Public Lands, Public Horses

What you can do


We begin this section on wild horses and slaughter with a fast action item dated 9/7/2018

Horse slaughter effects both wild and domestic horses. Once adopted or sold, wild horses fall under the same laws as our domestic horses. Tribal and state jurisdictions have no legal protections.

Slaughter is simply cruel.  Horses are inhumanely transported long distance, in cramped trailers without food, water or rest. Horse slaughter is a predatory industry primarily used to facilitate over breeding for competitions like racing or reining. Sadly, the vast majority of the equines who become victims of this predatory and deceptive industry are young, healthy animals

U.S. horses are not raised for food. In the US we give a wide variety of drugs, and veterinary treatments, that make their meat unfit for human consumption. With domestic livestock intended for food we do not give them drugs that render their meat dangerous.

Congress must act to end this practice. You can help. 

The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 113/S. 1706, would ban domestic horse slaughter and stop the export of horses for slaughter abroad. A majority of House members have signed onto the SAFE Act as sponsors and cosponsors. This bill should immediately schedule the bill for a floor vote.

There are a lot of bills in Congress right now that are helping to speed up destruction of habitat for our wild horses. These profit driven, fast tracked, bills are going to create devastating habitat loss. Then wild horses will be removed from the land. Once removed they are in the same danger as their domestic cousins of going to slaughter.

Call your representative in the House and say: 

 "Please ask House leaders to schedule the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 113/S. 1706 for a floor vote. This bill would prevent horses from being exported for human consumption and I urge you to, please, vote to pass the SAFE Act."

Find your representative here:


Wild Horse Slaughter



Horse slaughter is abhorrent to the vast majority of Americans. Only a fraction of US horse owners send their horses to the kill pen. Most Americans are responsible owners and euthanize their work mates and companions. 

However, horse slaughter is an industry for an industry. Big breeding associations like the American Quarter Horse Association and Thoroughbred breeders need a place for a "by product," you need to breed a lot of horses to find one champion. Industry is the driving force for this debate in the US. 

When discussing "horses" you will hear the phrase, "just like dogs and cats." There is a need to for shelters and clinics that help with gelding, like neutering your dog. There is a need for assistance with end of life care and euthanization vouchers.

There is one horse in the US that is nothing "like a dog or a cat" in any way, our wild ones. Our wild horses living in the wild live wild. The issues surrounding our free public horses have deep roots in land management, not a private households circumstances. 

Wild horse slaughter gets pretty complicated. Free roaming horses live under different jurisdictions (state, federal and tribal) and some change their legal status throughout their lifetimes (BLM, USFS).

The articles below are a reference to help you navigate this important issue.

1. Why is jurisdiction important?

2. BLM horses










Our work at Wild Horse Education deals primarily with free roaming horses and burros under federal jurisdiction. When people hear the term "wild horse," in legal terms the free roaming horses on federal land are the ones being referenced. However, the public often uses the term to apply to horses under state and tribal jurisdictions. Often this confuses the public (and members of media) when it comes to how to take action or write a story.

As laws are debated in Congress, under Appropriations and other bills introduced, that will effect our wild ones for a long time, it becomes very important to understand those distinctions. 

State jurisdictions: These horses are on state lands and governed by local, state, laws. 

Tribal jurisdictions: These horses are the private property of tribes and live on tribal land. 

Federal lands: These horses are managed by federal land management agencies and live on public lands. Under federal jurisdiction we have free roaming horses managed my the National Park Service (NPS), United States Fish and Wildlife (USFWS), United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

It is important to remember that the BLM manages more wild horses than all other jurisdictions combined. 

When you see articles about debates in Congress on issues surrounding wild horses, the horses on BLM land are at the center of debate.


WHY is jurisdiction so important?

Jurisdiction creates the frame of management; law and actions. 

If a horse lives on tribal land and is in distress? That land is not public land and those are not public horses. The issues surrounding that area are not solved by BLM or Congress, they are addressed by a tribal council. A lot of times you will see a lot of fundraisers on tribal horses and no follow up reports from those requesting funding. Tribal horses are in a lot of trouble; a lot of attention, little action. 

When state horses are discussed (like the Virginia Range) many times what we are talking about is urban encroachment; horses going into yards, onto roads and little, in any, infrastructure to manage both horses and land. Most states just employ the "complain and capture" strategy; someone complains and the horses get picked up. There really is no "land management" or adoption programs involved. Calling your Congressman, unless you live in that state, is not part of that jurisdiction and not an appropriate action.

Understanding the different federal agencies is also important. National Parks and Fish and Wildlife Services are not bound by the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act. That mandate falls only on BLM and Forest Service. 

When the public, and even some organizations, confuse these jurisdictions we can end up with a real mess trying to get appropriate public action and appropriate debates in Congress.

Recently an article appears on the surface to be about BLM wild horses, but most of the examples are not about BLM lands. The tribal horses live in an area contaminated by pollutants and these horses could have been in trouble a long time. Multiple examples appear in the article that have little to do with the title.  Articles like these fuel inappropriate impressions in Congress, the public and media, when jurisdictions get confused. (you can read article here)


BLM Horses


BLM manages more wild horses than all other jurisdictions combined. That is simply because they manage more of our western landscape than any other land management agency. 

Wild horses are the only animal in our country legally defined by where they stand, not what they are biologically. This distinction is critical. Wild horses are tied to the land they stand, not simply because they eat grass or drink water, but through their very identity. We do not label a deer standing on federal land differently than one standing on state land, but we do with the horse.

The 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act created these distinctions. Until 2004 a horse that was born and lived on BLM land retained distinct protections from slaughter throughout it's lifetime. The horse retained the legal definition through a foster program; essentially people fostered a wild born horse.

In 2004 the Burns Amendment went into effect. In an omnibus spending bill of over 1000 pages (Appropriations) Conrad Burns snuck in a rider that changed everything. Wild horses began a "title transfer," like a car, through an adoption or sale process. Once a title was transferred wild horses could legally be sold to slaughter, just like any domestic horse.

In addition there were provisions in this rider that allowed the federal government to sell wild horses outright to kill buyers.

Many Congressman did not know that this rider was snuck in at the last minute and moved to immediately repeal it. However, in the game of politics, bills go into committees before they go for a floor vote. Conrad Burns sat as the chair of the committee guaranteeing the bill never went to the floor.

Every single year since, Congress had defunded sections of funding bills that would allow those slaughter sales. The "call your Senator now" mailers you see every year are because the bill still has not been repealed that allows those sales.

Yes, BLM horses do land in kill pens today. Private owners adopt or buy wild horses and sell them into the slaughter pipeline. We have even seen massive numbers of wild horses slip into the hands of kill buyers directly from the BLM like the no infamous Tom Davis/Ken Salazar scandal.

Advocacy for wild horses has many layers of work; land use planning, creating humane handling protocols when land use planning fails, creating safe adoptions and sanctuary.

The last step in the life of a wild horse needs your help to close the gateway to slaughter. That gateway, for both wild and domestic, can be closed through the SAFE Act.