Breaking News: Major Federal Victory for Wild Horses and Burros

March 14, 2019

Today the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reinstated protections for wild horses and burros that had been removed in 2018. Since learning about a new policy rolled out in 2018 to relax sale requirements for wild horses and burros, the ASPCA has been urging the BLM to reinstate the prior protections. We feared that the new policy would put the lives of wild horses and burros at risk by enabling sales of large numbers of horses to bad actors. With 50,935 horses and burros living in pastures and corrals, we worried that thousands of horses and burros would disappear when buyers who contract with slaughterhouses over our borders realized they could turn a quick profit under this less protective policy. We applaud the BLM for taking our request seriously and for recognizing the benefits of their prior policy by reinstating that more protective approach today.

The 2018 Instruction Memorandum allowed 25 horses to be sold in a single purchase with little agency oversight and no set gap of time required between purchases—meaning the same individual could buy 25 horses again that very day. It is important that these animals, who have been removed from their homelands, are not then vulnerable to sale to slaughter under this government program—for the sake of the horses and burros and also to help support public trust for this management program. Reports to the agency of wild horses found in kill pens mere days after their sale date were starting to filter up to the BLM, demonstrating the risks we feared. Thankfully, the BLM took action to restore their more protective policy and help ensure this was not allowed to happen. 

We do not think these horses should necessarily live out their lives in pastures if they can find good homes, and we support the work of many excellent trainers and programs designed to give them a chance to do just that. Wild horses go on to have fabulous careers in diverse disciplines—a mustang was voted USEF Horse of the Year in 2018. Encouraging the appropriate placement of these adaptable and talented animals with good homes is a crucial portion of the program that can continue under the policy the BLM is returning to today. It is important, for the welfare of the horses and the trust of the public, that these animals be placed responsibly.

After a terrible scandal when a kill buyer obtained roughly 1,700 wild horses through the BLM sales program and sold them to slaughter, the public lost some faith in the integrity of the program. The BLM worked to restore it when they implemented the 2014 policy designed to prevent kill buyers from amassing wild horses and burros and funneling them to slaughter across our borders through a number of oversight mechanisms. Those included limiting the number of horses that one individual could purchase at one time to four horses, placing a minimum six-month time break between purchases, and requiring that field managers update and check a database that contains information regarding suspected bad homes for the animals. We are glad to see those protections back in place and to see the BLM taking this important step to affirm their commitment to these animals in their care. 

This is a very encouraging move by the agency, giving organizations like the ASPCA, and the general public, faith that they are working to do right by our treasured herds.