What are Wild Horses Today? by Annie Tanck

Annie Tanck’s essay combines passion, research, and vivid imagery of the American identity into a single argument. As editors, we also enjoyed this essay because of how much of our local culture is influenced by horses (the University is very close to Churchill Downs, after all). This essay poses vivid examples to support its points, and considers a variety of solutions before turning the call to action out to its audience. How effective is this author’s use of evidence? Was it balanced between emotional evidence (pathos) and logical (logos)?  This work is aimed at the entire United States, but how do you think other regions of the nation would respond? Keep in mind as you read that Tanck’s essay is written using MLA eighth edition citation style, and includes paragraph citations of online sources.  


Horses have been a part of our nation’s history since 1493 when they were brought over on Christopher Columbus’s second voyage. These horses originally were just dropped in the Virgin Islands, but eventually around 1519, they were introduced to the North American continent (Kirkpatrick and Fazio par. 4). Since then, these horses have remained a part of our culture from the horse and buggy of the past to ranches, competitions, and racing of the present. Since these horses have been around for so long and their numbers have gone unchecked, the wild horse population has skyrocketed, to what some would consider an uncontrollable amount. To this day these horses symbolize freedom and the wildness of our country in the American West, but a conflict and controversy has risen between cattle ranchers and the advocates of these wild horses.

Now imagine this – “Just after dawn, a dozen mustangs stampede across the high desert, harassed by a white helicopter that dips and swoops like a relentless insect. Frightened stallions lead a tightknit family band, including two wild-eyed foals that struggle to keep up.” (Glionna par. 1). This round-up only turns for the worse as 180 wild mustangs are corralled by the Bureau of Land Management (Glionna par. 4). This is only one account of a round-up in the United States and thousands more take place on a continuous basis. Many people believe that these actions are completely justified by the fact that many cattle graze on the same lands that these horses do, and since the wild horse population is rapidly growing, these horses are stealing valuable food away from the cattle. The attempts to control the wild horses using roundups are increasingly dangerous due to the unfortunate consequences of the abuse and slaughtering of these horses.

I’ve introduced the point of how these wild mustangs are stealing away land from the cattle but what does this really mean? Many people believe that since the wild mustang population is continuing to flourish, these horses are grazing on the land that is meant for the cattle. The cattle are seen by some as the more important animal because we use them as food; however, the horses are a symbol of our past. As of 2014, 2.1 million cattle roam freely on rangelands compared to only 56,656 wild horses and burros (Eckhoff par. 6). In my eyes, I see it as the cattle are stealing all of the wild horses grazing grounds. These two species of animals have been successful with co-existing in the past, so why should we as humans try to intervene in their way of life today?

Years ago, the first idea that was brought up was the adoption of these wild horses. These horses could be adopted by people all over the country who would pay for feed and the care of these horses. It sounded like a good plan, but not enough people were actually willing to adopt a wild horse (Sharp and Wade par. 4). A few possible explanations for this could be the fact that horses take a substantial amount of time and money, so if you are not using them on a continuous basis, they aren’t really worth the effort to have. Some adoption programs still exist, but this way of trying to take care of these wild horses is not producing the number of positive outcomes it should. Since this program proved ineffective, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has resorted to round-ups, birth control, and slaughtering as a way to control the wild horse population.

Since the adoption idea failed, many people have begun to advocate the idea of birth control for horses. This is a fairly new idea that is a very controversial topic in the world of wild horses. The BLM has begun shooting the horses from a distance with darts that administer the birth control directly into the horse. The horses that have been treated are now tracked using a description and photos of that horse in order to prevent unnecessary doses. (Simon par. 6-7). This is done in order to attempt to dwindle the number of wild foals born. If the BLM continues this practice, eventually the population of wild horses in our country will cease to exist, leaving all the land to the cattle.

Another option that has crossed some business-people’s mind has been that idea of making these wild horses into tourist attractions. These attractions would aim to bring in revenue to the surrounding areas of the sanctuary by drawing tourists to the location. While supporting those nearby businesses, the tourists would have the opportunity to see these wild horses, which would most likely guarantee an increase of their interest in these fascinating creatures. These tourists would be more likely to adopt these horses, as stated in previous paragraphs. This plan sounds like a win-win-win scenario for the horses, businesses, and tourists; however, one of the main problems with this idea is the question: is a wild horse truly wild if this scenario is true? Horses in establishments like these are not being treated like live animals – they are being treated like zoo exhibits.

I had a first-hand experience with a setup like this. When I was out in South Dakota four years ago, we went to Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. We went on a tour and were taken out on the land within the sanctuary to see the wild horses up close and personal. Every direction that you looked, there were these beautiful, majestic creatures. Many times throughout the ride, we were able to get out of the vehicle and walk up to about ten feet away from the horses. This was an unforgettable experience that truly made me value these horses much more than I already did. Despite how amazing that was, horses like those ones need to be free and undisturbed. How can these horses truly be wild if multiple tours go through their homes each day and humans can walk up to them without a second thought? Sanctuaries like these aren’t protective homes for these horses, they are more like zoos where tourists can come to admire the horses.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about this whole wild horse controversy is the part where many horses that are captured are either brutally slaughtered here on our own soil or shipped off to foreign countries where they would also be slaughtered (Glionna par. 31). Many times, the slaughtering process is not quick and painless for the horse. The horse gets tied to trucks, which increase the potential of injury, and physically abused on its way to the slaughterhouse. Countries such as Italy, China, France and many more treat horse meat as staples or delicacies the way Americans consume cattle for beef. However, the idea of eating horse meat is looked upon unfavorably by Americans because horses are such an icon in our country. Since many foreign countries eat horse, some people in the United States have taken a liking out of selling their horses to slaughterhouses overseas just to make quick money. Taking the action of selling your horse for foreign meat is illegal in America, but many people have found and will continue to find loopholes in the law (Glionna par. 32). If someone wants to sell their horse badly enough, they will find a way to do it.

In conclusion, wild horses are a symbol of America’s past, present, and future. Many people today only see these wonderful creatures as threats to one of their major food sources, such as beef cattle. They react in drastic ways which can be anywhere from wild-horse round-ups to exporting these horses for meat. As citizens of this country, we have an obligation to protect what is ours. We can do this by adopting a wild horse, donating money to organizations that support the protection of these horses, and sign petitions to end these policies from going through in our government. Will you simply watch as our nation is being torn apart? Or will you stand up and fight?

Works Cited

Eckhoff, Vickery. “BLM and USFS Livestock Grazing Stats: Examining Key Data in the Debate over Wild Horses on Western Public Lands.” Dailypitchfork.org, Nov. 2015, dailypitchfork.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/BLM_USFS-grazing-analysis_2014_Daily-Pitchfork.pdf. Accessed 24 Nov. 2016.

Glionna, John M. “Mustangs: How to Manage America’s Wild Horses? The Debate Rages.” American Wild Horse Preservation, 01 July 2013, www.wildhorsepreservation.org/media/mustangs-how-manage-americas-wild-horses-debate-rages. Accessed 24 Nov. 2016.

Kirkpatrick, Jay F., and Fazio, Patricia M. “Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife.” Animal Welfare Institute, Jan. 2010, awionline.org/content/wild-horses-native-north-american-wildlife. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.

Sharp, Gwen, and Lisa Wade. “Sociological IMAGES: Land Management and the American Mustang.” Contexts, vol. 10, no. 4, 2011, pp. 76–77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41960264.

Simon, Betsy. “BLM Darts Wild Horses with Dose of Birth Control.” American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, 10 Aug. 2013, www.wildhorsepreservation.org/media/blm-darts-wild-horses-dose-birth-control. Accessed 24 Nov. 2016.



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