Current myths about the Wild Horses of the American West

wild horses wyoming

The Bureau of Land Management’s recent call to find newer ways to destroy the wild horses of the American West have all kinds of opinion pieces floating about by those who interest lie with the cattle ranchers. They attempt to paint anyone who wants to protect the wild horses as deranged bleeding heart liberals and “tree huggers”. They make up falsehoods about the wild horses and overpopulation.

Here are just a few of those myths exposed:

wild horses wyoming1. Wild horses and burros are feral and not “wild”.

The truth of the matter is that horses and burros within 2 generations of rewilding adapt to their eco-system. Equine lived in North America thousands of years ago – really just a short amount of time for an environment. Horses adapt to their once native environments, it is instinctual for them to do

Meanwhile cattle were brought from Europe and were never a native species to our lands. Cattle are NOT bison. Bison are native to North America. Domestic livestock cattle are not. Cattle have significant differences in diet, grazing, water use, movements, and predator defense than bison.

Cattle use more water and are less mobile than bison. As a result, watersheds and the land are severely depleted by livestock grazing in the West. Bison feed in one place for a few days, then move on. This allows vegetation to recover from grazing. Cattle will stay in the same location for weeks, sometimes grazing native shrubs, grasses and forbs to bare dirt, causing soil erosion and creating conditions for weed invasion.

Bison are able to survive on available native forage, while cattle require extra feed to survive drought, degraded rangelands, and northern winters.

Cattle are poorly adapted to dealing with native predators, being rather slow and unintelligent when compared to bison. Cattle ranchers will do all they can to eliminate “natural” predators since cattle are NOT natural to the United States.

2. Wild horses are in direct competition for the natural resources of cattle and sheep.

The competition is very lopsided. There are millions of cattle on the rangelands while there are only 10s of thousands of horses.

Also cattle graze close to water – within a mile. As we previously stated cattle will stay in area grazing until the land is bare. Meanwhile horses graze up to 10 miles or more from water. Horses will graze on lands at much higher elevations than cows will. Really the cattle are competition with each other for resources…not with horses.

3. There is a serious population problem with the wild horses and burros in the United States.

Back when the Wild free-roaming horses and burros Act of 1971 was signed into law, horses were considered to be close to endangered with only 34,000 remaining. Now there are only close to 49,000 horses in the American West. The wild horses numbers are still low. As long as cattle and other livestock are allowed to destroy the land, their numbers will remain low.

The Bureau of Land Management attempts to justify the need for population control by stating there are 22 million acres less than in 1971 alloted to wild horses. That drop in land is mostly due to the government relinquishing control to private land owners over water concerns. Close to 50% of the land loss was due to this. The Act itself states that the horses and burros are NOT to be removed from the lands…so instead the land is removed from the horses – always to the benefit of private livestock owners and energy corporations.

4. Wild horses and burros damage the ecosystem.

Unlike cattle, horses and burros can roam hundreds of miles much more evenly distributing grazing pressure. Equine digestive tracts actually help to restore the soil and reseed many species of plants while maintaining brush and over growth. The same cannot be said for cattle that overgraze a region. Often times the BLM will take pictures of wild horses in areas that cattle had just foraged to promote the falsehood that horses over graze the land.

5. Wild horses do not have predators which is why their population is growing.

Puma, mountain lions, wolves, bears and coyotes are prey upon wild horse populations in regions where predators are allowed to live. Even when predators are eliminated from an area to benefit hunters and private livestock owners, wild horse populations are naturally limited due to natural habitat requirements such as food, shelter and water.

  • Callie83

    Another great analysis which should be sent to The Ethicist at the New York Times. I tried to refute what he said yesterday but the site would not allow comments when I tried. I am sure there are many folks that did get on and I will try again today.

    People that brag about their degrees, and Philosophy is a very tough degree, the the top programs are always predicated by the faculty. This particular Ethicist apparently graduated in the early 1970’s as his presentation is very old school and can be reduced to an absurdity.

    The top Colleges for Philosophy are New York University College of Arts and Sciences, Harvard College,Stanford University and Yale College. I am sure he did not attend any of those! I did.

    March 24, 2014
  • Why is it that wild horse and burro advocates understand this but the general population is swayed by those that haven’t looked at the facts? Lots of good facts here to use when commenting on published stories by journalists who believe what the BLM and cattle ranchers have said.

    March 24, 2014
  • Margaret

    Mountain lions in the Pryors controlled the herd growth rate in the 2000s. Also the nasty winter in 2011 took 15 horses. For each foal born an adult horse died. Yet, BLM still conducted that bait trapping in 2012. BLM counts the foals when it benefits them but to the public they don’t. They speak out both sides of their mouths.

    March 24, 2014
  • I will send this far and wide, great information for those not in the know !!!!!!

    March 25, 2014
  • Callie83

    My friend who lives in California had a Mountain Lion get into her Barn and it attacked one of her horses. The big Cat tore off her entire left hind quarter of her horse and via amazing veterinary intervention the horse not only survived but has a mild scar from the claws of the Cat. Mountain Lions DO kill wild horses and their foals, and this is how it always has been.

    March 25, 2014
  • Marc

    Feral animals? They still destroy rangelands. The american wild horse is not native to America and as such has no natural predators, much like other introduced plants that are being controlled like Russian Olives (Elaeaangus angustifolia), as well as Salt cedars (Tamarix aphylla). Rangeland ecosystems did not evolve under the added pressures of horses. It evolved under “Buffalo” Bison grazing. Shouldn’t Rangelands be managed as a renewable resource? And used to provide for our economy, by running livestock we provide food and clothing for not only the USA, but other countries as well.

    March 26, 2014
    • Lesley


      You and so many others are wrong. Horses ARE native to N. America. The horses were here before the Spanish “brought them on ships”. They also roamed right along side the Bison; upwards to 1 million horses lived on the plains. I’m not sure how you can say that rangeland ecosystems did not evolve under horse and bison grazing. It had to evolve that way, because the animals have been here a long, long time. Please see the attached link about the Hagerman horse — found at the Hagerman Fossil Beds in Idaho. There is proof that horses, as we know them today, roamed our lands.

      March 27, 2014
  • Callie1983

    Thank you Lesley for correcting this fallacy.

    March 27, 2014
  • ron

    Not totally correct Lesley they were native but died out with the camel 8000/10000 years ago reintroduced by the Spanish different eco system different horse

    March 27, 2014
  • Mike

    Where do you get your information for this stuff? Where have you conducted your research to learn all this? Did you just make this all up? That’s what it sounds like to me. I don’t think you have been around “wild” horses much or cattle. These horses you are referring to as “wild horses” are not native to North America, and they are not native to the wild. Maybe there were horses here thousands of years ago, but that’s not where these horses came from. They are largely overpopulated in many areas, have been a problem for several years, and are getting to be a very serious problem. They will stay in an area near water until it is completely destroyed, and cattle will too. The difference is, the cattle are managed to prevent this, horses are not. That’s the problem. Managing them costs money. Since the horses are pretty much worthless, there is no money to manage them. There is a market for cattle, therefor money can be made to be able to manage them. Cattle not only provide meat and other valuable resources to society, the also create a cash flow for the economy creating jobs and positively influencing different industries. It makes so much more sense to use the natural resource of grass to feed cattle, which give something back, than horses, which don’t give anything back. All they do is take..

    April 3, 2014