Tour of federal holding facility raises alarm over welfare of captured wild horses

On May 16th, representatives from the leading wild horse protection organization, American Wild Horse Conservation, witnessed disturbing conditions for more than 3,000 wild horses currently confined at the privately owned Winnemucca Holding Facility. Most alarming was the presence of a severely injured, dead or dying foal, lying amongst the other animals in the pen.

More than 2,000 formerly wild horses are currently confined at the privately owned Winnemucca Holding Facility. Photo by American Wild Horse Conservation.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Winnemucca 100-acre feedlot started housing horses in 2022, with the capacity to house 4,000 wild horses and burros in approximately 40 pens. This provides just 750 square feet of space per animal.

Records obtained by AWHC through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 23 horses were euthanized or died within a 24-day window in 2023. All deaths were attributed to suspected botulism poisoning.

This dead foal was discovered lying on the ground amid other horses at the privately owned Winnemucca Holding Facility earlier this month. Photo by American Wild Horse Conservation.

“The dark side of the BLM’s roundup and removal program is starkly evident at the Winnemucca facility, where more than 2,000 wild horses are currently held,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the AWHC. “With 64,000 already in holding and 20,000 more wild horses slated for removal and the majority from Nevada, we expect to see more preventable tragedies like the one witnessed at the Winnemucca facility this month.”

In addition to the apparently dead or dying animal, the AWHC team noted several other concerns during the tour:

  • Approximately 1,000 wild stallions at the Winnemucca facility have not been gelded yet.
  • The pens appear too small to accommodate the number of horses they hold, leading to overcrowding and competition for resources, especially water.
  • There is also a notable lack of shelter and windbreaks, leaving the animals exposed to weather.

As of January 2024, the population of the facility was more than 2,000 wild horses and is only at half capacity. During the May tour, the facility’s operator disclosed there is an unknown number of foals at the facility, raising concerns about inadequate record keeping and inaccurate population counts.

This issue is not isolated to the Winnemucca facility. Last month, AWHC exposed that 9 percent of the captured horse population died at another Nevada holding facility in Fallon, Nevada.

“Before any horse or burro enters the BLM’s holding corral, the conditions at facilities like Winnemucca must be urgently addressed to prevent further inhumane treatment and unnecessary suffering,” said Roy.