By Diane Ward
An estimated two to five million mustangs spanned the states up to the 1900’s. However their population declined drastically as domestic livestock competed with them for resources. The public and government viewed the mustangs as excess to be slaughtered, and captured for military and personal use. The abuse included hunting from airplanes and poisoning. The mustangs were too large to occupy the continually shrinking land and in response in 1934 to 1963, the Grazing Service paid private contractors to kill the herds and allowed carcasses to be used for pet food. Ranchers were often permitted to round up any horses they wanted, and the Forest Service shot any remaining animals.
It was not till the first federal wild free-roaming horse protection law in 1959, or Public Law 86-234, that it was prohibited to use motor vehicles for hunting wild horses. This became known as the Wild Horse Annie act after Velma Bronn Johnston who campaigned against the cruel treatment of the mustangs. Humane treatment and protection of the mustangs was increased further by the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
Mustangs are now recognized by the United States Congress as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” However overpopulation and herd management is a continuing concern. Currently the Bureau of Land Management is in charge of monitoring and controlling the mustang herds. It was stated in the Salazar Wild Horse Initiative that the BLM “seeks nothing less than ensuring healthy herds of wild horses and burros thriving on healthy public rangelands, both now and for generations to come.”
More than 38,000 wild horses and burros were estimated in 201 by the BLM to be roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in up to10 Western states. Most mustang herds have no natural predators to keep their numbers regulated which can allow herd sizes to double about every four years. Because of this the BLM must remove thousands of animals each year to control population. The guidelines and techniques used to round up mustangs are strict and humane. For instance one method uses a “Judas horse” which is a trained horse which has been trained to lead wild horses into pen to be easily removed. Then the mustangs are given homes through adoption and are still protected under the act until the first year of ownership.
Since 2010 nearly 225,000 Mustangs have been adopted. Several programs that support mustangs have missions to further mustang adoptions, including the Extreme Mustang Makeover which is considered “Ultimate 90-Day Wild Mustang Training Competition,” and provides hundreds of trained mustangs to the public every year. The Mustang Heritage Foundation is a “public, charitable, nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating successful adoptions for America’s excess mustangs and burros.” Since 2007, the Mustang Heritage Foundation has placed more than 2,000 Mustangs in adoptive homes.
Mustang Heritage Foundation: http://www.mustangheritagefoundation.org/
Extreme Mustang Makeover: http://extrememustangmakeover.com/
U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management: