This Pryor Mountain roundup of 2009 was my introduction to helicopter roundups of wild horses. I have since witnessed thousands of wild horses stampeded by helicopters off their mountain homes.
This film on this date is the only time the BLM or the helicopter contractors have ever let me close enough to document the horses’ respirations and actual condition such that my film allows you, the public (or a vet reviewing the film) to count the respirations, to see any injuries, to observe behavior. What we see here is alarming.
First, you should know that a horse’s normal at-rest respiration rate is between 10 and 24 breaths per minute. That being said, 35 minutes after ceasing to run, these horses’ respirations we can count at 128 breaths per minute by watching their flanks puffing like a bellows or their nostrils as they flare with each breath in the same way our breathing is exaggerated — and it would be easy for someone watching us from a distance to count our individual gasps for air by watching our chest movement — after we have just tried to outrun a feared pursuer for a long distance.
I am imagining still gasping for air 35 minutes after I’ve run in fear and really pushed myself. If I’m gasping for air, then my heart is still pounding. 35 minutes is an awfully long time for a body to still be in such an elevated state of distress.
In horse endurance rides, I have assisted in doing vet checks at various points in these long-distance horse marathons. Horses must “pulse down” to 60 (some say 64, others 68) beats per minute — sometimes within a certain amount of time, usually given 10 to 12 minutes — or they are pulled from the race, not allowed to continue.
If wild horses must be captured, there are other ways to accomplish this that do not involve this extreme stress. Many advocates, including myself, have filmed inhumane helicopter pursuits at roundups (helicopters relentless pursuing one horse, literally pushing horses with the helicopter skids, chasing horses into barbed wire, for some examples. Laura Leigh of Wild Horse Education has successfully brought documentation to a federal court in Nevada which in one roundup resulted in grounding the helicopter. The courts as well as the public are finally beginning to pressure BLM to develop and codify humane parameters for wild horse handling and capture. However, as yet there remain no legal parameters, which means:
1) BLM can run wild horses an unspecified, unlimited distance in any temperature. We have documented roundups in 96F degree temperature, as in this Pryor Mountain roundup.
We have documented roundups in subfreezing temperatures where the steam coming off the sweating horses was thought by observers to be smoke from a fire. Sweating horses in freezing temps is an invitation for pneumonia, something no horse person intentionally causes. These drenched-in-sweat animals are then transported in an open trailer on the freeways… Is it any wonder the death rate in the holding facilities has often been high following winter roundups?
2) There is no law protecting horses or burros from being struck with a helicopter. Until it is law that pilots may not touch wild horses and burros with a helicopter nor get closer than 50 feet, and not merely a suggestion from the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Wild Horse and Burro program bureaucracy that pilots refrain from getting too close, pilots and contractors will suffer no consequence for abusing horses and burros with a helicopter. My two cents, the only legitimate reason to push a horse with the skid(s) of a helicopter is to keep that animal from falling over a cliff or in like manner to save and protect that animal from imminent injury or death. Any other reason is abuse.
Finally, it should be noted here that the last time BLM decided to round up horses from this popular Pryor Mountain herd (in 2012), instead of helicopters they used well-planned, well-executed bait trapping which most importantly was made viewable to public observers. This change was brought about primarily due to watchdogging pressure from The Cloud Foundation, dedicated to preventing the extinction of Cloud’s herd through education, media events and programming, and public involvement, in addition to defending and protecting wild horses everywhere.
So BLM has once again demonstrated in the Pryor Mountains that they are capable of setting up a roundup in a manner that respects the nature of the family band and the individual horse. These methods need to be instituted across the board in all HMAs.
More to come on this topic. . .
Until reading your post, my understanding of the BLM and their part in wild animal management and care was cloudy. It is incorrigible the silence and uncooperative non- action they are taking on this stance. Many organizations in your shoes have written and developed petitions in order to fast track a response while reaching a broader sympathetic audience. This may be something to look in too. Thank you for bring your passionate subject matter to the pat from of our student blogs, not sure if Id have been exposed to the information
Thank you for your comment. I have been slow to continue posting, but I have not been idle on behalf of the wild horses, and I plan to continue posting to help people understand the situation and stay abreast of it. Please continue to let others know that we have this magnificent American legacy here but are in danger of losing them. It is one reason to not turn federal public land over to state management: Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, and perhaps other western states which still are legally mandated homes for wild horses and burros would likely decimate their populations in a heartbeat. They want to use our public lands to graze privately owned cattle, and why wouldn’t they since they only pay $1.35 per month (amazing, isn’t it?) to graze a cow and her calf, whereas if feeding cattle hay on their privately-owned ranches, it would take easily 4 bales of hay per month to mom and calf, and at current hay prices that is probably over $50 per month, depending on where you live. One begins to understand the financial incentive here when you are looking at thousands of cattle… Please bear in mind that only 4 percent of our nation’s beef come from public-land-grazed cattle, which means the Bureau of Land Management is pandering to a small handful of well-entrenched ranchers who do not want to share the resources on our public land which many have come to consider their own, but which most definitely is home to abundant wildlife and is enjoyed by many other Americans and visitors for many other reasons than feeding cattle. Thank you again for your interest!