an embedded observer, from August 2019:
American wild horses (and burros) are OUT OF TIME:
I am hoping that more wild horse advocates will now join me in bringing these important insights to a larger audience and help convince the large non-profits that there is a genuine long-term Natural solution for wild horse management, if they would merely move past their current myopic perspectives and empirically-proven failed management proposals.
I am an independent researcher, using my own retirement funds, so I will not be seeking any funding or donations, via your support. The wild Ones are depending on the humans who are listening to them, not the people who are blinded by money, ego and the limelight.
My only goal is to help the people on both sides of the wild horse management circles towards a more enlightened paradigm that fully considers the great importance of wild horses as keystone herbivores on the American public landscape.
“Failure Is Not An Option”  ~ 1995 film, Apollo 13

25 replies »

  1. Thank you! You have put to paper what I have been thinking for a long time. 40 years of advocacy have left the horses not much better off than at the beginning. I have been appalled at the Path Forward and those that support it. I remember being sickened when I saw “advocates” that I once respected being photographed parading around with their dart guns. In fact I have lost respect for most of the larger orgs and the people who lead them. Through agreeing to participate in managing to extinction to management groups that seem to be hurting rather than helping ie that curious management at the Salt River and other places I have seen many advocates that have finally thrown in the towel and walked away.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you, I feel the same way. I have donated in the past, to horse advocates. I always wondered why they didn’t join forces and become one large group. Power in numbers. Then I realized it’s about egos, and they are accomplishing nothing.
    What are you suggesting that we do? We need answers and probably legal advice. I would love to see an end to BLM. They are not managing anything. Not the land or the horses. I agree the wild horses are good for the ecological system and do more good than harm. I agree they can help prevent some of these forest fires and destruction. What can we do? How can we work together and finally get some positive results? Thank you for your very informative article, Peggy

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t know if this is a reasonable question but I’ll ask anyway

    Isn’t there many many acres of undisturbed land that is cared for owned & governed by the American Indians

    The US Government has no say or control on their land

    If so .. Why can’t the Wild Horses & Burros live there be transported over there to live their lives in peace

    A place where our Government Bureau of Land Management has no authority


    • Fair questions, but I can offer this in response. The Reservations are not “undisturbed” as many host extensive mining operations anymore, which provide some employment in otherwise mostly poverty-stricken communities. The Navajo have their own large horse herds as well, with no room on their range to bring in thousands of publicly owned wild horses. Then there’s the small problem of ownership and care, and keeping genetic diversity along with ecosystem sustainability.

      It might make sense to pay others to manage our wild horses but by law they are part and parcel of our public lands and to be managed there, and there only. If ownership was transferred they would all be at risk, with even less accountability than we have now.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Plus many reservation horses are shipped to slaughter. Chilly Pepper Rescue gets notified by the shippers when they have young foals – its either she takes them or they are “disposed” of, I imagine. Many in really bad shape – so vet bills, too. She seems to be getting more adult horses too. I believe this is up in Washington state – where she goes to pick them up. I dont know exactly where the horses come from that are brought in to be shipped to slaughter. A lot are unhandled or wild – most not branded BLM horses.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. For the past 18 years I have lived in the mountains of Central Nevada. I have lived among and watched the wild bands
    as they lived and died. There is no electricity here ,no paved roads for twenty miles or so,no cattle on this part of the range. Only the horses,deer,elk use whats here (oh yeah, and some lions in the mountains).

    Even in this drought the critters survive as a testament to nature,mean mother though she is.

    The kicker is MAN. Mankind in it’s struggle to become gods will kill anything in it’s way to attain that goal and there and there is nothing we can do about it.
    Like in the song “Starry Starry Night ” “They would not listen they’re not listening still,I guess they never will.”

    Good luck to you in your efforts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David, would you be willing to share any observations you’ve made from your unique perspective on population dynamics in the wild horse herds you’ve observed? Also anything about their natural predators and related affects — including foal mortality?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank our, also would like to know what we can do to stop this. Can we somehow get the word out the BLM
    Is lying to everyone. They say these horses are put out to pasture for the rest of their lives, no their not. Truth is there is good money in taking these beauties to slaughter in Canada. That’s just one of their lives.PLEASE, WE have to save these animals.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tina, the only way I know is to speak up and continue to insist your elected officials in Congress take action. Everyone knows the BLM is corrupt but nobody in Congress has the backbone (yet) to rein them in. Congress empowered them and Congress can fire them, too, but only if enough voting age citizens get a lot louder.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. The KEY, is to provide massive public support for a sustainable Natural Solution to the current dilemma, while there is time left!

    Nearly 7-years of constant close-range observational studies *(includes forensic studies of the natural depredation of wild horses by apex predators)* has already been undertaken.

    This work, which is novel, provides a new foundation upon which an enlightened management plan can be undertaken. Wild horse advocates would do well by reading all these information at:

    A sustainable Natural, and proven solution is outlined in a DRAFT Outline for a bill, which should be sent to legislators and officials everywhere!


    William E. Simpson II – Naturalist
    Wild Horse Ranch
    Soda Mountain Wilderness, CA


    • I have read most of the proposals and have promoted the Fire Brigade as a great option for a Pilot Project. My objection comes mainly from the integral part of your argument that would remove wild horses from their legal public lands and introduce them into other areas, as you describe higher altitude and less attractive to cattle and sheep.

      The issues here are manifold. First, they can’t legally be relocated onto private or other lands without private contracts that involve roundups/castrations/family destruction etc.

      Second, the presumption is cattle and sheep should have priority for grazing, even on the legal horse management areas, which is also contrary to law as well as any sense of equity.

      Third, it isn’t clear how any documentation of results from relocations would be funded, archived, or made available to the public as well as independent researchers.

      Overall, the idea has some good “bones” but in aggregate seems it would require changing the 1971 Act substantially. Opening that up now would risk it being abolished (as is happening now with Roe V. Wade) so the costs could be very high indeed.

      There are numerous other strategies that should also be given a fair trial, not least because every environment is slightly different. IMO the better answer is to get management out of the hands of the BLM and USFS altogether, then identify and implement multiple pilot projects (with independently verified data), select from these the most promising, then fund those into ever-larger management areas.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Greetings:

        I’ve been conducting the ‘pilot’ here in the Soda Mountain Wilderness for the past 7-years with a herd of wild horses made up of many family bands. This is a population that is regulated by the ecosystem and ranges between ca. 90 and 120 wild horses in my study area that surrounds my cabin in the wilderness.

        There are horse fossils here and this herd was at one point in time (ca. 1700’s – 1890) much larger, some old records claim over 1,000 wild horses. As deer and elk populations have been depleted by over-hunting, an obtuse upside-down process of unnatural selection by hunters, who idiotically take the top genetic stock, leaving unproven small bucks as breeders.

        Over the course of the past 5-decades, this hunting paradigm has enhanced genetic weakness and disease, which has resulted in aggressive depredation by apex predators doing what they do best, removing the diseased weakest genetics, that were created by crap wildlife management under the fish & wildlife authorities.

        And with seriously depleted cervids in CA and OR, and here on that border, the predators have now disproportionately focused heavily on the wild horses… and that has had an adverse impact on the naturally living herd of wild horses.

        All the flora and fauna in any ecosystem is intimately connected, and when one species is adversely impacted, there are negative reverberations throughout the ecosystem.

        Anyone who has actually read my Study, has seen the forensic photos of horse-kills by various predators… I have documented dozens attacks and kills over the years by coyotes, mountain lions and bears. I have also documented attacks that wild horses survived as well.

        The Wild Horse Fire Brigade model has also been tested-true by the deadly Klamathon Wildfire, 48,000 acres, which was stopped by CAL-FIRE at the edge of the home-range of our local herd. And that result was due to reduced wildfire fuels from their symbiotic grazing, and the fire lost intensity allowing CAL-FIRE to finally overcome the fire with suppression.

        I have to disagree: we don’t need a ‘pilot’, the testing has been done (and with honestly, instead of by gov. people who are manipulated) and we have a published study. Maybe you’d prefer a study by the BLM?

        It’s way past time to move to save the horses and stop the endless circular debates by people with no personal empirical experience that can be documented.

        Everyone’s an expert these days, of course, few (any?) have done the work needed by living in the study site for the years it takes to gather the prerequisite understandings of the lives of wild equids in a wilderness ecosystem and conduct and document the research needed to engage and effort the correct, holistic, management of wild horses…

        Arguing about the now obsolete 1971 Act and forcing a bad hand by keeping wild horses in the last remaining places where they will end-up being zeroed-out, while advocates with no solutions based upon empirical experience, keep debating ad nauseum, that is the sham. Don’t look now, but wild horses in America are circling the drain! Time has run-out!

        We have over 20-million acres of wilderness just in the far western states that are prime territory for wild horse reestablishment. Water and forage are plentiful… For example; using an allocation rate of one (1) horse for each 200-acres, we can rewild/relocate 100-thousand wild horses across 20-million acres, where livestock will never be a problem. Keep in mind, wild horses evolved in North America and are ecologically ‘at-home’ in these areas. Our herd was filmed by Colorado College and anyone can see they are thriving! Fat, healthy and happy, living wild and free:

        You can see the herd I have been studying for 7-years HERE:

        Wild Horses are a genuine ‘native species’, even more so than cervids (deer and elk) that arrived in North America from Asia over the land-bridge, along with the aboriginal peoples, that made up all the tribes across North America…. all of whom can be traced genetically back to Asia. Wild Horses have been here since their earliest days of evolution, 55-million years ago.

        Moving a bad management paradigm into new hands is no answer; in fact, that could be the case for jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Roe V. Wade is a terrible comparison…

        The 1971 Act can be properly amended, without losing its intent or protections, by adding a short paragraph to Section 1339 that allows new options (‘rewilding and relocating’, instead of roundups, off-range warehousing and slaughter):

        Amendment to the existing 1971 Free Roaming Wild Burro And Horse Protection Act:

        Here is the CURRENT language that must be addressed: § 1339. Limitation of authority

        “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the Secretary to relocate wild free-roaming horses or burros to areas of the public lands where they do not presently exist.”

        Proposed AMENDED language for § 1339. Limitation of authority:

        “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the Secretary to relocate wild free-roaming horses or burros to areas of the public lands where they do not presently exist, with the exception that; in Wilderness Areas managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and/or the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) containing forests and/or other natural resources at risk of catastrophic wildfire; the BLM and the USFS shall under this Act have authority to re-wild American wild horses and burros from off-range holding facilities and/or relocate wild horses and burros from existing Herd Management Areas into such Wilderness Areas where it is ecologically and economically appropriate.” ~ William E. Simpson II

        So I have to move off to the many demands of my time for the wild Ones. Cheers! William E. Simpson II


      • I also agree, Icy – mainly with idea that any change in this present “environment” of wildlife slaughter thats happening in far too many states right now – to allow wild horse haters – of which there are many in Congress – to get the opportunity to make their own changes to the Act – Is the Fire Brigade a really great idea? Of course it is – and its obvious Capt.Bill knows of what he speaks. There are so many issues that have to be contended with – and not least – is how information and data is maintained. The herds & the bands that make up the herds should be documented. As we all know, the BLM & FS have not only dropped the ball there, but dug a hole & buried it! There ARE good honest groups. But as was mentioned, far too many have more concern for donations than the actual wild horses.
        AND, to GG – I watched the pilot episode of Wild Lands, Wild Horses. I thought Jessica did a fantastic job of stating FACTS. I realize they are attempting to show “all sides”. At least it brings the true wild horses out into the public eye. Maybe the light will dawn on more people that these wild animals deserve a chance to live their lives – NOT only adopted out to humans.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. We largely agree — but your proposals still require modifying the Act, and as we’ve all seen that IS a risk. Some of your earlier articles insist that the beef industry will always overrule wild horse management so moving wild horses off their legal areas is necessary and unavoidable. On that we mostly disagree.

    Lots to answer and question here, but it would be useful to know who owns the horses in this “wilderness” and who (if anyone) is legally responsible for their management. I’m curious how it can be a wilderness if you are living in it, for instance, since the definition of “wilderness” is where man is only a visitor.

    If these horses are outside the purview of the BLM/USFS, good for them! But doesn’t this also mean they are a “commons” and can be taken randomly by people as was our western history pre-Wild Horse Annie?

    Per your “pilot” it simply isn’t. You have observed a herd existing in a location long before your arrival, and while this might make a good control for a larger study, it isn’t the same as introducing naive horses into a horseless environment.

    Also a single observer is only a single data set, and not independently verifiable enough to change the overall US Gov’t. management paradigms, as you surely know? Randomly relocating horses all over the west would draw fire from many directions, as you also surely know. And we all know the BLM/USFS record for misplacing or losing horses is common enough, with few safeguards against that in your plan — not to mention motor vehicles are not allowed in true wilderness areas, so horses would have to be released at the perimeter somehow.

    I do think your proposals have merit and I do agree time is short. I don’t agree this is the ONLY answer, though. This system is broken and horses are dying, we need all our best efforts to make any difference, so I thank you for yours. Let’s take some horses out of holding into a horseless area which we’ve documented the forage and other resources ahead of the release, then monitor, document, and publish what results and followup accordingly.

    (I am not employed by the US Gov’t. or a member of any advocacy groups, just a concerned citizen)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Certainly seems to me that would be a good first start (removing horses from holding into an area) and from what I’ve read, there ARE areas that would work. But? All the guff & clatter of anti-wild horse posses!


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