Wild at heart: the emotional legal battle over U.S. Mustangs

Mustangs are symbols of the romanticized West, but are also subject to a variety of ills: lack of land, overbreeding, and poor health care, among other issues.

My family has adopted one Mustang, Pele, who came to us rather wild, but moved onto another family after us as a beloved pet.

The legalities of "the Mustang problem" are numerous:
1. Should they be sterilized? (latest method causes 22 month infertility: fertility control drug PZP.)
2. Sent to meat factories to thin the herd? (Currently there are no open horse-slaughter facilities in the U.S.)
3. Put on private-property to guarantee roaming land?
4. Adopted out before being broken?
5. Broken then adopted out? (At the expense of whom? How many horses can be processed this way? What about the horses that are unsuitable for riding?)
6. Some, and or all, of these options?

The issue has recently been brought to my head (and heart) from the 88 Wild Horses: American History's Modern Horse project.  Here is the link to the project's facebook page, and a link to the blog written by the cowboy breaking the horses.  The goal is to take horses from the range, train them for a variety of different equine sports, make sure they are healthy and fit for work, and then adopt them out!  The photos accompanying the project are mesmerizing 
(all photos taken from 88 Wild Horses Facebook album)

Here is an example of one of the 2010 horses, Tobin: the first time under saddle:

Here is Tobin during training:

And Tobin's Adoption Profile (and Tobin is now successfully adopted!)

It is virtually undisputed that wild  horses cannot just be left alone in the current situation- round-ups are necessary to prevent over-population of the range. 
 Whenever I think through the possibilities of solutions, I always start with the law:

Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act: 16 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1340 (December 15, 1971, as amended 1978)
The Goal of the Act: Congress found that wild free-roaming horses and burros symbolize the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, contribute to the diversity of life, and enrich the lives of the American people. Congress also found that these animals are fast disappearing from the American scene. The Act declares that it is the policy of Congress to protect wild horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment, or death. To accomplish this policy, wild free-roaming horses and burros on public lands are to be considered an integral part of the natural system. § 1331.

The Act requires: the Secretary to manage wild horses and burros in a manner designed to achieve and maintain ecological balance on the public lands. The Secretary must consider the recommendations of qualified biologists and ecologists, some of whom must be independent of both state and federal agencies. All management activities must include consultation with state wildlife agencies to protect the natural balance of all wildlife species, particularly endangered species. Any adjustments in forage allocations must take into account the needs of other wildlife species.

-Ranchers need to lease Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land for grazing of cattle (referred to at times as a "Terf War")
-Other animals live on the range that are deprived of sufficient food and resources if the range is overpopulated by horses
-Some are too old, in too poor of health, or too wild to ever be suitable for adoption
-Reports are conflicted, but some claim horses are abused in the round-up process (BLM disagrees vehemently, and has photographic evidence of round-ups)
-Wild horses are shipped to Mexico or Canada for slaughter, some say slaughter helps give a painless death to old or injured horses, others say that any slaughter is wrong and is an inhumane process, especially when trucking horses so many miles over the border

Clearly a multi-faceted and difficult debate! 
Of course I believe that humane horse treatment is of preeminent concern, and I am also not immune to economic considerations and the plight of the ranchers.  
Even providing private land for mustang roaming doesn't eliminate issues of over-population and equine illness and diseases from a wild lifestyle.
I wish there were more groups like "88 Wild Horses" to help give more mustangs a productive and safe life!

Do you have a personal or particular perspective on the "Wild Horse Issue?"

Behind Bars: Horses and the criminal courts

Did you know that the forensic evidence technique of hair analysis (called trichology) can be used for horses?

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Many of you have seen criminal shows such as CSI, where cases are solved by the discovery of a fingerprint at the scene of a crime or saliva on the edge of a cup.  Forensic science is a technique of comparing evidence at the scene of a crime to either the defendant, plaintiff, or related person.  DNA testing is lauded as the most reliable forensic technique.  The other techniques include firearm and tool mark analysis, bite mark comparisons, and handwriting identification, among others.  All forensic evidence, save DNA, has been criticized as a "soft" science and is too subjective, unreliable, and misleading to the jury, and therefore should not be used as evidence in a civil or criminal case.  A famous decision, colloquially referred to as Daubert, permits most forensic evidence into court, however, there are increasing limitations on how an expert may describe the evidence.  For example, a forensic expert must say it is "ballistic certainty" that the forensic evidence is valid, and cannot say that it is 100% a match.

Background aside, let's get to the horses.

Say, for example, 100 California horses were stolen last year, one of them is your prized and highly valuable warmblood.  Police receive a warrant to search a deserted barn down a dark, backwoods road near the California and Oregon border.  Upon arrival the barn has been hastily deserted.  The police find different tools used to mutilate the appearance of horses: hair dyes, heat tools to burn white Appaloosa spots onto monochromatic hides, etc.  The police search carefully and find two long strands of hair caught in the splinters of a wooden stall door and they take the hair into evidence.  Could the hair be proof that your horse was in the rustler's hideout?

Provide samples of hair from your horse (check your tail brush!), then call in the hair examiners, and providing that DNA testing is unavailable or too expensive, the hairs would be examined under a microscope for comparison.  From an exclusionary perspective, we can immediately know that the long, black strands taken from the deserted barn do NOT belong to your horse.... if your horse is a palomino with a pure flaxen mane and tail.

From an inclusionary perspective, the hair taken from the deserted barn isn't very helpful- the long, black strands could possibly belong to your horse if your horse has a long, black tail, but it could also belong to the 99 other stolen horses with long, black tails.  Hair analysis is too imprecise to pinpoint just one horse as a source (though some examiners claim they can at least determine the breed of dog when a dog hair is found).

As always there are exceptions, such as is if you had medicated your horse with a substance that could then be tested and detected in the hair found at the deserted barn.  And while trichology may be unreliable with proving a match between two hair samples, it can help reveal evidence of the crime, such as if the hair was pulled out or fell out naturally, if the hair had been cut or burned.

I did not research to see if there has ever been a reported opinion involving forensic hair analysis on horse hair, and I imagine it's highly unlikely that there would be, since typically there are myriad amounts of other, and more reliable, evidence to solve a crime.  But if you want to do some basic sleuthing around your barn, perhaps to see which horse ate the grain in your equine's stall while you were out riding, check around for some strands of hair and see if you can find the culprit!

My horse Lux at a prior barn

For serious matters, as I always recommend, contact your local equine attorney!