Horse News

Video ~ Advocates Allege Wild Horse Mistreatment At Cañon City Prison

Channel 4 CBS Denver

“I would like to see the horses managed on our public lands where they belong,” 

CAÑON CITY, Colo. (CBS4) – The decades-long controversy over wild horses in Colorado has been heating up in recent months, with Governor Polis even weighing in this summer, asking the federal government to pause horse roundups, after being inundated with calls and letters concerned about the treatment of the animals. So, CBS4 Investigates decided to take a closer look at what happens once the mustangs are rounded up and hauled out of the wild.

The East Cañon City Prison Complex, a collection of state prison buildings and ranches, is one of the places the horses are taken. CBS4 was given a rare tour of the ranch and horse pens where the mustangs are prepped for adoption.

Wild Horses from the September Sand Wash Basin round up. (credit: Mark Neitro, CBS4)

It was the first time in years that news cameras were invited to see the horses at the prison. The Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency within the Department of the Interior, coordinated the tour, as it is the agency that runs and pays for the horses’ care and keeping at the state prison complex.

“Adoption prep includes giving them… an equine infectious anemia test, ensure that they don’t have that disease, that’s required by the state, and vaccinations and a freeze mark, so the freeze mark is a unique identifying number,” explained Colorado’s BLM wild horse facilities manager Steve Leonard.

A Necessary Expense?

Leonard says it’s necessary for the agency to round up the horses and relocate them to the prison, saying there are too many horses in the Sand Wash Basin for the resources that are available.

“We had a high number of horses, with a high number of excess horses in the herd management area, so they needed to be removed to ensure their survival, and to ensure that resource was protected,” Leonard explained.

In September, Leonard told CBS4 Reporter Jamie Leary he didn’t think many of the horses would survive the winter.

The BLM estimates it spends more than $3 million in federal taxpayer money a year caring for the horses in Cañon City.

A younger wild horse in a pen at the Cañon City prison complex. (credit: Mark Neitro, CBS4)

That’s a cost some horse advocates believe is unnecessary, saying more birth control measures should be implemented to allow horses to continue to live freely on the range.

“I would like to see the horses managed on our public lands where they belong,” said Carol Walker, a wild horse photographer and advocate, who has adopted three wild mustangs herself. “You can set up traps to bait the horses in with hay and goodies, and then it’s really easy to give them the birth control… there’s no reason they can’t do that.”

But Leonard says Colorado is already the leader in wild horse birth control, darting more horses than in any other state, but he says those efforts still haven’t been enough, making the roundups, and holding facilities like the Cañon City complex, critical.

Allegations Of Mistreatment & Vet Report That Says Otherwise

But advocates like Walker have concerns the horses are being mistreated once they’re taken to Cañon City. Walker attended a Cañon City adoption event in August.

“I was horrified,” Walker said. “There was mud, muck, and urine, like ankle deep, there was not much hay, and when I went to the yearling pen… half of them were were skin and bones, including my little guy that I adopted.”

Walker’s yearling mustang, named Helios, just after adoption in August. Walker says this is the condition Helios was in when she adopted him from the Cañon City facility. (credit: Carol Walker)

Her concerns are compounded by previous deaths at the facility. Federal documents obtained by the American Wild Horse Campaign show during the span of four months in 2020, 24 horses died at Cañon City and another BLM holding facility. The deaths due to starvation, injuries, and colic.

Another horse, PJ – or Picasso Junior, the son of the revered wild horse named Picasso, was euthanized this autumn after being hauled to Cañon City from the Sand Wash Basin in September. The BLM said PJ had eye cancer that had spread to the bone. Advocates were upset by the death, claiming PJ could have been adopted out and properly treated.

“To see these horses that I love and know and that I’ve been following for five years, in this condition was just, it was horrendous,” Walker said.

CBS4 asked Leonard what his response would be to allegations the horses are mistreated.

“I have two vet reports within the last 30 days to say that the horses are treated quite well here, we have the expected amount body condition on the horses, feet conditions are right,” Leonard said. “I’ll let that report speak for itself.”

That report – provided to CBS4 Investigates during the Cañon City tour – says “the vast majority of the animals… were in good condition.”

The report, prepared by Dr. Albert Kane of the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services in Fort Collins on Oct. 7, said 50 of the 1,993 horses examined at the facility classified as “thin” and 12 classified as “very thin,” and those very thin horses were given separate pens with extra feed.

The vet recommended the facility “continue to sort horses by condition,” putting healthier horses together, and thinner horses in a separate pen. Walker says that wasn’t being done when she was at the facility’s adoption event in August. The report also recommended there be more feeding for the thin animals.

“The quality of the alfalfa hay being fed was very good and the manner in which the horses were fed was appropriate for the conditions present,” the vet report said. “Overall conditions at the facility were good with clean pens, feet in acceptable condition and animals with existing physical or medical problems identified and sorted into sick pens for veterinary examination and treatment as appropriate.”

Advocates are particularly concerned about the Red Desert horses, which were rounded-up last year and have lived at the facility longer. During the media tour, journalists were not shown the Red Desert horses. The vet report says horses from the Red Desert, Sand Wash Basin, and West Douglas were inspected.

The veterinarian reported “some mares in the Red Desert group had short tails, most likely from them being chewed by colts or other adult horses,” and the Red Desert horses would soon need hoof trimming.

Walker says the tail of the horse she just adopted in August was chewed, as well. Experts say tail chewing can be a sign of malnutrition, but some horses also chew tails out of boredom.

Limited Adoption Events Also A Concern To Advocates

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the number of adoption events has decreased from more than a dozen a year to only three events this year. Walker believes that’s a problem.

“There needs to be more transparency… they are not allowing people into the facility,” she said. “Allowing the public to see makes a big difference, because then they have to feed the horses. If they know that no one’s there, you know, no one’s overseeing what they’re doing, then they can just not care.”

The Wet Mountains overlook the pens of the East Cañon City Prison Complex. (credit: Mark Neitro, CBS4)

CBS4 reached out to Governor Polis’s office for a comment about the restrictions hindering adoption events. His office provided the following written statement:

“The DOC would be best to speak to what multitude of factors directly influences any adoption practices or schedules, but the Governor is committed to finding good homes for the horses. It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our daily lives in many ways so it’s certainly possible there have been fewer adoptions related to the pandemic. We look forward to working with the Bureau of Land Management to ensure these majestic horses find a home or pasture to graze and roam in the future.”

There are no other adoption events scheduled this year in Colorado.

Aside from the three events that have already taken place at Cañon City this year, about 95 horses that had been rounded up last year from the Red Desert in Wyoming were also recently sent to adoption events in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

The horses that aren’t adopted are sent to sanctuary ranches where they spend the remainder of their lives. This year, the BLM says it sent 70 horses to long-term pastures.

The BLM says it plans to increase the frequency of adoption events next year, by doing events outside of the facility, saying the ideal amount of adoptions a year would be 12.

Walker hopes that becomes a reality.

“They are majestic creatures that deserve to live their lives,” Walker said.

The first external adoption event next year in Cañon City will take place in February. For more information on upcoming adoption events, the BLM says to click here.

8 replies »

  1. Read the reasons why did Dr, Albert Kane recommended euthanizing a 10-year old bay stud!
    Who pays this guy?

    “…Today, we gather to discuss what may be the “Final Solution” for over 30,000 wild horses and burros now warehoused in government pens; the end of a long trail of easily verifiable malfeasance of such magnitude that only a Congressional investigation could begin to reveal.

    While I could spend my three minutes trying to cover hundreds of statistics and documents to expose BLM’s “management” that has led to the supposed crisis of “excess” wild horses and burros whose very lives are now in jeopardy, instead I am choosing to speak for one that the issue of euthanasia is now a moot point, as he is already dead.

    I hold in my hand a Memo dated July 28, 2008, written by Dr. Albert Kane, BLMs lead liason for their contract with Animal Plant Health Inspection Services. In this memo, Dr. Kane explains why he recommended euthanizing a 10-year old bay stud during the recent removals of the Nevada Wild Horse Range wild horses.

    These are the reasons cited by Dr. Kane that authorized the killing of this wild stallion.

    *He did not stay close or mix with other horses.

    *He was very aggressive towards other horses.

    *He ran past BLM personnel when they were trying to sort horses.

    *He showed no fear or “respect” for humans.

    *These characteristics were deemed more dangerous than “normal” wild characteristics.

    Instead of releasing this one lone stallion back out on a range of 1.3 million acres, BLM supported Dr. Kane’s recommendation to put a bullet in his head in case he was gathered again and posed the same “risk” in the future.

    In reading the official documents published on Wild Horse & Burro Management over the last several years, it is easy to see, too often an utter lack of respect is given by those charged with safeguarding these magnificent wild animals held in trust for the American people.

    It is also easy to see these government officials have no fear of the public, of blatantly subverting the laws that govern them or of being held accountable for their decisions.

    And so, I would like to recommend following Dr. Kane’s lead as the agency has become aloof from other people, have demonstrated extremely aggressive behavior towards wild horses and burros in the WH&B Program and therefore, they too should be “put down” to relieve the public’s suffering from continued mis-management, as their wildly uncontrolled behavior is now posing a serious danger to the American people and to our wild horses and burros they were suppose to protect.

    Cindy MacDonald
    November 17, 2008″

    Liked by 1 person


    We are spending many million$$$ to keep them secreted when some inexpensive cameras would go a long ways to ease tensions and improve care. We all need to ask why isn’t this happening?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If anyone from CH 4 or other media is reading this, please do a followup in the Sand Wash about the conditions and numbers of livestock there AFTER the unprecedented recent wild horse roundup. The public’s horses by law are not to be second in line for resources in their legal homelands. What is happening on the ground there now? The public should be provided both sides of this story.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, IcySpots!


      I would also like to add go-pro type cameras should be on ALL aerial flights during WH&B observations by BLM & USFS and ESPECIALLY during wild horse and burro captures.

      WHY isn’t this being done?

      Because it would prove without a doubt the animal abuse forced upon our wild ones by these agencies’ that are in charge of PROTECTING them.

      The United States District Court, D. Columbia ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, District Judge. stated: “It would be anomalous to infer that by authorizing the custodian of the wild free roaming horses and burros to “manage” them, Congress intended to permit the animals’ custodian to subvert the primary policy of the statute by harassing and killing and capturing and removing from the wild the very animals that Congress sought to protect from being killed and harassed and captured and removed from the wild.”

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Horses have been known to be great teachers for prison inmates. There are a few successful programs in the USA. Don’t know exactly what is going on here, because there are not enough comparison photos, but under proper supervision and instruction, horses and inmates can be a good thing.

    They are letting out prisoners across the country into communities, way before they are prepared to receive them. We are importing 1.7 MILLION illegal aliens into our communities, with no oversight. WHY does anyone think this administration will do or even cares to do right by these horses, when it is harming it’s own people with every policy they have? They are stealing money from programs to help these horses and giving it to programs they care about! Wake Up and come up with solutions and ability to act on their behalf without depending on a corrupt government.


    • This administration is essentially no different than what our wild horses have endured for the past 50 years. If that simple fact doesn’t give everyone a clearer idea of the layers of corruption from both parties, then nothing will. It is also true that there are good ideas being widely circulated, and also utterly ignored by leaders in both parties. A pox on them all.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. we need mass law suit on are government its legal. to get president att. need to go big stay home . mass lawsuit and stand off refuse to leave the gates public road assesses photo every truck hauler and worker going and coming and share on public midea its legal! protest the blm roads !


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