Issue: Disposition of the Virginia Range Horses removed from Mound House, NV
Situation Report Summary
Background: The Virginia Range herd ranges all across Storey County, NV, and extends into the adjacent portions of Lyon County, Washoe County and the state capitol of Carson City.
This herd does not fall under Federal jurisdiction but by law is managed by the Nevada Department of Agriculture. Historically the herd was managed through the cooperation of the Department, other agencies and non-profit groups. However in recent years budget constraints and changes in department leadership have adversely impacted the herd's management.
The horses have integrated into a number of communities including Lockwood, Fernley, Silver Springs, Stagecoach, Dayton, Silver City, Mound House and even the outskirts of Carson City and Reno.
While most residents enjoy the occasional visits of equine visitors, many bands have settled into residential and commercial areas within these communities, in some instances venturing near to and onto busy highways.
One reason for the recent encroachment of such numbers of horses into these areas involves feeding and watering by local residents and businesses. Feeding Virginia Range horses is illegal except where specifically authorized by the Department of Agriculture. Watering, while not illegal, is discouraged by horse advocates and the Department, except in locations that serve to discourage horses from entering urban areas and from crossing busy streets and highways.
The other factor that has contributed to this problem was former Director of Agriculture Tony Lesperance's summary cancellation of all the agreements between the Department and the non-profit horse groups. Those agreements included "diversion programs," authorized locations for temporary feeding designed to help control the movements of the horses and discourage incursions into neighborhoods for hand-outs until the winter grasses became more attractive than human provided goodies.
Current Issues: Horses were getting onto highways and on a number of occasions were involved in vehicle accidents. The Department put out a few traps and removed some of the horses. The first eight horses removed came from the community of Mound House.
Several of the communities were upset by the trapping, primarily due to the previous Director of Agriculture's propensity to slip horses off to the kill buyers. While current practices were far less egregious than during the Lesperance years, citizens and advocates were on point and were demanding that the Department follow state law to the letter. Naturally a somewhat acrimonious climate prevailed.
The current Director, Jim Barbee, offered a somewhat unorthodox but workable compromise. The horse groups would have access to the horses on the morning before the horses were slated to go to the livestock sale. While this arrangement was questionable due to notice and procedural requirements for disposing of state owned horses, the allied advocates agreed that the humane disposition of the horses was the primary objective in this instance and they participated. The groups would cover the Department's expenses for advertising the horses when they were taken up and for the board charged by Silver State Industries. That amount was calculated to be $90.00 per horse.
The horse offering: Ed Foster represented the department at the "sale." As the public affairs officer for the department, Foster was often the target of very bitter exchanges during the Lesperance administration. In this instance Foster and the advocates were all cordial and contributed to a relatively stress free transaction.
Advocate Mikel Hettrick had arranged permission for the horses to be turned out onto several thousand acres of private range where other free-roaming horses inhabited the area. Lacy J. Dalton's Let 'Em Run Foundation agreed to be the buyer of record for the entire group of horses. Least Resistance Training Concepts handled the logistics, including transportation. Other allied groups including Nevada B Mustang Sanctuary and Santa Barbara based Wild Horses in Need also participated behind the scenes. Director Barbee was notified of the plan the week before the "sale" in hopes that the transaction would run seamlessly.
When the allies arrived at the sale they were in for a shock. On the very day before the sale, the group, Horse Power, sent a veterinarian to the facility and had the band's stallion, a magnificent pinto, gelded.
Everyone was stunned. Given this horse's color, conformation and size, everyone had hoped that he would provide some positive genetic influence on the greater population of horses in the area. There was no sensible rationale for gelding this horse given that it would have no impact whatsoever on the birth rate on this private range. Now that he has been gelded, he will likely lose his mares to the intact stallions in the area who will then breed the mares.
That travesty aside, and being the only party who came to purchase the horses, the allied advocates acquired the horses and released them where they were authorized by the landowner.
Releasing the horses.
The stallion leads his band up a horse trail.
In apparent response to public criticism, Horse Power posted the following "explanation" on their Facebook page.
HORSE POWER offered to Humanely Geld the Stallion in order to place him
in a good home.Most facilities have no set up for stallions. It Is the
choice of the new owner to protect the horses.If you contributed to the
Fund Raiser for theses horses , you should be informed of their location &
health on a regular basis(PICTURES)- Contact Let EM RUN Foundation
or the other entity listed in the fund raising
This "explanation" doesn't wash given that a formal commitment to take this entire group of horses and protect them from going to the livestock sale was tendered back on December 1st. How would gelding this horse in order to "place" him in a good home be relevant unless Horse Power doesn't believe that free-roaming horses that were removed from the range should be kept in their family units and allowed to live on privately managed rangelands and sanctuaries.
Furthermore the allied horse groups, including Livesavers, Least Resistance Training Concepts, Wild Horses in Need, Let 'Em Run, Madeleine Pickens Wild Horse Sanctuary, Return to Freedom, Nevada B Ranch and others have taken in over 1,000 Nevada mustangs including BLM horses, Indian Nation horses, range estrays, Virginia Range horses and horses from local animal services agencies in the past year alone. Many have been placed on sanctuaries or in private care. Although frequent targets by individuals associated with Horsepower, the Allies do know what they are doing and have produced exceptional results.
Questions have been raised as to who gave Horse Power authority to geld a horse that was legally advertised as a stallion, and that was going to be purchased as a stallion. Horse Power's propensity to attack other groups has led others to speculate that this gelding was in reality a vindictive act, to the tragic detriment of this particular horse. If he doesn't succeed as a gelding, Horse Power's actions will result in his having to be permanently removed from the range.
The allied horse groups were glad to have helped achieve this positive resolution for the Mound House horses, however the groups still would like to return to a more sensible and orderly process provided through the cooperative agreement system.