The wild mustang is the symbol of America’s mythic idea of itself — free and beautiful, yet also scrappy. It is the inspiration for songs, movies, and books. But it’s also a real herd of horses that inspires some and frustrates others. This is because herds of feral (or free-roaming) wild horses compete with ranch animals for land and water, and they are viewed as a nuisance in some places.
Despite being given federal protection in 1971, wild horses still face a range of threats on their lands, including government roundups and slaughter. Many of these horses are rounded up and sold at auction, then sent to slaughterhouses to be killed. The agency that is charged with their management and care—the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—is facilitating this slaughter, which has been going on for decades.
BLM has a plan to help the herds thrive in Nevada and elsewhere, but it’s controversial. The agency has signed an agreement with a nonprofit, the American Wild Horse Campaign, to conduct a fertility control program. The strategy involves shooting herds of mares with darts containing porcine zona pellucida, a vaccine that blocks pregnancy. This is not a new tactic, but it is a controversial one because it can be used to control the population without roundups or adoptions.
Another part of the solution is to reduce the amount of forage available to the herds. Historically, herds have been fed a mix of grasses, legumes, and alfalfa. This mix is a poor nutritional choice and can lead to colic, laminitis, and other diseases. In some areas, ranchers have been feeding the herds hay and other forage.
To address the shortage of forage and the need to reduce herds, some people have begun creating new forage options. This includes sagebrush, meadow grass, and forbs, such as sunflower and buttercup. But it’s not an ideal forage for wild horses, and these herds are in danger of overgrazing their habitat.
This is why it’s so important to support programs like the Mustang Trail Challenge. This year, the Days of ’47 Arena at the Utah State Fairpark partnered with the Bureau of Land Management and 4-H to host the event where youth and veterans choose a mustang and have 100 days to transform it into a gentle, adoptable equine companion.
The 6th Annual Wild Horses Bronco Roundup was held at the Days of ’47 Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 7, 2019. The show had a great turnout of classic, custom, and modern-day Broncos and included a competition that allows participants to take on the role of a mustang handler and train it to run the sagebrush-covered trails. The winner of the competition will receive a $500 cash prize and the title of “mustang champion.”