With the financial backing of Ellie Phipps Price, owner of Sand Hill Durrell Vineyards, activists recently bid $31,415 at a state-sanctioned auction in Nevada to keep 172 wild horses from going to the slaughterhouse.
“It’s my passion is to save these horses,” Price said. “It’s something I care about deeply.”
Horse advocates like Price feel that thousands more horses are at risk because of reckless actions by the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for managing wild herds.
According to the BLM there are 38,000 wild horses roaming free in the western United States, about half of those in Nevada. The agency wants to remove at least 12,000 of the wild mustangs.
The round-ups of these horses, in which the animals are herded, sometimes by helicopter, into small holding areas, often have tragic results. “It’s irresponsible,” Price said. “The round-ups are inhumane and illegal. I never imagined people would treat horses like this.”
Activists have sued the BLM to stop the practice, arguing that the agency is removing the mustangs to make room for livestock grazing, oil and gas exploration and other private interests.
For Price, the sight of once strong and free horses packed into pens, unable to run or graze, is a sacrilege. “The mustang is an American icon. It’s the horse we rode in on,” she said. “It’s absurd that this could happen in a country that cares so much about animals.”
Seven wild horses died during and immediately following a recent helicopter roundup, and six more died a week later, from dehydration and other causes, while penned.
Nonetheless, a federal judge ruled that the BLM could continue with a roundup, or “gather” in BLM jargon, of 1,200 horses in Elko County.
In some instances, the horses end up for sale at auction, like the recent event in Fallon, NV. Had not Price, working with Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue of Lancaster, CA, bought the horses, they would have ended up in slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. The meat of the horses is processed for sale in Europe and Asia where it sells for as much as $25 a pound.
Jill Starr, president of Lifesavers, said, “We showed the BLM and the Nevada Department of Agriculture that we will not let them throw our wild horses away like yesterday’s news. They are important to every American and hold high value as part of our country’s history.”
Price adopted a horse from a BLM holding area last year. Dunstan, now four, lives in Sonoma. “He’s an absolute gem.”
Price said she “is lobbying senators across the country” to support a law updating a 1971 wild horse protection act. As long as the BLM is flaunting the law, and resists adopting a humane, sustainable policy for horse management, Price said she will fight for the cause — for the animals themselves, and for all they symbolize.
“Horses,” she said, “should run free.”
Horses rounded up by the BLM are available for adoption through groups such as Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue. Find out more at wildhorserescue.org