The Plight of the Pacific Northwest’s Mustangs

I wrote yesterday about the plight of so-called wild horses in the American west—how their over population has led to a movement to round them up and find them homes among people. If work could be found for them, they could possibly be saved from slaughter. Even though the federal government effectively prohibited horse slaughter in the United States in 2007, Native Americans are not bound by federal restraints. Because many of these horses are over-grazing reservation lands, tribes frequently round up mustangs and send them out of country to be slaughtered—usually to Canada.

The great irony for those of us who follow Jon’s work is that so much controversy over the New York carriage horses is driven by the human surety that a horse’s natural environment and highest ideal is to roam free on the open plains. There they can be free from work or human contact, living out their lives as part of a natural landscape. This appealing notion, compared to the image evoked by a horse “shackled” to a carriage or otherwise “imprisoned” in a tiny stall, has served as a powerful driver of some very ignorant assumptions. The first of these is that the appealing, even spiritual notion that horses are meant to roam freely and away from human contact is just, flat wrong.

What seems to be forgotten here is that horses are not native to North America. Yes, the ancestors of the modern horse roamed the continent at one time, but those smaller, proto-horses were driven to extinction about 10,000 years ago. The horses we see on the western plains today are actually feral horses, brought to the new world with the first Europeans, probably in the 1600’s. As horses escaped or were set loose, they formed herds and bred unchecked. And they became some of the largest herbivores competing with other species, both wild and domesticated, for limited graze lands. Although such lands seemed like a limitless resource even as recently as a century ago (especially after we all but eliminated the largest herbivores—the bison—from the equation), that is no longer the case. These horses’ continued existence in the wild is no more “natural” or intentional than the existence of a monkey colony in Florida (as Jennifer Bowman wrote about this week).

So now we are in a position where many of these horses are being rounded up and removed from the wild for their own survival and the survival of competing species. The highest ideal for these surplus horses? That homes can be found for them so that they can live out their lives in the company of people who will be able to care for their needs, people who will have work for them so that their relevance—and therefore their survival—can be assured.

But if that doesn’t work, animal rights activists have a vague notion that they can be sent to equine rescue farms. After all, these facilities are widely available and well-funded.

Aren’t they?


Photo: public domain from Pixabay