Equine Charities Unite for Worldwide Welfare Action

Source: The Donkey Sanctuary

“With 180 OIE member states now acknowledging the importance of working horses, donkeys and mules, the time is right for coordinated action to implement the standards around the world. “

photo courtesy of The Donkey Sanctuary

UK equine welfare charities Brooke, The Donkey Sanctuary, SPANA and World Horse Welfare today announce their first formal coalition.

Formed specifically to put policy into practice, the coalition aims to advise, motivate and support the implementation of the first ever global welfare standards for working horses, donkeys and mules. These landmark standards were approved by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in May 2016 following advocacy and technical support from Brooke and World Horse Welfare.

This is the first time all four major charities have formally joined forces. Although not law, these landmark changes finally give legitimacy to calls for equine welfare to be improved around the world.

Petra Ingram, CEO at Brooke, who spearheaded the formation of the coalition and will be its Chair for the first year, believes that it’s the right vehicle to bring the standards to life: “A respected champion of change can be the difference between success and failure when it comes to implementation. Our message to countries is: let us help; equine welfare is an ally of humanitarian issues.”

With 180 OIE member states now acknowledging the importance of working horses, donkeys and mules, the time is right for coordinated action to implement the standards around the world.

Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, Roly Owers, said “We know that horses, donkeys and mules are essential to hundreds of millions of human livelihoods, and it is heartening that the world is now recognising their versatility and importance.

“World Horse Welfare looks forward to working in partnership, bringing our influencing skills and 90 years of practical expertise gained helping equines around the world. The scale of the challenge to help 100 million working animals is so large that we must work together to get them the recognition and support they desperately need.”

As world-leading experts in equine welfare with a combined geographic reach covering the major populations of the world’s working equines, the four UK-based charities will provide a unique resource.

The coalition’s goal is to share a wealth of professional expertise and technical know-how by jointly developing training resources and working with governments, academics, communities and professionals to help put the standards into practice within the contexts of different countries, cultures and economies.

Geoffrey Dennis, Chief Executive of SPANA, said: “It is very encouraging that there is now international recognition for the working equines that play a fundamental role in supporting the livelihoods of millions of families worldwide.

“Through veterinary treatment, education and training for animal owners, SPANA works to improve the welfare of these vitally important horses, donkeys and mules across many countries. We are looking forward to working in partnership to ensure that the new standards are translated into practical support and action that makes a tangible difference to working animals and the communities that depend on them.”

The coalition’s work will use the skills the four organisations have in welfare assessment training; building capacity in equine owning communities; equipping service providers (including farriers, saddlers and vets) with the skills and tools required to provide affordable quality services. It supports universities in curriculum development, and postgraduate vets with continuing professional development; as well as raising awareness of the importance of working equids to human livelihoods with policy makers.

Mike Baker, CEO of The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “This is a fantastic milestone in global equine welfare standards. Our new coalition will really maximise welfare improvements as we share our skills, resources and experience. Millions of donkeys, horses and mules work extremely hard every day and it will be wonderful to highlight how vital they are for their human owners and communities.”

https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/press-release/equine-charities-unite

Amazing Recognition of Death in Wild Horses

reported by Salt River Wild Horse Management Group

“Sad, but beautiful. …”

“Many times I have heard our good friend, Ginger Kathrens, say that our fight for the wild horses is all about their Freedom and Family…this story speaks to the heart and verifies that Ginger is spot on in her description of what wild horses are all about.  Many thanks to all the great people at Salt River Wild Horse Management Group for sharing this poignant moment with us.” ~ R.T.


We did our very best today, to help a young wild mare who’s baby had gotten stuck and died during delivery. Our experienced field team had jumped into action and our vet was getting there as fast as she could, but sadly the mare went into septic shock and passed, the baby had simply been stuck for too long. She was a beautiful dun mare, just 2 years old, her name was Clydette, daughter of Bonnie.

But just as nature gave us heavy hearts and reminded us of how harsh it can be sometimes, it then immediately showed us how amazing it is also. So we’d like to concentrate on that, as it gave us all goosebumps.

Right after we moved away from her body, we witnessed how her band came and nuzzled her, after which the roan, her lead stallion, cried out for her very loudly. Shortly after that, they moved away from her body but stayed close.

Other bands heard that call and suddenly came out of nowhere and then knew exactly where the lifeless body lied, even while there were no other bands around when she passed.

What happened next was amazing; the other bands stood in line taking turns saying their goodbye’s. First one band, then another. Then the two lead stallions of those two bands got into a short power struggle. Then you can see how Clydette’s lead stallion comes running back one last time letting out a short scream in a last effort to protect her, or perhaps to tell everyone that she was his.

It takes a most highly intelligent species to understand and actually mourn death. We have seen bands mourn their losses before, but for other bands to come and mourn her death also was simply awe inspiring. These animals have evolved to have amazing survival skills and very close and protective family bonds. In this natural behavior, lies true scientific value.

This video was taken after her own band (with the powerful roan) had already said their goodbyes and walked on. This is approximately 30 minutes after she had died. We invite everyone to draw their own conclusions.

We thank all of the bystanders and public who were very considerate, helpful and respectful in particular the lady who called this in. Our emergency number is (480)868-9301

Rest in peace Clydette and little Tootie.

(Baby was named by member Destini Rhone who lost her aunt Tootie on this same day, rest in peace aunt Tootie also.)

House Leadership Renews Push to Reinstate Horse Slaughter in US

Source: Equine Welfare Alliance PR

Chicago (EWA)– EWA has learned that Mr. Douglas A. Glenn, Director, Office of Financial Management, Department of the Interior, has notified his department in a letter dated 22 February, that the GAO (Government Accountability Office) has been tasked to study any changes in the state of equine welfare in the US from 2010 to the present.

The request to the GAO was made by the Chair of the House Agriculture Committee and the Chair of House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration.

Attached to the letter was a statement of the scope of the work to be performed, including addressing four questions:

  1. What is known about changes and trends in the U.S. horse market since 2010?
  2. What impact, if any, has the prohibition on USDA funding for horse slaughter inspection had on horse welfare and on states, local governments and Indian tribes?
  3. What is known about the number of abandoned and unwanted horses in the U.S. and associated environmental impacts?
  4. What is the current capacity of animal welfare organizations and shelters to accept and care for unwanted and abandoned horses?

The study request clearly marks the first step in a renewed attempt to lift a ban on the funding for the ante-mortem inspection of slaughter horses. The funding provision is in the annual budget, and thus must be reintroduced whenever a new budget is adopted. Without inspections, it has been illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption off and on since 2007.

The request is essentially identical to a GAO study made at the request of Roy Blunt (R-MO), Herb Kohl (R-WI), and Jack Kingston (R-GA) in 2009. The resulting report (GAO 11-228), took almost two years to complete and was not released until the eve of a critical budget vote in 2011. Though devoid of welfare data, the report claimed that equine abuse and neglect had soared, falsely implying a 60% increase in Colorado after the closing of the domestic slaughter plants.

GAO 11-228 then became the key proof used by proponents of reinstating the inspections funding. It was constantly cited as showing that the defunding had been a mistake, and it resulted in the Congress reinstating inspections funding in the 2012 budget. The funding remained in place until 2014, by which time EWA had exposed the fact that the original GAO report had fraudulently used the Colorado data, and that there had been no increase in abuse and neglect. Five slaughter houses applied for licenses to slaughter horses, but none opened before the funding was again withdrawn in 2014.

Horse slaughter faces bipartisan opposition in Congress, making a report such as GAO 11-228 essential to justify bringing it back to US soil. In the period since domestic slaughter ended, horses have been shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. However the US does not track the drugs given to horses, and this has resulted in the EU (European Union) banning Mexican horse meat and placing strict quarantine on slaughter horses in Canada.

John Holland, President of EWA, explains “The study is preordained to meaninglessness, since there was virtually no significant change in the number of horses being exported for slaughter over the proposed study period (112,850 in 2010 and 114,091 in 2016). But this ignores the reality of the cauldron of deceit that our government has become. Those requesting the study merely need a document to wave over their heads while they passionately berate their colleagues for causing a nonexistent tragedy. And no doubt, the once trustworthy GAO will produce a document concluding that the exile of the horse slaughter industry resulted in a disaster, tantamount to the Bowling Green massacre.”

The Equine Welfare Alliance (EWA) is a dues-free, 501c3 umbrella organization with 330 member organizations, the Southern Cherokee Government and over 1,200 individual members worldwide in 23 countries. The organization focuses its efforts on the welfare of all equines and the preservation of wild equids. www.equinewelfarealliance.org

New Requirements for Export of Horse Meat to the EU Now in Effect

Published on The Canadian Food Inspection Agency Website

“Horses should not be shipping straight to Canada to slaughter any longer, without residing in Canada for 6 months…”

March 1, 2017: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is reminding industry that the European Union (EU) has implemented a six month residency requirement for horses imported into Canada effective today.

According to new requirements, Canadian establishments that export horse meat to the EU must make sure that horses imported into Canada are resident in Canada for six months before slaughter and export.

The CFIA will only provide certificates for the export of horse meat to the EU that meet the EU‘s new six month residency requirement.

This new requirement does not impact food safety. It is mandatory for every horse (domestic or imported) presented for slaughter in a Canadian federally registered equine facility to have a record of all vaccinations and medications given in the previous six months. This is referred to as the Equine Information Document.

Associated Links

http://defendhorsescanada.org/

BLM and University of Wyoming Continue Dangerous Radio Collar Study on Wild Mares

Source:  www.wildhoofbeats.com

“They are disturbing the horses, and risking the lives of these mares with this dangerous radio collar study.  They can die from getting tangled up with these collars.  Direct observation is much more humane and more relevant.  I am hoping that all these mares survive the two years they have to endure wearing these collars, and that I will see them with other horses this summer.”     –  Carol Walker

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Notice the collar is not behind the ears, but much further down

by Carol Walker, Dir. of Field Documentation for Wild Horse Freedom Federation

On Sunday I headed to Rock Springs, as I was told I would have an opportunity to view the release of the next group of wild mares back into Adobe Town with radio collars on their necks. If you have not been following my blogs on this you may be wondering incredulously “why would anyone do anything so cruel and dangerous to wild mares?”
Well read on and you will see.

Last week, the last mare to be released, Dove, who ran off with her family, had a radio collar that had slipped way down her neck, into what is NOT the correct position for the collar. Many people have been commenting on this, and I am still waiting for an explanation from USGS and the BLM about this. Here are the guidelines for the radio collars:

“The collar should rest just behind the ears of the equid and be tight enough so it does not slip down the neck, yet loose enough that it does not interfere with movement when the neck is flexed. The collar must fit snugly when the head is up to minimize rubbing. USGS researchers used 0-1 finger between collar and neck, depending on season collar is deployed to give consideration to the potential for weight gain. Other studies (e.g. Committee on Wild Horse and Burro Research 1991) have had problems with the fitting of collars due to animals gaining weight in spring, or losing weight in winter, causing collars to become too tight or too loose. In the USGS study, researchers did notice collars were looser or tighter at different times during the year, but it did not affect the behavior of collared mares or jennies, or cause sores or wounds on mares or jennies. Whenever collars are deployed they should be fitted by experienced personnel who can attach the collar quickly but proficiently to minimize handling stress on the animal.”

I am very concerned that this collar must be too loose, can slide around, and probably quite easily get caught in a hoof or a branch or a cliff or a fence. In my opinion, the University needs to immediately trigger the mechanism that they claim can remotely release the collar. I will keep you posted when and if I receive a response and explanation.

10 wild horses from Adobe Town are still at the Rock Springs facility. The longer they are there. the more likely they are to get diseases or become injured. They need to release these horses back into Adobe Town, where they were captured, immediately.

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The first mare to be released

There were three mares in the trailer Monday morning as I followed the line of BLM and researchers out to the release sites. I was again the only member of the public along. We drove for over 2 1/2 hours before arriving at our first stop, which was in the northeast portion of Adobe Town, very near where the last mare, Dove had been released with her family.

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Dulcinea, looking calm

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She trots down the road toward the incoming family band

This grey mare was older, and moved slowly out of the trailer, no panic for her, just curiosity as she looked back at us. I am calling her Dulcinea. She moved along familiarizing herself with where she was, for she had been trapped probably 15 miles from this area. Suddenly we see a family of wild horses moving along the hillside straight toward the road. She sees them, and lifts her head, then trots across the road toward them.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE HERE.

Link to Daily Gather Reports:

https://www.blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/herd-management/gathers-and-removals/2017-Adobe-Town-Wild-Horse-Gather

Congress Members Ask for Anti-Soring Rule Approval

By Pat Raia as published on The Horse

“Department of Engraving and Printing failed to publish it before former President Barack Obama left office…”

Effects of Horse SoringMore than 150 Congress members have signed a letter asking the Trump administration to expedite its final approval of a new USDA rule banning the use of pads, chains, and other action devices sometimes used in the training of Tennessee Walking Horses.

The new rule would boost the way the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service enforces the Horse Protection Act (HPA), which forbids soring.

Approved on Jan. 13, just before the Trump administration took office, the rule prohibits the use of action devices, including chains weighing more than 6 ounces, on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. The final rule also forbids the use of boots other than soft rubber or leather bell boots and quarter boots used as protective devices and associated lubricants. It also prohibits the use of “pads and wedges on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions, except for therapeutic pads and wedges.”

The ban was slated to take effect in February, but the federal Department of Engraving and Printing failed to publish it before former President Barack Obama left office. As a result, the final rule was among other regulations put on hold pending review by the Trump administration.

In a Feb. 9 letter to President Donald Trump, a bipartisan group of 154 Congress members led by Representative Ted S. Yoho, DVM (R-FL), and Representative Kurt Schrader, DVM (D-OR) asked his administration to finalize the rule.

“It is unfortunate that a clerical error led to the finalized rule having to be withdrawn,” the letter said. “We request that your administration finalize the work already performed during the previous Congress, so as not to duplicate efforts, and consider expediting its reintroduction and finalization along with publication in the Federal Register.”

The letter also asks the Trump administration to support Prevent All Soring Tactics Act. Initially introduced in 2013 and reintroduced in 2015, the act would have amended the HPA to forbid trainers from using action devices and performance packages, increased federal penalties for anyone who sores a horse, and required the USDA to assign a licensed inspector if a Tennessee Walking Horse show management indicated its intent to hire one. The legislation died in previous Congressional sessions.

http://www.thehorse.com/articles/38833/congress-members-ask-for-anti-soring-rule-approval

Feel Good Sunday: Clydesdales Help Purina Deliver Surprise to Horse Shelter in Need

Source: Purina Mills TV

“Annually, many Americans wait to see the ultimate and final “Big Game” of the year which just concluded in our own backyard, here, in Houston.  But also there are many who may not be football fans but annually look forward to the next installation of the heart tugging, mini-sagas put forth by Budweiser featuring the gentle giants of the equine world, the Clydesdales.  This year, the fans of horses were disappointed when Budweiser benched the ponies and went a totally different direction and suffered poor reviews on their attempt to document immigration history.  The result was a lose/lose on both-sides with Bud slipping in the ratings and the Clydesdales fans left without a horse fix, so we are here to help correct that oversight, today.

We issue a “tissue alert” in advance and would also like to add that we are not endorsing any one horse rescue but instead tipping our hats to all of the fine organizations out there filled with good folks who donate their time, their money and their lives to the effort of finding good forever homes and futures for equines in need.  There is no need to identify them as you already know who you are and we love each and everyone of you bright points of compassion, caring and love.  May you have a wonderful ‘Feel Good Sunday’ and never give up the good fight.  Keep the faith!” ~ R.T.

300 Former Wild Horses in South Dakota Need Homes as Deadline Looms

Source: ISPMB/Emergency Adoption Mission

“The ‘Hallelujah Horses’ Need Your Help!”

Volunteers are scrambling to find homes for hundreds of wild horses in South Dakota that were spared a possible trip to the slaughterhouse but are now suffering through a harsh winter.

The horses, some of them blind, were once kept at a troubled South Dakota sanctuary. Now a small group of volunteers from across the country is working 10 hours a day to feed and care for animals, using rented plows to carve paths through 15-foot snowdrifts. In a nearby hotel room, other volunteers are sorting through adoption applications and networking through social media, desperately trying to find homes for the horses before they are forced to leave the property next month.

“We are working to get the whole herd out of the 15-foot snow. Some are blind and are walking out right over the fences. It’s really hard to work with so many horses with so many problems,” said Elaine Nash, director of horse rescue organization Fleet of Angels, who is spearheading the operation. “Every time we get over one hurdle there’s another one waiting for us.”

Some 500 horses have already been placed in sanctuaries and ranches across the country, from Arizona and Oregon to California and Minnesota. But the effort near Lantry, in northern South Dakota, isn’t done.

The remaining 300 wild horses could be more difficult to sell or have adopted, Nash said. Nearly 200 are stallions that need gelding before anyone will want them. Dozens are old and have health problems. Others are blind from what Nash suspects was toxic farm runoff in their drinking pond.

But Nash was grateful for the response so far to the neglected herd. Many of the less desirable horses have already found homes, and Nash is hopeful that most will be out of South Dakota by their deadline.

When Nash first spread the word in October, This Old Horse rescue in Hastings, Minnesota, agreed to take two older mares.

They wound up taking seven stallions, all blind, instead.

“I don’t know how it happened,” joked Nancy Turner, board president of This Old Horse. “Elaine is really good at convincing people.”

Turner said it’s not easy. The horses are wild, after all, and need special handling and transportation. Most have never been inside a barn or trailer.

“But part of it for me is that these aren’t poor needy horses,” Turner said. “They are magnificent. I thought that we could celebrate them rather than see them as poor things that should probably be put down.”

More than 800 horses were impounded in October at the nonprofit International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros after a state veterinarian found they were being neglected and a former ranch employee said they were being starved to death. All but 20 were eventually surrendered by their owner.

By mid-December, a third of the horses had been adopted or sold while the other 550 or so were being held as collateral by county officials seeking reimbursement for the cost of caring for the horses. When it didn’t come, the counties started planning to auction off the rest to recoup the cost, making animal rights groups fear many of the horses would be brought to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.

Fleet of Angels and other animal rights groups raised the $78,000 still owed to the counties and stopped the auction. They then assumed the costs and responsibility of caring for the horses

The group is now gathering, microchipping, collecting blood samples and trimming the feet of the remaining horses and gelding the stallions. Meanwhile, they still need financial support to feed and care for a herd burning through $1,000 in hay each day.

Nash said horses won’t be euthanized unless they have broken bones or serious conditions — even horses that might be difficult to adopt.

“We know that someone will come forward and give them good homes. People care about these horses and about making this mission a success,” she said.

Note: “200 stallions” was the total number of the stallions out of the total 810.  Also, about 95% of the horses look great after receiving $150,000 worth of hay since mid-October.

UW, BLM to Begin Controversial and Inhumane Wild Horse Movement Study

Source: UWYO.edu

“From the destruction of wild horse’s genitals to the installation of dangerous collars the rogue federal agency, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), continues to enlist the aide of America’s institutions of higher learning to be partners in their crimes.” ~ R.T.

It works on cows

“It works on cows, duuuuuhhhh!”

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the University of Wyoming are beginning a study to learn more about wild horse seasonal use and movements in the Adobe Town herd management area (HMA).

The study will begin with a bait-trap gather and radio collaring of up to 30 wild mares during February. No wild horses will be removed during this nonhelicopter gather.

UW scientists Derek Scasta and Jeff Beck, both in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, are heading the research. Jake Hennig, a Ph.D. student in the department, also will participate. They will use the information gleaned from the radio collars to learn more about how wild horses interact with their environment. Specifically, the researchers will study migration patterns and herd movements in the HMA. The BLM says it will use the study results to ensure wild horse herds continue to thrive on healthy rangelands.

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture has provided $120,000 to start the research. The BLM also has contributed funding.

Bait-trapping involves setting up temporary corrals within the HMA to attract wild horses safely into the corral. When a certain number of horses has entered the pen, the gate to the corral is closed. Once the horses are gathered, trained personnel will load and transport selected mares to the Rock Springs Wild Horse Holding Facility. After the horses arrive at the facility, staff from the U.S. Geological Survey will place collars with GPS tracking devices on the horses. The horses will then be returned to the HMA.

The 20-30 mares that BLM will select to wear GPS collars will be 5 years old or older. All other wild horses gathered will be immediately released shortly after the selected mares are sorted and held for collaring. All mares will be released at or near the same location where they were gathered. The selected contractors are in the process of identifying trap site locations and will begin the bait-trapping process soon.

Corrals could be set up in stages over a period of days to allow the horses to grow accustomed to the enclosures. About three to five trap sites are required to distribute radio-collared mares throughout the entire HMA. Bait-trapping is an effective method for capturing small numbers of selected horses.

The number of people in the trap area will be limited to key personnel to ensure a successful and safe gather for the horses.

Public viewing opportunities will be limited. Public viewing is always allowed at the wild horse holding facility overlook in Rock Springs, where the mares will be taken to be collared. Public viewing also will be allowed at the release sites of the collared mares. The BLM will keep a list of people who would like to attend the releasing of the collared mares and notify them at least one day before the releases. Media and interested public can view and photograph the mares being released with the GPS collars. To add your name to the list for public viewing, contact BLM Public Affairs Officer Tony Brown at (307) 352-0215.

The BLM’s Rawlins Field Office released the decision record and finding of no significant impact for the Adobe Town HMA Wild Horse Movements and Habitat Selection Research Gather Environmental Assessment Nov. 9, 2016. The decision was to allow enough wild horses to be gathered by bait trapping, so up to 30 selected mares could be outfitted with GPS collars. The BLM will use two separate contractors to conduct the bait-trapping operations.

Click (HERE) to view BLM Press Release

Wild Horses Deserve a Better Film than ‘Unbranded’

by Libby Blanchard as published on High Country News

“I found the documentary disturbing. Scenes of negligence towards the mustangs abound…”

Unbranded CrueltyA few nights ago, I downloaded the acclaimed 2015 film Unbranded. This crowd-funded film, made by Fin and Fur Productions from Bozeman, Montana, depicts the journey of four young men who ride mustangs from the Mexican border up to Canada, traveling through some of the most beautiful public lands in the American West.

Unbranded is marketed as a celebration of the American mustang, both wild and under saddle. It was featured at the Banff Mountain Film and Telluride Mountainfilm festivals, and continues to be promoted widely. Last year, it was a top download on iTunes and gained over 150,000 likes on Facebook. Outside Magazine and the Los Angeles Times gave it glowing reviews.

But I found the documentary disturbing. Scenes of negligence towards the mustangs abound. A dog drives a horse to jump a barbed wire fence. The horse’s hind leg gets ensnarled in the wire, and the animal struggles to pull free while the boys watch.

Another scene shows a horse limping from a torn muscle in its hindquarters, the after-effect of setting him loose to graze with his halter on. Any real horseman knows that a horse can easily catch its hoof in the webbing of a halter negligently left on, resulting in severe and potentially permanent injuries.

But the most egregious scene is when the boys force their horses up dangerous terrain. Someone notes that the route is a bad idea, but no one has the maturity or leadership to turn back. After struggling up the steep mountain face, one horse — unable to gain purchase in the loose, unstable footing — kneels down in exhaustion. When the boys provoke it back onto its feet, the mustang struggles for a foothold. Unable to find purchase, it tumbles off the mountainside, rolling through the air down a significant drop before crashing onto flatter ground.

At this point, I turned off the film, disgusted. When I finished it later, I discovered — unsurprisingly, given the negligence and ignorance throughout — that one of the horses dies. This fatal injury, likely a cervical spine fracture, is never explained. Instead, the death is romanticized by these self-identified cowboys, who say it is “satisfying to know that he died in the wild where he belonged, not in a holding pen.” Yet there’s little moral high ground for the cowboys to stand on: A horse was fatally injured under their care, a circumstance that is neither common nor acceptable on a horse-packing trip.

The film’s storyline is also troubling. A veterinarian and various Bureau of Land Management officials talk about how hard it is to protect public lands from overgrazing while still conserving the mustang as an American icon. The solution: moving “surplus” mustangs from the range to federally run holding pens to prevent further degradation of the land and starvation of the horses. Yet the filmmakers make only a slight attempt to explore the contentious political context of too many mustangs roaming the public land. The title, Unbranded, by the way, makes little sense as the BLM freeze-brands every horse that it rounds up for adoption or life in a holding pen.

The only comprehensive thread woven through the documentary is the account of four fame-seeking boys who disregard the welfare of their horses to inflate their own egos. Instead of being exalted, the American mustang is treated as a cheap, easily replaceable commodity available for irresponsible use.

While some reviewers have criticized the choices of the protagonists, virtually all conclude that the film is redeemable because of its cinematography. Unbranded does depict sweeping vistas, but this doesn’t excuse the behavior of the people we’re watching. As Aristotle observed, when storytelling goes bad, spectacle is substituted for substance. Richly painted sunsets and the drama of needlessly frightened, panicking horses become ends in themselves.

As wrong as it was for these young men to treat their mustangs neglectfully, it is also unfortunate for the public to accept this behavior. To celebrate this documentary at film festivals, to mount no outcry about it in over a year, is to condone behavior that is neither common nor acceptable. Those of us who love the West and its mustangs should stay away from this documentary.