Best Friends Blog

Home on the range?

We received lots of responses to my last blog post about horses and horse slaughter. When we sent out an action alert asking folks to contact their elected representatives in Washington to support the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 2966/S. 1176), which would not only ban horse slaughter in this country but also the transport of horses across our national borders for the purpose of slaughter, we received even more responses, including this one from Jim Matheson, which was forwarded by a member who took our message to the Utah congressman:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding horse slaughter. I appreciate your interest in the issues facing our country and our state, and I am glad for the opportunity to respond.


As of February 2008, there were approximately 37,000 wild horses and burros living on BLM land. Horse slaughter provides a humane alternative to a life of inadequate care. I am opposed to bills that forbid the processing of unwanted horses.


The practice of storing wild horses and burros in holding facilities that are crowded and underfunded is inhumane. Many of these animals being held by the BLM in these facilities become long-term costs to the government. Please know that I will continue to oppose bills that ban the process of unwanted horses.


Again, thank you for contacting me. I appreciate hearing from you. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact my office.


Member of Congress

This is not a surprise. Matheson also introduced a bill that would allow states to manage wolves — that is to say, allow wolves to be hunted. Matheson, like most Western legislators, favors the interests of ranchers over wildlife, including the wild horse herds — the mustangs who have roamed the West since Cortez.

His letter gets right to the point, but misses it entirely. Horse slaughter is anything but humane when other solutions are at hand, but the rangeland that the mustangs have roamed for hundreds of years is coveted by ranchers as publicly subsidized grazing land for cattle. It is also coveted by mining interests to whom wild horses and burros are just a nuisance.

Matheson is correct in stating that it is inhumane to keep horses in overcrowded, underfunded holding facilities, but that is not the only option.

A bit of history

Allow me to back up … way back … to about 12,000 years ago when the first horses that had evolved in North America disappeared, possibly victims of newly arrived human hunters. Geneticists have matched ancient American equine DNA with that of modern equines and concluded that the mustang is not a feral species, but rather a reintroduced native species. Mustangs were reintroduced in the early 1500s by Spanish explorers and conquistadors. By the turn of the 20th century, there were an estimated 2 million wild equines across the American West. Now due the pressure of human activity, there are, as Matheson points out, fewer than 40,000.

Through the 1950s, mustangs were rounded up and slaughtered mostly for dog food as portrayed as the emblematic background story of the 1961 film “The Misfits,” which starred Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. When Marilyn’s character learns why they are rounding up the horses, she freaks out and accuses Clark’s character of being a killer. After a lot of drama, the horses are released and Marilyn tells him she wouldn’t mind having a baby as long as there was somebody there to make sure the child grew up into a human being.

The movement to save America’s horses

The mustangs were misfits 50 years ago, and as with most of the humane movement, women, real and fictional, led the effort to protect them.

One day in 1950, Velma B. Johnston was driving in Nevada and noticed a truck with blood dripping from the back. She followed the truck and discovered that it was carrying horses to a slaughterhouse. By 1959, she had generated a nationwide grassroots campaign that led to the passage of the “Wild Horse Annie Act” that prohibited the hunting of mustangs with motorized vehicles. Wild Horse Annie was a derogatory name that her critics gave her but which she embraced. Velma, who died in 1979, is still a powerful symbol of the fight to protect wild horses and mustangs as part of our national heritage.

The Wild Horse Annie Act did not include Velma’s recommendation for federal protection of the mustangs, but mounting public pressure resulted in the passage, in 1971, of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. Its lofty language states:

“Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”

Why we need your help today

Times have changed and so has the law. Our federally protected horses are mostly managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM is part of the Department of the Interior and has the thankless job of mediating the interests of wildlife and the environment against those of public use, from four-wheeling and hunting; to ranching; to coal, oil and mineral extraction. Most ranchers regard horses as competition for sparse Western range. The horses are managed by roundups and adoptions to the public. Adopters receive full title to an adopted mustang after one year, at which time they are free to sell the animal to whomever, including to a killer buyer. The BLM used to be prohibited from selling horses to slaughter, but amendments to the law now allow for animals over the age of 10 years and those who have been unsuccessfully offered for adoption three times to be sold to slaughter.

Somehow the range that only 100 years ago sustained herds numbering in the millions now can’t support 40,000.


Of course the range could support that number of horses, but we have other priorities and even the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act won’t change that fact. However, if passed, it will force us to come up with more humane solutions, such as designating and setting aside federal horse range and implementing chemical contraceptives to limit herd growth.

More importantly, H.R. 2966/S.1176 will obligate more horse owners and potential horse owners to accept the responsibility of lifelong care for animals who commonly live into their 20s or 30s.

When the easy answer, slaughter, is the wrong answer, we have to choose the right answer even if it involves work, commitment and funding. After all, we do want our children to grow into human beings.

Please act now

Take action today. Contact your representatives to ask them to support proposed legislation to end horse slaughter in the United States once and for all.

Francis Battista
Co-Founder, Best Friends Animal Society

  • TheresaW.

    I oppose horse slaughter as well.  I wish I was rich enough to remove these free animals from the area where they obviously are in danger for their lives.  It is so sad that there are so many evil people Obama has placed in so many areas of our government that can and have done so much damage.  If I had my way, there would be NO MORE KILL SHELTERS ANYWHERE AND laws would be rewritten in favor of the horses and animals everywhere!  It is so sad our world has gotten so callus about animals as though they were a piece of trash instead of a living, loving creature who makes our lives a better place to live!!!!  They aren’t aren’t hurting anyone! 

  • Rdasedona

    I am a horse-owner and have been for more than 50 years.  I can remember a time when Alpo didn’t come in a can; it came from the local butcher shop and my mother had to “process” it on her own by boiling it up for our dog.  I have lived through times remarkably similar to those shown in the movie “War Horse”, when horses were still, basically, kept for use of some kind – not as pets or companions.  And when their useful life was over they were sent down-the-road (also known in my family as retiring them to the farm!).

    Today I have a herd of beautiful Arabian horses – two of them have absolutely no use except that they make me happy and love me.  One of them is elderly, foundered, and her days are numbered by her condition.  When that day comes she will not be loaded onto a truck to be hauled into Mexico where a gruesome and cruel end awaits her.  No, she will be sent gently to her rest, and a local gal, who has made helping owners find a loving solution to the task of removing a large animal’s body easier to bear, will be taking my beautiful lady to be buried in a large graveyard near us.

    That said, how many of you out there have honestly thought beyond the thrill of owning such a beautiful and spiritual animal to the reality of it?  Beyond the shortage of hay (and the weekly struggle to not only find enough but to pay for it), the high cost of vet care, the shoeing/trimming costs every 6 to 8 weeks – at the end of their lives you have to not only make the right decision as far as letting them go, but now you have to find a way – and the means – to dispose of a 1,000 pound + animal!   In this part of the country it costs in the neighborhood of $200 to $250 to euthanise, and another $300 (minimum) to have the animal removed!  Clearly not a cheap option; these emergency costs have always been built into my budget. 

    Let me say that I am adamently opposed to slaughter – I would much prefer that owners practice resposibility – both in the breeding shed and in the end-of-life decisions that they make for their animals.  But we all know that this will never happen – there will always be those who only look at the bottom line, the profit to be made or the ease with which the decision can be made.  The reality is that currently horses are being shipped thousands of miles across the borders into Mexico and Canada – numbers show that in 2010 approximately 140,000 horses were killed in the slaughterhouses of those countries – about the number that lost their lives in the last year that slaughter was permitted in this country!  We haven’t stopped the bloodletting, we’ve only moved it to another venue!  And when those horses cross the border, especially into Mexico, folks – all bets are off.  They are not usually provided with minimum care, water, feed, the things they need to make them comfortable while they await their fate.  The use of the dreaded double-decker truck is not prohibited across the border either.  We here in Arizona occassionally see proof of the cruelty in that drug smugglers use such horses to carry their illegal burdons across the desert – and then abandon their “help” to fend for themselves.  A number of rescues in the south part of the state are now taking in these starved and disheartened horses as they are picked up by the border patrol with the goal of placing them in loving homes. 

    Again, let me say that I do not support the slaughter of horses for food or for any other reason.  I only wish to point out that there are circumstances beyond the emotionalism of the subject, and other realities at work here. 

    DMc, Arizona

  • Well this is really great effort from your side and i also like horses and i have one horse.

  • Excellent creativity, I enjoyed to visit this kind of valuable topic.Above all the points are explained very clearly.

  • Dolphin Watcher

    Mr. Battista gives a well though-out response to Matheson’s letter; however, no one talks about the fact that one key difference between the horse populations and those of today is that we have, in addition to losing grazing lands to ranching and mining, wiped out any natural predators. We have reintroduced wolves; perhaps we should also be trying to expand wolf populations and allow mountain lion populations to repopulate the West.

  • S_gelbu

    I think this is off topic the topic 

  • Anonymous

    I know this is off topic and I apologize ahead of any comments but in case those who care didn’t know, one of Vick’s former victims, Leo, the therapy dog recently passed away due to a severe seizure disorder.  He was a great therapy dog.  Rest in peace sweet Leo.  You will be greatly missed.  

  • As soon as our country has horse slaughter again, it will not just be the wild mustangs being killed. People will breed horses to slaughter and sell for meat. Nip it now! No slaughter. Until we learn to manage the human population of 7 billion…we have no right to try to manage all of the other species. NO RIGHT.

  • Globalnet1111dogstuff

    I have been a horse lover for as long as I can remember. … Sadly, the fact is, that if unwanted horses can not be taken to slaughter houses, the people who want to “get rid of”  them will just take them out on the back forty and shoot them. … As I said; Sad … but true.

  • jacqueline shapiro

    I OPPOSE slaughter of horses and I oppose the BLM’s round-up of these animals.
    They can survive on the range and they have and our cruel intervention in the name of beef farmers is criminal.
    Let them go!!!!!!!!!!!  No slaughter plants!!!!!!!  Get yourself a horse and experience the  magnificence of these animals.  Would you round up dogs and then open a dog slaughter house????????  Same thing.

  • Robertistahome

    There are copius,thoughtful replies here.Yet,all they are are unilateral kind opinions.ALL of us here…those that DO NOT count agree to banishing the cruel legalities of the animals.WHAT DO YOU ALL SUGGEST DOING???writing,petitioning,calling HAS NO EFFECT.We are mocked and discarded as radical.Our country and its’ morbid obsession to thrive on sensationalism need an eye opener.It takes money to run videos on billboards,take out massive tv ads.Yet,PETA (who agrees with slaughtering),HSUS (Wayne at least has a lawyer filing),Best Friends?? IF all the larger concerns could pool together and hire a top notch lobbying firm in DC and start fighting the proper way we might see progress.Until then???animals will suffer and so will the people who choose to rescue them(financially and physically/mentally).I have checked the large non-profits and where the money goes is a disgrace.BF is perhaps the only entity that serves the animals well.Kudos there.What about the “things” that roast a pony on the spitz after the BIG horse auction (killing auctions) in PA???fine To ad nauseum.Wake up people.Just like “OCCUPY”.Look how they have neatly cleaned them up and out.STAND UP..Time to be a good rabble rouser.I am ready.I will be alone Christmas Day with my signs.I will be classified an old nut.But if I can just reach one more person to join me next time,or this makes the news…maybe others will have the guts to follow suit.BEING NICE GETS YOU NOWHERE in the world of animal abuse.When a trashneck said he had a pit that could take my 130 pound coonhound, I said”I have a .357 that will take both your sick azzes”.He said”sorry,M’am,I understand.Please accept my apologies”.Rest of the town knows better now.I also get tips on pit fighting where I report to proper authorities.Last bust took out 37 people.JaiLtime and fines.WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO HELP???writing a letter???whining on the internet in blogs? pish posh! you have done NOTHING.SHAME on you,shame on the USA.

  • Sandy Byland

    I too received that same message and I found it appalling. The word ‘process’ of wild horses of course means killing them. We are all working so hard to stop the killing of all animals simply because they are – in some people’s minds – too large in number. Killing healthy animals is never the answer. It’s not an option in my book. OK now let’s look at numbers. The cattle industry has the monopoly on range land. In 2011, there were over 100,000,000 (yes – 100 million) cattle in this country with a huge number of those cattle on BLM range land. I Googled to see how many cattle are on BLM range land and the first page of weblinks came up ONLY with how many horses are on BLM range lands. How can that be?? Where were the numbers for the cattle? I’m sure it’s listed but I couldn’t find it. Let’s say only 25% of the 100 million cattle in the US are roaming BLM range land.That’s STILL 25 MILLION cattle. The cattle in the US are not native but introduced species. Their numbers have desicrated and destroyed natural habitat across North America, but no one in power ever discusses that. And yet, 37,500 wild horses are supposed to be a threat to not only 25 million cattle but to the envrionment? (In the letter I received from Matheson, he also blames the horses for environmental destruction.) And maybe it’s not 25% of the US cattle on BLM lands. Maybe its a lot more. 37,500 wild horses is less than 1,000 per state. Do the math. They are no threat to the cattle industry. And what about protecting lands to protect the horses? Why can’t they be a National Treasure where we allow them good lands on which they can flourish and live healthy lives, protected because they are worthy of it. Holding pens are indeed inhumane – but as Francis pointed out, that is not the only option. There is a country in need of education here. And once you are educated in the facts and options, you can’t go back to ignorance. From education, people rise to take action. I only hope that our voices are loud enough to save these beautiful horses from the pathway to slaughter that has so recently been paved.   

    • Anonymous

      Birth control and limiting breeding is the answer to all such problems, but no one making money off of breeding or its related industries wants to hear that. Same with the puppy mill industry. These lobbies have incredible clout and are working constantly behind the scenes to undermine every piece of humane legislation that ever passes. Look what they’ve done in Missouri.

      • So few off these beautiful animals and yet forced birth control is being considered a viable option and yet 7 billion of another not so beautiful species and any mention of forced birth control and everyone freaks out. No matter though, we keep up like this and we’ll push all others to extinction and eliminate any need for any of these conflicts 

  • Spotboyko

    Healthy products are sold for cats, dogs and horses all of which are domesticated animals yet we are going to slaughter horses for food! What is next and where is this thinking coming from that is going to be accepted by the American people. Are we so barbaric in our world that America is just going to let our government make it ok to slaughter these beautiful animals for someones profit! Im ashamed of those who would say this the right thing to do!

    • Money will always be the winner, it is unfortunate but we have become a nation of greed.

  • Robertisathome

    Christmas day:the movie “WAR HORSE” will be shown all over the USA.I will be there-with picket sign saying: the noble cousins of war horse are being slaughtered to death,legally because YOU have done nothing.I have pamphlets;etc.horrid pics of slaughtering,on the floor killing all set.Children will not be exposed to pics. I am a senior,disabled.I will be there for all showings hanging onto my walker.WHAT WILL YOU DO???? I have been fighting to stop gassing pound animals also.I feel like I am walking alone.

  • Tammy

    Government Sucks !!!!!

  • Rachelosimpson

    With all the talk on Capitol Hill about cutting expenses, I do not understand why the BLM needs to keep these wild horses in captivity.  Oh, how utterly ignorant and naive of me!!  I forgot!!  The cattle ranchers believe that all the public lands are theirs to use as they please.  So, any other animal that might want to live there has got to go! 
    And let’s not forget the fine folks who make up the American Quarter Horse Association.  And the horse racing industry.  These groups are also one of the reasons that horse slaughter was reinstated in this country.  Breeding and selling young horses is big business for people involved in these groups, and forcing owners to keep older, unproductive horses for “sentimental reasons” is bad for business. 
    I lost a horse that I loved in a horrible trailer accident years ago; he had to be humanely euthanized because of his injuries ( and no, I did not have insurance on him! ) and there isn’t a day that goes by that I wish I had never put him on that trailer.  I was hoping to be able to spend many wonderful years with that horse, even if he was unsuccessful as a show horse, and this attitude that treats horses like worn-out underwear makes me sick to my stomach. 

  • Heather C.

    We can always come up with convenient excuses not to do the right thing for our fellow companions on this Earth.  It is most refreshing to read a robust response to all those touting slaughter as the logical “humane” solution.  I come from a cattle ranching and horse raising background and no one in my family would espouse horse slaughter as a “humane alternative”.  Let’s call it what it is – a convenient way to shirk our duty to properly care for and share ecosystems on this planet. 

  • Raeannhunter

    I agree with all the comments above and below and feel the greed of the cattle business and the oil and gas business needs to be reined in. They are running congress. I actually voted for Ken Salazar as I thought he would protect the wildlife and instead he turned out to be for the Cattle Ranchers and Oil and Gas-Boy was I misled. I try to keep informed on this issue and keep sending reminders to the politicians in Colorado to stop this injustice to animals…All animials….

    • Anonymous

      Salazar, just like Vilsack and most of the other hacks Obama appointed, is disappointingly anti-animal. It has been a bitter pill to swallow for those who’d hoped for a change. 

  • Blday

    I also received this response back from Jim Matheson, I can assure you he will not get my vote from here on out. When are we going to take care of these beautiful animals that have always taken care of us, where would the people that came out west be if not for their loyal horses? I just wish I had the means to take all of these beautiful animals in, it breaks my heart. I recently was told of a video out there that shows the BLM literally running these horses to their death, and rounding them up in cruel inhumane ways. Why must we make a game of being mean, cruel and uncaring to these beautiful horses? I can’t even imagine someone being capable of this torture. I cannot watch it personally, but I hope that the people responsible get their due.

  • Joyce Jones

    I oppose horse slaughter and can’t believe what the BLM and Congress does.  It’s a disgrace to slaughter our horses.  They are not a food animal.  They are our companions.  They have done more for our country than any other animal yet Congress continues their destructive path of eliminating our horses.  Get rid of Congress! 


  • Kmartin

    Thank you, Francis, for bringing to light several fundamental challenges.  Horses are a native species which groups like The Wildlife Society refuse to accept.  Horses are more than pets/companions, they have partnered with humans throughout history (see new movie ‘War Horse’) and were the foundation for the taming of the West, deserving our respect.  Horses are not food animals in the U.S.  We deworm our domestic horses, use bute and other meds that have proven dangers to human health.  No reliable health records make their way from auction to the kill buyer to the slaughter facility.  This was true in Illinois and Texas before they were shut down in 2007.
    As for wild horses, Mr. Matheson is droning the same untrue statements that the Bureau of Land Management has been using for decades – shame on the Dept. of the Interior!
    I really hope Best Friends takes on the controversial horse issues.  I will be your #1 Advocate!!!

  • Kathleen Cook, MN

    Greed and convenience have been the cause of the decimation of wildlife, wildlife habitat, and simple natural beauty.  The Native Americans respected the land and it’s animals…but they’ve been decimated also.  Whether it’s fourwheeling through the desert, snowmobiling through forests, speedboating on once serene lakes recreation has been more important than creation.  I keep hoping people will see
    the harm they’re causing before they’ve destroyed the land and her creatures, but I feel they/we are too selfish to appreciate what we have left.  The wild horses and burros belong here and should be free and safe,  humans won’t belong until they
    learn respect for all living creatures and the land they live on.

  • All meat is murder. I can’t understand how someone who eats animal tissues can justify the factory farming methods used to torture animals before they are slaughtered in their teen-age years (if they reach that age)!

    • Rachelosimpson

      This is off-topic.

  • Anonymous

    Good blog.  I agree completely.  The solution is controlling breeding of any animal, setting aside land for these magnificent creatures, and working at changing a societal mindset that any animal is disposable.  We need to keep educating people that any animal that we own as a pet, to the best of our ability, should be a lifetime commitment.  If you cannot keep that animal, to the best of your ability find a home for it, and if something happens to you leave instructions in your will and with your relatives to make sure your pets are taken care of and found another loving home.  It is like anything else in life.  We used to be barbarians.  Now we aren’t.  Our society is supposed to evolve and get better, more compassionate with age, as each individual should.  We keep plugging along working towards that goal of it being second nature for a human being to commit to their pet for that pet’s lifetime, just like any other family member would.  The answer will always be in starting the kids young at becoming aware of what happens to these animals when we humans breed indiscriminately, abuse them, dump them, let them run loose, don’t treat any aggression or behavioral issues with a professional right away, etc.  When you become aware of the end result of humans being uncaring hopefully the majority of people will care enough not to let that happen with their own animals.

  • Anonymous

     I completely oppose the slaughter of Horses. I live in horse country and appreciate the beauty of these animals.  I understand overcrowding issues and other problems, but we don’t slaughter human beings becuase we have too many living in poverty around the world.  This is typical short sighted, easy way out thinking by a very unenlightened “human” being.  Maybe this congressman should consider allowing the slaughter stupid congressman as well, that way we can get rid of the problem all-together.  I find it amazing how caulous human beings can be, when it comes to animals.  As far as I am concerned it is just a sign that ignorant humans are the real threat to this world, not animals.