By Sharyn Cornelius
The call to rescue hundreds of wild horses from slaughter went out on Friday, August 16, 2013. A total of 467 horses had been captured by the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone tribe with the approval of the U.S Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and delivered to the Fallon Livestock Exchange. Some belonged to the tribe and were marked with their brand, but others, unbranded and therefore probably federally-protected wild horses from the neighboring Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Little Owyhee Herd Management Area, had been rounded up as well. On Saturday they would all be run through the auction which is frequented by numerous kill-buyers. If purchased by the kill-buyers, the horses would be transported to Mexico or Canada to be slaughtered.
A coalition of Nevada wild horse advocacy groups sprang into action, filing suit to stop the sale of the unbranded horses and calling for concerned citizens to demonstrate on behalf of the horses at the Livestock Exchange. They also sought donations to purchase as many of the wild horses as they could.
Late Friday night a federal court judge in Reno granted the coalition a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking the sale of the unbranded horses. U.S. District Court Judge Miranda M. Du found: “Plaintiffs have shown serious questions …that wild horses were improperly rounded up during the gather from August 11-13, 2013. Plaintiffs have demonstrated an immediate threat of irreparable harm if the status quo is not maintained, that is the sale of wild horses and their possible slaughter. . . . The public interest is served when the Court maintains the status quo to ensure wild horses are not improperly removed and auctioned for sale to potentially be slaughtered because of an agency action.”
The TRO prohibited the sale of all unbranded horses until the hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, August 21, 2013.
“Judge Du has stepped in to do what the federal government refused to do: act to prevent federally protected wild horses from being sold at a slaughter auction,” said Suzanne Roy, Director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. “We are grateful for this federal court decision, but remain outraged by the federal government’s complicity in this dirty operation that has sentenced hundreds of horses to horrific deaths at slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico.”
“Many of these horses are wild horses who were removed from federal lands. They were denied federal protection under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and the judge has taken a stand for all those mares, foals, yearlings and mature stallions who are a day away from being sold to kill buyers and sent to slaughter,” said Ellie Phipps Price, AWHPC supporter.
“We want to get to the bottom of this and understand how wild horses may have been compromised through stealth negotiations between the federal government and the tribe,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom. “It is the legal responsibility of the Forest Service and the BLM to preserve and protect wild horses on our public lands. When wild horses roam outside of their designated Herd Management Areas, it should be the concern of these agencies to return them to their rangelands–not support covert horse trading deals sending wild horses to auction and slaughter.”
“Sometimes the fight to protect our wild horses is difficult and complex. This decision shows that when we all work together and stay the course, we can achieve our mutual goals,” said Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education. “I am proud to be part of this effort. Together, we can turn this around to save America’s mustangs on our public lands in the West.”
On Monday, August 19, 2013 Suzanne Roy emailed supporters that the 149 unbranded wild horses, identified by volunteers who inspected every pen, had been separated from those belonging to the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Reservation on Saturday morning and pulled from the sale.
“Sadly, until the SAFE Act is passed to ban horse slaughter, there is no legal way to protect privately owned horses sold for slaughter. In the end, approximately 316 horses were sold at Saturday’s auction. The kill buyers got about 200, while about 100 or so branded horses were rescued.
“It was devastating to see horses–including mature stallions and mares who had just had their young foals pulled from them–sold in lots to the kill buyers. We saw very lame horses, horses with what appeared to be spinal injuries barely able to stand, horses with gaping wounds on their chests, bloody faces, orphaned foals. There is no mistaking what a tragedy this was. But we also have to think about what has been achieved so far.
“Before we got involved, the Forest Service was going to round up 700-1000 horses and send them to the slaughter auction. This was a backroom deal to launder federally protected wild horses through a tribe and use federal dollars to send them to a slaughter auction, allowing the tribe to reap the profits. We stopped this action, and took a stand against these kinds of sordid backroom deals.
“Thanks to our legal and public relations efforts, the Feds pulled out of the roundup, and far fewer horses–approximately 467–were actually captured. Of those, 149 unbranded horses were pulled from the auction, and another 100+ horses were saved by hard working rescue groups.”
On Wednesday, August 21, 2013, Judge Du lifted the temporary restraining order, clearing the way for the sale of the 149 unbranded horses that had been pulled from the auction on Saturday. Wild horse advocates immediately began negotiating a purchase agreement with the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe which claimed ownership of the animal. Their offer was accepted on Friday, and Neda DeMayo of Return to Freedom agreed to provide homes for the 149 wild horses, including 16 mares and foals.
Over the next few days, caravans of volunteers, including Palomino Armstrong, founder of Chilly Pepper Miracle Mustang Equine Rescue in Shingletown, hauled the horses to their new homes in Nevada and California. She sent us the following email on Aug. 31. “Wow – what a trip. Put about 940 miles on my truck starting Friday. Mike and Jackie and Shirley and I took 13 pairs of mares and foals to their forever home in California. We left Shirley’s about 5:00 a.m., picked up the horses in Fallon and headed out.
“It was a pretty good trip, with a few weird noises on one truck, (but no real problem). Then we had a truck whip into the lane I was driving in. I didn’t even have time to think and whipped over into the next lane. Praise God there was a break in traffic. If there had been anyone beside us, we would have had a seriously deadly mess. Afterwards, shaking and close to tears, we pulled over to make sure the horses hadn’t been flung too hard. They were absolutely fine, PTL. I am so thankful that our prayers for a safe and blessed trip were answered.
We arrived at our destination about 4:00 in the afternoon and the horses unloaded calmly and walked happily over to start munching on hay. When we opened Shirley’s trailer, one little filly calmly looked out, and then decided to stop and have some yummies from her mom, nursing for a few moments before casually stepping out. God bless all of you for your prayers and good thoughts.