It has been called a “wild horse apocalypse.”  The tragedy of wild horse overpopulation on western rangelands is most often expressed numerically, with the on-range total estimated to be at least 14,000 over what the BLM has established as appropriate management levels (AML), with some herd management areas (HMA) documented at 1200% of the AML. Nevertheless, wild horse advocacy groups maintain that herds are being “managed to extinction,” and fight tooth and claw for the horses to run free, regardless of the cost.

In contrast, most public land ranchers have had their grazing permits reduced due to the ongoing drought-- some so drastically as to put them out of business.  Wild horse advocates campaign to completely remove domestic livestock belonging to whom they call  “welfare ranchers” to make room for more horses, despite undeniable proof that there are already far too many--quite literally eating themselves out of house and home.

A powerful example of this is the Fish Creek HMA near Eureka, Nevada, where grazing permits for domestic livestock were cut by as much as 80% because of the drought. The AML for the allotment is 170, but in February 2015, over 400 horses were gathered.  Adoptable animals were sorted off, but 180 were immediately turned back out.

Enter a horse dubbed “Sarge,”  who was one of the horses kept in.  Named by wild horse advocates led by the famously litigious activist, Laura Leigh, Sarge was the perfect mascot for the cause:   a proud and uniquely colored palomino stallion with a dark nose.  Social media was flooded with indignant, impassioned pleas to free Sarge and his mares, with no thought given to the condition of the range or how the horses would fare.

Leigh’s group, Wild Horse Education (WHE) and others took legal action, resulting in Sarge and 185 other horses being re-released with much fanfare onto the Fish Creek HMA in April 2015.  This release brought the official total to 200% of the appropriate management level despite the desolate conditions—conditions that have rightly kept domestic stock out of the area for both ecological and humane reasons.

Wild Horse Education celebrated the release and flaunted dramatic photos, most specifically of the photogenic Sarge, once again gloriously “free” and “home on the range.”

Home On The Range (Fish Creek Update Overview)

By Laura Leigh | Wild Horse Education

Now, just a few short months later, Sarge has sadly become a different kind of poster child, giving a face to the nameless thousands of other excess horses suffering on arid western rangelands.

In late July, Sarge was found near death, desperately seeking water with a handful of other horses near the fence between two ranchers’ allotments. He was so thin, so battered, that if not for his unique coloring, he would have been unrecognizable. The horses with him were in similar condition, with their hip-bones, ribs, and spines prominently showing through their dull coats. Should a privately owned horse be neglected to that point, the owner would most likely face charges.

Rancher Kevin Borba well knows the “hands-off” policy of the BLM, and thought the horses would eventually move out to seek water elsewhere—eight miles away. Borba watched the horses, with their 400,000 acre home wide open behind them, pacing his fence-line in extreme thirst. Instead of letting them die, Borba finally came to their aid with a water truck. Borba wisely decided to document what he saw on video. Laura Leigh was reportedly in the area at the time, making preparations to gather the horses--yet again—to administer fertility control drugs, yet despite her “advocacy,” would have known nothing of the immediate plight of Sarge and his band if not for the ranchers’ videos circulated on facebook.

Pictures are indeed worth a thousand words. Borba’s videos tell a much different story than the picturesque images of the April release that were promoted by Leigh and her group. At the time, Leigh described the horses as being “once easy to approach, even after the release. Yet now the bands are all on alert, and we fear tensions are rising on the range.”

Now, far from being “on alert,” these same horses trudge brokenly in search of their salvation.

Interestingly, the horses’ condition was not a total surprise to advocates or the BLM.  Cameras are installed at the few, distantly scattered water resources—springs and troughs that were developed and maintained by, and at the expense of, ranchers.  Fence panels were even set up at one of the rancher’s troughs to help the horses get used to fencing for the anticipated gather.

The Borbas watered the horses for several days before being told by the BLM to stop interfering.  On August 3, the Borbas found Sarge at dusk, lying flat, weak, and alone in the brush.  Instead of leaving him to die, they “interfered” and took him to safety.  The formerly proud, vigilant wild herd stallion welcomed the helping hands.

The BLM came to pick Sarge up the next day.  Instead of thanks from Leigh and the “advocates” for simply watering the thirsty horses, the ranchers were accused of harassing the horses and even of deliberately baiting them away from their range—even while the advocates themselves help prepare for a gather that they somehow do not consider to be “harassment.”

Instead of taking some responsibility for the terrible condition of the horses, advocates have instead turned to vilifying Borba for his past issues with the BLM, regardless of his undoubtedly life-saving actions for Sarge and his band.