Saturday, September 19, 2009
The Conquest, Conquistador
Aging PBS Star Still Held And At Risk Of Death
Wild Horse Adoption Day Set for Sept. 26th
By Steven Long
Photo, The Cloud Foundation
http://www.horsebackmagazine.com/Conquistador%20g%20kathrens%202%20inch.jpgHOUSTON, (Horseback) - Conquistador, a 19-year-old Pryor Mountain Mustang captured during a “gather” by the Bureau of Land Management over the Labor Day Weekend could soon face execution for the crime of being an older horse.
The agency has 33,000 wild horses in captivity, and despite the fact they manage 256 million acres, it has no place to release them where they can run free. What’s more, BLM has so depleted its budget, spending $27 million holding the horses in captivity, the agency last year seriously contemplated euthanizing tens of thousands of Mustangs and burros.
Despite having a leading role in the PBS “Nature” series starring the famed wild palomino Mustang named Cloud, the aging horse known to television fans across the globe as Conquistador is at risk.
Last year documents came to light under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) query by a Phoenix group regarding an equicide plan to destroy healthy horses gathered on public lands and placed in holding pens by the thousands
Ironically, the plan was dubbed “The Conquistador Program.”
The BLM deems natural resources on Pryor Mountain as not being able to sustain the number of horses living off the land there.
Agency policy considers horses such as Conquistador as too old and thus, expendable. Under a 2004 law, the BLM is required to sell horses “without limitation” that are either more than 10 years of age, or which have been passed over for adoption three times.
The law’s mandate to sell without limitation is subject to interpretation, and while BLM vigorously denies that it sells to slaughter plants or to “killer buyers,” scant scrutiny is given to potential purchaser after the sale. Numerous reports have reached Horseback Magazine by observers who allege they saw the distinctive BLM brand on the necks of horses destined for abattoirs across the Mexican and Canadian borders as they were confined to holding pens with a telltale slaughter tag attached to them.
Minutes of BLM discussions of the Conquistador Plan reveal the agency at one point became so desperate to rid itself of the horses it now holds that it considered euthanizing horses more than 10 years old after only one attempt at adoption, not three.
Beginning in July, 2008, managers compiled a 68 page document dubbed Alternative Management Solutions. It detailed methods of dealing death such as barbiturates, gunshots, or the often cruel captive bolt.
The report revealed that it would call upon the agency’s public relations arm to shield those doing the killing from the scrutiny by the public, media, or even members of Congress.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), Louisiana, has said she would consider removing management of wild horses and burros from the BLM..
The plan even contemplated psychiatric counseling for BLM employees or contractors who would do the actual killing of thousands of horses.
While Cloud and members of his herd were released back into the wild, albeit fatigued, and depleted of much needed fat fat after as much as a 10 mile stampede by helicopter, Conquistador remains in BLM custody along with two other horses that will be seen in the next installment of the Cloud “Nature” series on PBS. The program by Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker Ginger Kathrens is scheduled to air in October.
The gather, completed September 8, captured 146 horse including 15 foals.
A meeting of the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board is scheduled for September 28, in Arlington Virginia.
The agency’s National Adoption Day is scheduled for September 26. The 57 horses, including Conquistador, that were not returned to freedom on Pryor Mountain will be offered for adoption that day at the Britton Springs camp at the base. Pryor Mountain is located in Montana near Billings.
The BLM left 125 horses on the mountain to face the fierce Montana winter. The agency claims no horses were injured in the gather despite video of Cloud limping after his release.
A BLM spokesman said sore feet don’t constitute an injury.
Repeated requests for an interview with BLM Director Bob Abbey have been refused.