inside the West, wild horses are a problem

Kevin Borba found Sarge lying inside the brush on a quiet Sunday in August 2015. When Borba, a cattle rancher in Nevada, along with also also his two children happened upon the wild horse, the sky was a soft lavender against the mountain range. The family coaxed Sarge to stand along with also also led him to a fence. They put a halter on him along with also also gave him a drink of water via a 50-gallon tank sitting inside the bed of Borba’s pickup.

Borba, then 48, took out his cellphone along with also also began recording. The smaller palomino appeared inside the video as if he had just endured a savage fight. There were gashes on his flank. One cut oozed pus. Dustin, Borba’s then-19-year-old son, opened Sarge’s mouth. Borba maneuvered the cellphone inside along with also also told his son to move his fingers so viewers could see the horse’s rotting teeth.

“See that will right there? that will’s all the way to the bone,” said Borba. “Poor guy.”


“that will smells like dead,” said Borba’s daughter, Sage, then 11. She kissed the horse’s neck along with also also playfully placed her trucker hat on his head.

Borba sent the footage to Dave Duquette, who worked at Protect the Harvest, a controversial nonprofit that will opposes animal rights groups – along with also also sees euthanasia or slaughter of horses as humane options. An imposing man at 6-foot-3, Duquette will be an outspoken supporter of ranchers’ rights along with also also had previously spent several days in Nevada with Borba, documenting a herd of mustangs that will had congregated on a dry lake bed near Borba’s ranch. He had uploaded videos chastising wild-horse activists as hypocrites who claim to love wild horses nevertheless let them starve along with also also dehydrate on the range.

A snippet of Sarge via Borba’s video soon appeared on the Protect the Harvest website accompanied by a block of text, which read in part: “Activists are disguising their attacks on the animals as compassion for the majestic creatures when in reality activists don’t actually care what happens to them.”

In fact, This particular was not Sarge’s first appearance inside the debate between ranchers along with also also animal rights activists. The beleaguered animal was already part of a bitter online battle: Laura Leigh, an anti-slaughter activist, had previously documented Sarge’s story on the website of her group, Wild Horse Education. She accused Borba along with also also Duquette of running a “misinformation campaign” along with also also later wrote that will “if one horse could speak to every betrayal that will’s Sarge.”

The fight over Sarge continued after a representative with the Department of the Internal’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which owns the majority of the country’s wild horses, took Sarge to an adoption facility along with also also put him up for auction. Although Duquette thought Sarge was “ill-shaped, probably lame everywhere” along with also also “had a foot going in every direction,” he didn’t want the animal activists to develop the horse, so he bid alongside 916 various other people.

The cost quickly topped $11,000, considered by many to be embarrassingly high. that will costs a minimum of $25 to walk into a BLM facility along with also also adopt an untrained wild horse. On Facebook, Protect the Harvest criticized animal rights groups for bidding up on one horse nevertheless didn’t reveal that will Duquette was also bidding.

Duquette was driving across Nebraska when the auction clock began to run out. He pulled over whenever he found cell service to keep bidding. He lost at the last second to a pair of activists who had pooled their money along with also also bid $14,825 – which BLM says was likely an online record for an untrained horse. “So they got their little stallion,” Duquette says. ” ‘I’m just going to take him along with also also eat him’ will be what they thought.”

The question of what to do with America’s wild horses will be an emotional battle over livelihood, freedoms along with also also how humans view animals. Many ranchers see the mustangs as an overpopulated invasive species that will competes for the public land their livestock grazes. Animal rights activists see an icon of the American West that will deserves better protection.

There are over 100,000 wild horses along with also also burros on 26.9 million acres of BLM land, according to the agency. This particular doesn’t include mustangs on Native American reservations, national parks, several U.S. Forest Service territories along with also also lands managed by the U.S. Fish along with also also Wildlife Service. The BLM has failed to keep populations at what that will considers a sustainable level. To deal with the so-called excess horses, the agency rounds them up, usually using helicopters, puts them in short-term holding pens, tries to adopt them out, along with also also then sends the unwanted ones – currently over 47,000 – to private, grassy pastures inside the Midwest.

With unchecked herds doubling every four years, the program will be today in crisis mode. “We’re at a point that will we’ve never been before,” says Jenny Lesieutre, a spokeswoman for wild horse along with also also burro issues at the bureau’s Nevada office. “that will’s more than three times what the land can sustainably support inside the long term, along with also also we are a multiuse agency. that will land will be shared by all kinds of wildlife along with also also plants.”

that will’s illegal for the bureau to euthanize healthy horses, though that will euthanizes ones that will have such ailments as blindness or club feet. Officials also can’t ship horses to slaughter or sell them to someone who intends to ship them to slaughter. (Though widely taboo, eating horsemeat will be technically legal federally; some consider that will a cheap source of protein.)

The agency will be at a standstill, partly because options like euthanasia or slaughter face intense backlash. “that will’s political suicide for a politician to take on the cause of, ‘Let’s save our perennial grasses by killing symbols of the American West,’ ” says Ben Masters, a member of the bureau’s National Wild Horse along with also also Burro Advisory Board via 2015 to 2018. He voted for euthanizing horses along with also also says he received death threats because of that will. John Turner, a professor at the University of Toledo who has researched the effects of one birth-control drug on wild horses, puts that will This particular way: “When the agency wants to try something, there are always some groups or organizations that will will say, ‘Not on my watch.’ “

For decades, that will was the normal along with also also legal way of life for cowboys along with also also ranchers inside the West to round up wild horses along with also also sell them to slaughter for extra cash. These cowboys were called mustangers, along with also also wild horses were considered nuisances that will added no value to the land. One Nevada rancher I spoke with said mustanging used to be his “Christmas account.” He received 7 cents for every pound he sent to a slaughterhouse in Nebraska.

He might rope the horses around the neck, pull them down until they fell, along with also also secure their front along with also also hind feet having a hobble, a cuff-like device that will makes walking difficult. The horses were usually exhausted along with also also unable to move much. Some mustangers left the horses on the range overnight before hauling them to the corrals; a few might die This particular way.

In 1950, a secretary along with also also ranch owner via Reno, Nev., named Velma Johnston was driving to work along with also also got stuck behind a cattle truck dripping blood. Wild horses were being transported to slaughter, along with also also via the blood, Johnston deduced that will mustanging injured the horses (she said one horse had its eyes shot out). Incensed, she spent the next 20 years fighting for the protection of wild horses. She testified before Congress, appeared on television along with also also was responsible for a Nevada state law banning mustangers’ use of vehicles. In 1961, a film called “The Misfits,” starring Marilyn Monroe along with also also Clark Gable, brutally portrayed mustanging.

A national letter-writing campaign Johnston orchestrated, involving schoolchildren penning pleas to members of Congress, led to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses along with also also Burros Act of 1971. that will law – which passed Congress unanimously along with also also was signed by President Richard Nixon – called for the BLM to protect along with also also manage the wild horses that will roamed its public lands. Johnston became known as “Wild Horse Annie”: a hero in some circles, an oppressor in others.

After the act passed, the bureau no longer issued permits to ranchers to round up wild horses along with also also claim them as their own. that will became illegal for anyone to gather wild horses except the BLM (though that will hasn’t always stopped cowboys via mustanging). Paired with the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, which created grazing districts, public land became even more restricted for commercial use.

The bureau had never before been responsible for an animal, along with also also wild horses along with also also burros are still the only species under its jurisdiction. Neil Kornze, who led the agency during President Barack Obama’s second term, told me that will makes no sense that will the agency will be in charge of wild horses. Many people I spoke with inside the globe of wild-horse management had little faith inside the BLM along with also also offered their own suggestions on how to do the job. Ross MacPhee, a paleomammalogist at the American Museum of Natural History in fresh York who has studied the origins of wild horses, says the only solution will be to create special land preserves similar to those that will protect the bison herds at Yellowstone National Park. Trent Loos, a friend of Duquette’s along with also also a rancher on President Donald Trump’s agriculture advisory committee, wants a “stud-hunting season.” Then again, he says, “You could imagine what kind of controversy that will might cause.”

In its nine-year existence, Protect the Harvest has gained a loyal following among ranchers, farmers along with also also cowboys, most notably those with extreme along with also also vocal anti-government views. that will was founded by the oil tycoon Forrest Lucas. He declined to be interviewed because of This particular article, nevertheless last summer – while appearing on Mark Levin’s Fox News show “Life, Liberty & Levin” – he discussed his “rags to riches” story growing up as a poor farm boy in Indiana with an alcoholic father along with also also leaving home at 14. Later he hauled semi-trucks along with also also one day discovered a secret ingredient for oil additives.

Today, he owns Lucas Oil; the naming rights to Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Indianapolis Colts play; Lucas Oil Rail Lines; a television production company called Lucas Oil Production Studios; the Lucas Oil Speedway racetrack in Missouri; along with also also Lucas Cattle Co. He will be also reportedly friends with Vice President Pence. Lucas told Levin he began Protect the Harvest to fight “environmentalists that will are trying to take control over along with also also do away with – you know, vegans who want everybody to be vegans.”

His fixation on animal rights groups can be traced back, in part, to a 2010 Missouri state ballot proposition called the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, which sought restrictions on dog breeders, such as allowing them to own no more than 50 breeding dogs. Lucas vehemently opposed the proposition. that will passed, nevertheless a law enacted the next year made significant alterations, including repealing the 50-dog cap. Sarah Barnett, a former spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States, considered the act “gutted.” Lucas believed the Humane Society’s heavy support of the bill was an attempt to stop animal husbandry. “I got enough brains, enough money, enough nerve. I’m going to go out along with also also take them on,” he said on a podcast.

The Trump administration has been Great for Lucas along with also also his Protect the Harvest team. Lucas told Range magazine that will Pence offered him the position of secretary of the Internal after Ryan Zinke resigned. According to Politico, Lucas was also a driving force behind the nomination of Sonny Perdue to the post of agriculture secretary. Brian Klippenstein, the former executive director of Protect the Harvest, was put in charge of managing the Department of Agriculture transition after Trump’s election.

“This particular will be a group that will has money, along with also also This particular will be where that will gets dangerous,” says Barnett, who called Protect the Harvest extremist. via 2013 to 2016, the Protect the Harvest super PAC, which recently folded, received $372,001 in large donations, including three via Lucas. via 2015 to 2017, the Protect the Harvest nonprofit received $1,055,046 via donors, according to tax forms.

Duquette told me Protect the Harvest isn’t focused on wild-horse slaughter, though he personally advocates for that will along with also also wants mustangs to be sold without limitation, a term sometimes used as a euphemism for slaughter. “These advocates put animals way above human life,” he says. “I care about people.”

In early July last year, I drove east along the Columbia River Gorge to Hermiston, a town of 18,000 in Oregon’s high desert. I turned off the highway along with also also onto a wide gravel road. A double wrought-iron gate was swung open to reveal a 25-acre compound having a ranch-style house along with also also a horse-training facility. Each gate was topped having a circular statuette of a man riding a horse inside the words “Duquette Quarter Horses.” Beside the horse corral, an American flag along with also also a Marine Corps flag flew on a tall pole.

Duquette was inside the yard weeding with his girlfriend, Molly Russell. Duquette’s older son, Colton, was in California working on a movie for Forrest Films, Lucas’s production company. In 2016, Forrest Films released “Running Wild,” a movie featuring Sharon Stone as a money- along with also also publicity-obsessed wild-horse activist. Ali Afshar, a producer of the film along with also also co-founder of Forrest Films, told me the company doesn’t “take sides” along with also also that will although Protect the Harvest brought them the idea for “Running Wild,” the movie isn’t based on real circumstances.

After serving inside the Marines along with also also cowboying in several smaller towns around the Pacific Northwest, Duquette began Duquette Quarter Horses, a horse-training company, inside the early ’90s. For several years, his business was profitable. He also sold horses to families as pets or show horses. Then in 2007, the last horse slaughterhouse inside the country, in Illinois, closed after Congress prohibited federal funds for inspection along with also also a state law banned horsemeat for human consumption. As a result, the entire domestic equine industry took a hit. In 2011, the Government Accountability Office found that will the closure of the slaughterhouses led to less frequent horse sales along with also also auctions inside the States. The average sale cost for horses dropped by over $100. Owners then had limited options for getting rid of horses they didn’t want, along with also also cases of abandonment, abuse along with also also neglect increased as horse value declined.

In 2012, the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover investigation revealing abuse to a breed called the Tennessee walking horse, including chemicals being cooked into their feet to create an exaggerated gait known as Big Lick, which will be valued in shows. Duquette felt that will animal activists were butting their noses into various other people’s business. “They began attacking the horse industry, along with also also the deeper I got into that will the more I realized how many bills were out there to stop the horse industry,” he says.

About a year after the last horse slaughterhouse closed, Duquette began a nonprofit called United Horsemen to achieve “humane along with also also realistic solutions to the unwanted horse problem,” according to an online posting. He brought on Sue Wallis, a today-deceased Wyoming state legislator, as his vice president. The duo pushed to reopen horse slaughterhouses, earning Wallis the nickname “Slaughterhouse Sue” among wild-horse activists. Duquette along with also also Wallis proposed opening a $3 million plant in Hermiston that will might slaughter 25,000 horses a year. The town’s mayor along with also also City Council members stood against the idea. According to the Oregonian, Hermiston was inside the midst of a boom along with also also they thought the plant might discourage newcomers. The project fizzled.

Regardless, Duquette has become an outspoken proponent for slaughter. “He’s such a loud voice in advocating for horse slaughter along with also also will take any platform to do that will,” Barnett says. In 2011, Duquette along with also also Wallis organized a conference in Las Vegas called the Summit of the Horse along with also also invited Bob Abbey, an Obama-appointed Bureau of Land Management director. Abbey regards slaughter as a legitimate option for wild-horse management, nevertheless a last resort. He told me he attended the summit to “bring divergent points of views” together. Before the event, he recalls, law enforcement officials briefed him about potential violence via wild-horse activists. that will was around This particular time that will Lucas approached Duquette about joining Protect the Harvest.

As part of his job for Protect the Harvest, Duquette visited ranchers in remote corners of the West to document wild-horse activity on their public land allotments. He says he has found dead horses along with also also dried-up water springs.

In Nevada, ranchers can obtain rights to water sources on public land. Wild horses drink via these sources, which ranchers maintain for their livestock. This particular fact served as a major point in Borba’s argument that will ranchers, not activists, are the ones who care for the horses. “If that will isn’t the rancher that will’s giving them water, some of them horses got 30 or 40 miles to walk to get water,” he told me. “When you find 10 to 15 of them dead because they didn’t have water, that will’s pretty sad. nevertheless that will’s the truth.”

The BLM has been interested in spaying wild mares for at least a decade, nevertheless various approaches have failed or been blocked by wild-horse activists in court. Two attempts in recent years were met with such public outcry that will the agency’s university research partners backed out of studies.

Meanwhile, amid all the controversy, Duquette handpicked along with also also bought 12 wild fillies – female horses under age 4 – via a holding corral in Burns, Ore. He had an idea: Spay the fillies, auction them to trainers along with also also show them off a year later, in 2018, at a show called the Wild Spayed Filly Futurity, put on by Protect the Harvest, for a chance to win first prize of $25,000. The competition might include herd, rein along with also also fence work. This particular consists of, respectively, cutting 1 cow via a herd of cattle; directing the horse to make stops, turns along with also also figure-eight patterns; along with also also running a cow up along with also also down the arena. The point might be to show that will spaying will be painless along with also also effective.

Animal rights advocates vehemently oppose the type of spay procedure – called ovariectomy via colpotomy – that will Duquette used on the horses he bought for the event. “They’re pushing some of the most brutal tactics inside the form of ovariectomy,” says Ginger Kathrens, the executive director of the Cloud Foundation, a nonprofit in Colorado that will seeks to prevent herd extinction. Lisa Jacobson, an equine veterinarian in Colorado, says ovariectomy risks infection, internal bleeding along with also also pain. She prefers gelding, or castrating, stallions. Duquette says activists have that will backward: Spaying, he argues, will be “a lot less barbaric than castrating a colt.”

The second annual Wild Spayed Filly Futurity began Sept. 13, 2019, at 6 p.m. at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center, opening having a prayer along with also also “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Over 800 people came to watch. The atmosphere was jubilant along with also also boisterous, like a high school football game.

As the herd work got underway, Ramona Hage Morrison, whose family has been advocating for ranchers’ rights for decades, stopped by the Lucas Oil VIP section with her husband along with also also young son. She wore black-rimmed eyeglasses along with also also a long-sleeved T-shirt with an arm patch that will read “Never Give Up.” She first met Duquette while he was filming with Protect the Harvest at Borba’s ranch. She was consulting for Borba about water rights at the time.

Morrison will be adamant that will the water in Nevada, where she lives, doesn’t belong to the wild horses. “The activists always want to say, ‘Let’s throw out the horses all over the western United States,’ nevertheless they don’t want to compensate anybody for that will water or any of the range improvements or anything we had a mortgage on,” she says. “that will’s the part the government doesn’t want to address either. They might rather just take that will along with also also steal what we own.”

inside the stands, the spectators hooted along with also also hollered. After a filly named Cold Springs Cricket twirled only twice during the rein work, people circled their pointer fingers inside the air along with also also screamed at the rider to turn one more time (the horse wouldn’t budge). By the end of the show, the clear winner was a strikingly beautiful pinto named South Steens Maggie Magpie. As the rider trotted her out for a final victory lap, Karen Gerfen, then communications director for Protect the Harvest, straddled a fence to shoot footage for a show about the futurity on RFD-TV, a channel focused on the West along with also also owned by Rural Media Group. The show’s tagline: “The best gelding I ever rode was a spayed mare.” Beside Gerfen, two women sprayed bottles of champagne.

In an episode of the RFD-TV show, one of the riders says, “I think that will’s actually Great what Protect the Harvest will be doing. They’re showing that will there’s a use for these horses along with also also that will they’re not just junk that will should be out starving on the desert.” Duquette was proud of how the horses performed. “They looked like show horses,” he said. “They didn’t look like BLM horses by the time we were done.” nevertheless just like inside the fight over Sarge, the spotlight wasn’t only on the horses themselves. The battle between Duquette along with also also the activists was, yet again, playing out in full view.

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