Horses packed tightly in holding pens outside Tooele, Utah. Photo by Jennifer MaHarry

The majority of our nation’s wild horses are no longer free. They are warehoused in cramped holding facilities in order to make room for cattle farms on public lands.

On September 9, 2016 the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recommended the unthinkable: killing the 45,000 captive wild horses and burros so that 40,000 more could be rounded up in their place.

Under pressure from widespread outcry, the BLM backed away on Wednesday from the panel’s recommendation. The government agency has a track record of betraying the public’s trust, however. “The BLM’s intention is best exemplified by the agency’s illegal sale of 1,800 wild horses [in 2015] to a known kill buyer (all horses were slaughtered in Mexico) and its subsequent promotion and financial rewarding of the BLM employee who oversaw these illegal transactions,” the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign stated in response to BLM’s announcement. As long as profits and cattle farmers’ interests continue to be a priority, the future of wild horses remains uncertain. As long as Americans’ infatuation with meat persists, so will the cycle of killing horses in order to kill cows.

LAIKA’s Fifth Issue detailed the plight of wild horses in our exclusive report “No Home on the Range” by Mark Hawthorne. Following, is an excerpt from that report, along with a selection of images and recollections by photographer Jennifer MaHarry that accompanied it. They illuminate the suffering these magnificent animals endure during round-ups, in holding facilities and at livestock auctions.


No Home on the Range
by Mark Hawthorne
an excerpt from LAIKA Issue Five

Fighting back tears, Deniz Bolbol recounts a gut-wrenching moment in her activism. As part of the nonprofit American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), she was in Twin Peaks, California, documenting a wild horse roundup carried out by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). For decades, the BLM — charged under the Department of the Interior with managing public federal lands — has been stampeding horses and burros off the landscape of 10 Western states and moving them to small pastures, where they will languish for the rest of their lives. A lucky few will find homes through the BLM’s adopt-a-horse program. Many others will die. BLM roundups are rife with controversy, but to Bolbol, nothing is more insidious about them than the taxpayer-funded tearing apart of equine families.

“When the horses come into the first pen at a roundup and the family is still together, everybody’s pretty quiet,” she says. “There’s not a lot of vocalization. But when they start separating the stallions from the mares and the babies from their moms, all the horses start talking. You know they are never going to see each other again.” It’s a scene she’s witnessed many times, but in Twin Peaks with her fellow activists, she felt her heart break.

You know they are never going to see each other again.

“We were at the temporary holding facility. They rounded up the horses, brought them into the trap pen, separated the mares from the males and the babies, loaded them up in different trailers, and then moved them to another location with a bunch of corrals for holding until they had a semi load ready. From there, they would take them to short-term holding. We were waiting as they were bringing in horses from the trap site, and this one stallion — we called him Atticus — he would lift his head up over the other stallions and give the loudest neigh, and there would be no response. Every two or three minutes, he would stretch his neck up and give a big neigh. Nothing. Then a trailer came by. Atticus gave another neigh. This time,” she says, her voice trembling, “one of the horses in the trailer neighed back. I said, ‘Oh my god, it’s his mare!’ But it wasn’t. It was his baby. Then the next trailer came with his mare, and the three of them were neighing. We all sat there and were all in tears. It was just so sad. That experience has stayed with me as symbolic of what these horses lose.”  The full feature can be found in our 5th issue.


Anatomy of a Roundup
by Jennifer MaHarry
an excerpt from LAIKA Issue Five’s “No Home on the Range”

Helicopter chase of wild horses by Bureau of Land Management

Photo by Jennifer MaHarry

Helicopter Chase
outside of Rock Springs, Wyoming (2014)

A hot, dry September day, and this herd had been relentlessly chased down by the BLM for more than an hour. They were exhausted and terrified of the noisy helicopter bearing down. This shot was the moment when they discovered there was nowhere else to run — they were being driven into a funnel-like trap leading to a pen, which led to a livestock truck. A foal who couldn’t keep up was left behind, and other horses died that day from either exhaustion or broken legs.


Wild horses trapped in chute by the BLM

Photo by Jennifer MaHarry

The Trap
Near Onaqui Mts., Utah (2013)

A chute-like “trap” funnels rounded-up horses toward pens that lead to a transport truck where they are culled and separated by age and gender. Within minutes, horses are transported to a government holding facility where they’re further sorted and branded or injected with an infertility vaccine. From there, they go to permanent holding where the public is no longer allowed to see them unless they go up for adoption, which happens less than 2% of the time. Any horse over 10 years old is killed.

Wild horses confined in holding pens

Photo by Jennifer MaHarry

Government Holding Facility
Outside of Tonapah, Utah (2012)

Utter hopelessness was the feeling I got from this young mustang as he nuzzled another yearling for reassurance. I recognized him from the roundup from just an hour earlier and wondered where his mother was. I had watched the BLM separate him and his mother at the trap site and witnessed their desperation to stay together at a level on par to any human mother and child being broken apart.

Mother and baby wil horse kill auction

Photo by Jennifer MaHarry

Fallon Livestock Exchange
Nevada (2013)

110 degree sweltering heat with no shade made my heart pound for two hours as I took pictures. I couldn’t fathom lasting another hour, and these horses were there day after day. This mother and baby shared a moment before they were both auctioned off for slaughter. Nothing could prepare me for the absolute innocence, yet horrible reality, of that moment. This scene is still just as heart-wrenching to look at as it was the day I photographed it.

You can help the wild horses by withdrawing your support from the meat industry, regardless of whether the meat comes from factory farms or is “humanely-raised” or “grass-fed.” Contact your representatives in Congress and tell them that you as a constituent care about this issue. Ask them to protect wild horses and not favor ranching interests. Contact the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and tell her wild horses on public lands should be listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act (email feedback@ios.doi.gov or call 202-208-3100). Sign petitions and speak up for wild horses.

Posted by Julie Gueraseva