Concerns Over Conditions at Palomino Valley Wild Horse Center
For years we’ve seen Nevada’s wild horses chased by helicopters, rounded up and forced into captivity. It began in 1971, when Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to “protect and manage” them. Post-roundup, the horses are taken to holding facilities like the one 25 miles north of Reno, the BLM’s Palomino Valley National Wild Horse and Burro Center.
During a tour outside and inside the horse pens, Assistant Facility Manager Jeb Beck told me there are about 1,600 horses being held at his center, for an average term of 5 months or more. They will stay here until moved to sanctuaries in the Midwest, and while the BLM tries getting them adopted…but that goal is getting tougher. Horses are expensive to own, and when the economy turned bad, adoptions went way down. They never came back.
Of the BLM’s annual budget, about half of it goes to holding centers like this, and the cost of holding and feeding the horses is, as many prospective adoption candidates found, expensive. The BLM’s cost to care for them is over $4 a day per head. In the Palomino center alone, that’s over $6,700 a day.
Horse advocates have always called keeping the horses in captivity cruel and unnecessary. But they have new complaints about how these mustangs are treated once they’re in custody, primarily based on protections against Nevada’s brutal summer heat. Ever since the big heat began, Cold Springs resident Nancy Leake has been spending a lot of time on high ground, parked on the ledge overlooking Palomino Valley facility. She hates what she sees. She told me that she “saw horses lying down in the dirt, not moving, having a hard time breathing….distressed.”
She was so upset, she began keeping a photo record and sending the pictures…to me. Several, taken on July 7th, show horses laying prone on the dirt. She told me they were “heat exhausted. You could see that the heat, the sun was just baking them. And that’s what I put down for you, is that they were baking.”
Back inside the facility, I should the pictures to Jeb Beck. His reaction: “I see a horse laying down sleeping. That’s typical foal or horse behavior…not in distress at all. After they feed in the morning they will go rest, whether it’s lying down or standing.”
Still, from what we saw inside the pens, the horses are penned up on bare ground with no grass to lay on…no trees or vegetation for shelter from the hot sun, especially from the very high temperatures that are coming this weekend. They do have sprinklers set up in each pen, but most of the horses avoided them. Beck told us, “With proper care, proper feed, proper water and access to continuous water, these animals are able to self- regulate. They’re at rest. They’re not working.”
Nancy, who doesn’t own horses or belong to an advocacy group, says he’s lying. She doesn’t believe the horses she saw were sleeping…she is sure these horses are suffering in the heat. Nancy and many like her say these horses need more than sprinklers…they need shade. But Beck says a shade structure could create more problems than it’s worth…any unfamiliar structure can harm them, and horses traditionally stay away from them because he says they attract flies. He also said there are wide expanses in the wild where horses live well without shade. We asked, is the treatment at the Palomino center humane? Beck told us, “Yes sir it is.”
Back on the ledge, Nancy is not convinced. She’s worried: the triple digit heat is coming back this weekend. She doesn’t think the sprinklers are enough. She and many others like her don’t like the idea of roundups in the first place, but says if the horses must be in captivity, they shouldn’t be harmed or in peril. She tells me she has seen horses near death at the center. One, she says, “You could actually see the baby’s hip bone showing. That foal is gone. There were other horses too, their ribs were showing.”
We did not witness any horses in that condition. Nancy believes “they might have taken them” because they knew we were coming. In response, Jeb Beck told us, “We have not had any noted cases of animals dying because of the heat.”
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