Terrorized from the very beginning, the Horses of the Calico BLM Roundup
Photo by Kurt Golgart/Bureau of Land Management
April 19, 2010
Story by Maureen Harmonay – Equine Advocacy Examiner
Wild Horse Advocate Details the Reasons for the Triple Digit Deaths
Day after day since the beginning of the “gather” of the wild horses who once freely roamed Nevada’s Calico Mountains, the BLM has reported the deaths of the horses who were forced into its clutches. Though the Gather Daily Updates report that the total of equine lives lost as a direct result of this roundup is 79, a truer mortality tally is more than 90, in addition to the dozens of in utero foals who perished through miscarriages or as a consequence of the demise of the dams.
And while the BLM has variously categorized the reasons for these deaths as “a failure to adjust to a change in feed,” “hyperlipemia,” “metabolic failure,” “poor body condition,” and “colic,” among others, the real cause can be summed up in one word: “stress.” We’ve known this intuitively, and now, thanks to a timely and important paper by Dr. Bruce Nock, it can be proved.
Writing under the auspices of Liberated Horsemanship, Dr. Nock has just published Wild Horses: The Stress of Captivity, which lucidly and persuasively explains why stress is the physiological raison d’etre for virtually all of the maladies and illnesses that the Calico mustangs have suffered and endured. Dr. Nock doesn’t pull any punches, asserting:
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say, as ‘gathers’ are routinely done in the USA, if a wild horse doesn’t die straight off from the immediate devastation and commotion, it compromises him/her physically and mentally, putting him on a path of accelerated deterioration.”
It all starts with the fight-or-flight reaction, triggered at the first sound of the menacing helicopter as it swoops and dives in an effort to scare peacefully grazing herds into a full stampede. But the stress-stimulated hormones in the captive horses’ bodies continue to circulate long after they have stopped running, igniting a chain of chemical reactions and events that soon spiral out of control.
The high percentage of Calico mares who miscarried was a predictable consequence of conducting the roundup at a time when so many of them were in various stages of late-term gestation. According to Dr. Nock:
“Long-term projects, like reproduction, are put on hold when the fight-or-flight reaction is active. Expending resources to sustain and maintain a fetus, for example, just isn’t physio-logical if it seems like you are about to die. It isn’t surprising that the BLM reported 20-30 ‘miscarried’ in association with the Calico Complex Gather. In addition to the miscarriages, one wonders how many fetuses were resorbed by mares?”
Dr. Nock also addresses the BLM’s contention that many of the newly captive horses perished because they were not adapting to a change of diet. Through February 1st, at least 18 of the Calico horses “have died or have been euthanized as acts of mercy because they were not adapting to being fed grass hay in a domestic setting,” according to a report issued by BLM veterinarian Dr. Richard Sanford. Not so, says Dr. Nock:
“Let’s be honest. It has nothing at all to do with the hay and probably little to do with the change of diet. It’s about being scared out of their wits and the sympathetic tone shutting down processes related to appetite and digestion.”
Confinement itself is a major source of stress to these formerly free-ranging horses whose very survival depends on their ability to escape danger:
“Imagine how stressful confinement in an unfamiliar place must be to a species who depends on running for survival and who instinctively avoids places where they might get trapped.
On top of that, there’s the social unrest from confinement in close quarters with unfamiliar horses. And don’t overlook the importance of such things as the loss of or separation from lifelong herd mates, companions and family. It is egocentric to think such things are only important to our species. . .
The ability to control one’s own movement and activity is as important to horses as it is to us. The loss of control, on the other hand, is a powerful psychological stressor. In fact, it is a key factor in determining whether situations, events and circumstances are stressful and mentally or physically damaging.”
Dr. Nock’s analysis also explains how the stress of captivity can cripple a wild horse’s immune system, making him much more susceptible even to “natural stressors, like severe weather conditions, biting insects, and so on.”
The long-term prognosis for the Calico refugees currently being held at the Fallon, Nevada feedlot is not promising, as Dr. Nock sees it:
“I don’t think it is too far out of line to say nearly everything about captivity is probably stressful to one degree or another to wild horses, especially when it begins with the traumatic experience of a gather.
It is extremely detrimental to their long-term health and soundness.”
(This article is one of many in a long string of investigative stories written by Maureen Harmonay. Learn more about this talented writer by clicking HERE)