Save the Herd!

WILD HORSES OF ALTO (WHOA!) disclaimer: this blog is in no way associated with the group WHOA (Wild Horse Observers Association). This blog has actually become like a vertical file in the library where important past documents - like newspaper articles - are filed and kept for research when needed. It has become almost a lesson in librarianship for me. IF I have missed an important article that should be archived here, please email me at

WILD HORSES OF ALTO (WHOA!) The herd of wild horses in Alto, N.M., are the offspring of estray horses that roamed Sierra Blanca on Mescalero and National Forest land. Today the herds roam the same territory as well as dropping in to visit some of the subdivisions, such as Enchanted Forest, Sierra Vista, Sun Valley, LaJunta, Little Creek and occasionally Alto Lakes Golf & Country Club. For the most part, the herds are loved and welcomed. But sometimes not.

At this time, it is being decided in a court of law whether the horses are wild or domesticated (and therefore estray). At present, the horses fall under the auspices of the N.M. Livestock Board. We are trying to save all members the herd and other herds that exist in the area. We do NOT want to deny the horses the freedom they have known in the past and the comradeship the herd provides them.

To institute change in the policy and protect the future of our magnificent Wild Horses of Alto herd, we have a petition at, a fundraising site for lawyers and feed/care at, an account set up at City Bank-Ruidoso for donations to the "Wild Horses of Lincoln County Trust Fund" and an ongoing facebook group "Bring Ruidoso Horse's Back". Click on the Stallion's photo to go directly there.

PLEASE SPEAK UP, sign petitions, give to the trust fund for the horses. Sign up to this blog to get continual updates and to also post your own comments.

We LOVE our horse herd.

HELP save the Wild Horses of Alto (WHOA!) herd

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stallion sightings both sides of Hwy 48

Using an old photo, but The Stallion can be seen just wandering around neighborhoods all by himself.  It is as if he is going by checking all their stomping grounds.  Are they here?  Photo by Shannan Dobbs-Gabaldon

Wild horses still protected under prevailing law

Head of the Wild Horse Observers Association offers some comments about bills

With the dust finally settling on the New Mexico Legislature’s 2017 session, most of the bills and memorials dealing with wild horses died in committee.
The dead include House Bill 446 called Wild Horse in Statute and the accompanying House Memorial 102, Protection of Wild Horses. Also among the dead were House Joint Memorial 17, Protection of Wild Horses, and Senate Bill 126 introduced by Republican Pat Woods from Broadview, that would have changed livestock and wild horse definitions. That last bill was opposed by many local wild horse advocates as an attempt to eliminate the existence of wild horses in the state by classifying horses as livestock, but supported by some who contended the bill’s provisions protected property owners as well as horses. A second bill introduced by Woods, Senate Bill 184, Disposition of Trespassing Wild Horses, also died in committee.
The only survivor among the passel of proposed legislation was House Bill 390, Equine Rescue and Shelter Right of Refusal. The bill gives registered equine rescue or retirement facilities the first right of refusal to purchase an unclaimed horse classified as estray, or those that have been cruelty treated or caught while trespassing. If an owner doesn’t claim an estray equine within the allotted few days after the last publication of notice, a rescue or retirement facility will be given the chance to purchase the horse. If neither action occurs, the state livestock board has the right to sell the horse, which would include buyers with the intent to slaughter. If no bids are received, the board can order the horse to be humanely euthanized.
Patience O’Dowd, who heads the Wild Horse Observers Association, the group that interceded after the roundup of a dozen members of a wild horse herd in Alto, offered some observations about the bills considered in the state legislative session that ended earlier this month.
She said the insertion of exemptions for horses of Spanish colonial origin in Wood’s SB126 was not pushed by her organization, it was another group that works with the livestock board.
“It was a shill,” she said. “All it did was make a bad bill look good. It did not improve things at all.”
Thankfully some legislators were educated enough on the issue not to be fooled, she said. They correctly understood the rule of law.
“WHOA had two very successful years in the legislature in 2006 and 2007,” O’Dowd said. “In those two years we passed SB655 and three memorials.”
The senate bill was the basis for the successful court cases and was codified in state statute, defining Spanish colonial horses, requiring them to be relocated to horse preserves, allowing for adoption and providing for the control of wild horse population by means of birth control.
During the 2017 legislative session, three lobbyist organizations attended every committee meeting speaking for SB126, O’Dowd said.
“They all were ganging up to support 126, which is a bad bill for wild horses and would remove their protection as wild horses,” O’Dowd said. “So we had a stream roller coming down on these wild horses while we’re in the middle of (the) district court (case) and they were attempting to basically play legislative favoritism and roll over our judicial branch of government.”
WHOA previously received a temporary injunction against the sale of the Alto herd after it was rounded up, and is challenging in district court, the jurisdiction of the New Mexico Livestock Board insistence that wild horses are estray livestock.
People just didn’t bother reading the bill when they saw that an animal protection voters group backed it, O'Dowd said.
“Luckily there are people in roundhouse who know how to read for themselves,” she said. “Luckily, a new fiscal analysis was written at end that admitted to legilslative favortism and a clear attempt to overturn all financial investment and time of the people and the court and the previous legislature."
Under SB126, few if any horses would have been considered wild and pass the test for protection. The bill also contained nothing to stop the livestock board from declaring a wild horse an estray livestock. The board previously has never declared any horse “wild,” not even the Spanish colonials, despite the board’s own genetic testing showing the Placitas horses at 91 percent to 96 percent Spanish markers, significantly more than the 80 percent probability required, according to WHOA’s web presentation on the bill. The other problems with the amended bill were that wild horses would have to originate on public land, they could be classified as livestock and would have preempted federal law by removing the requirement that livestock be domestic or owned. The bill would have placed the wild horses under a board that never has recognized their existence as wild, the website stated.
Senate Bill 126 wasn’t taken down for lack of time, O'Dowd said. “It was taken down because of those issues. We did everything every step of the way we could under the law."
“Because of that, the wild horses prevailed and they are still protected and we still have a viable court case and we will still be there in court for those horses," she said. "We would have anyway, because we would have taken further action. The horses have nothing to hide from. The truth and law are on their side. Since 126 didn’t pass, the horses remain under the same protection that they had from existing laws 10 years ago.”
While HB390 was “a decent bill” in its original form, amendments changed that, O’Dowd said.
“For the horse rescuers, HB390 gives them first right of refusal, so they don’t have to compete with kill buyers or the public,” she said. “They have to pay $100 or $200, which is what they usually pay now, sometimes less. It just gives them first opportunity, so it will protect a few estray livestock equine from kill buyers. But those not bid on in the first round and that the rescue groups don’t take, the kill buyers will take them in the second round. That second option wasn’t there in the (original bill).” According to testimony, the livestock board and industry requested the amendments and the sponsor allowed them, she said.

Several wild horse bills debated in legislature

As the New Mexico Legislature prepares to close its session, debate still boils over how to protect wild horses and private property

With the 2017 session of the New Mexico Legislature drawing to a close Saturday, people on different sides of the “wild horse” debate in Lincoln County and elsewhere in the state are pushing for passage of bills or memorials they hope will clarify the status of the herds that roam the Alto and Ski Run Road area.
One side is focusing more on protection of private property rights and the other on protection of the horses and their freedom.
The latest proposed legislation is House Memorial 102 introduced by State Rep. Joanne J. Ferrary, a Democrat from District 37, with input from Patience O’Dowd, head of Wild Horse Observers Association. Her organization won a temporary injunction against the sale of a dozen members of a “wild” herd hauled away and then returned to Lincoln County by New Mexico Livestock Board. The case is pending in district court. The memorial acknowledges the role of the conservation division of the state Department of Game and Fish in “protecting, maintaining and enhancing wildlife habitat,” and requests the division conduct an interim study and to provide recommendation for the protection, maintenance an enhancement of wild horse herds and habitat in the state.
The memorial notes that the state has not managed the population of wild horses by immunocontraception in the last 10 years despite public policy, and contends management more likely would occur if a specific state agency had jurisdiction. Several tribes and pueblos already are managing wild horse population by immunocontraception and officials with two nongovernmental organizations as well are trained to administer the drug by darting, the memorial states. Fewer than 300 wild horses are on federal and state grazing lands in New Mexico compared to half a million cattle, it contends.
A long list of stakeholders in the well-being of wild horses included artists, outfitters, horse rescue groups, rural economic development organizations and the state tourism, the memorial states.
The New Mexico Livestock Board has exercised control over the wild horses of the state, considering them to be estray livestock subject to capture and disposal by the board, but the conservation services division is better suited to determine the status, needs, habitat requirements and issues of human interaction with wild horses than the board, according to the memorial. After tangling with the livestock board over horses in Alto and Placitas, wild herd advocates also seem to lack trust in the livestock board's intentions, a significant impediment.
The legislature’s website listed the memorial Tuesday as referred to the House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee.
O’Dowd insists that advocates for the well-being of the wild horse herds can no longer support Senate Bill 126, introduced by State Sen. Pet Woods, a Republican from District 7, if they claim they are against the slaughter of horses. The amended bill passed the Senate 32-2 and was sent to the House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee.
The bill classifies horses as livestock, but defines a wild horse as unclaimed without obvious brands or other evidence of private ownership determined by the board to originate from public land or federal land or to be part of, or descended from a herd that lives on or originated from public land. Excepted are horses that are subject to the jurisdiction of the federal government pursuant to the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and those determined to a Spanish Colonial horse.
Captured horses could be relocated to a preserve, adopted or humanely euthanized. A herd could be removed from a range, if the range improvement task force of New Mexico State University makes that recommendation after evaluating the condition of the rangeland in response to a request from the livestock board.
One of the key players in the situation with the Alto herd contends whether the horses there came from the reservation or from the wilderness area of the national forest is irrelevant, because both are federal land.
“So that gives the so-called wild horses special dispensation,” she said. “It does not mean that if they are found wandering on private property, stallions threatening mares or the well-being of private land or person that the private landowner doesn’t have the right to call the NMLB. This bill gives that protection to private land owners.”
She contended it is “highly unlikely” anyone is going to complain about horses on public land unless someone is injured on the highway.
She also noted that the state fence-out law does not mean that a person must have a fence, but if an owner does not put up a fence, and cattle or other livestock enter the property and cause damage, the owner then cannot register a legal claim for damage reimbursement.
Genetically verified Spanish Colonial horses are considered valuable by breeders, she said. Few have been verified in New Mexico. Senate Bill 126 also addresses testing to determine if a captured horse is of Spanish colonial heritage and if it is, to relocate it to a state or private wild horse preserve created and maintained to protect Spanish colonial horses.
“If not, (the bill reads that) it shall be returned to the state public land, relocated to a public or private preserve or put up for adoption by the agency on whose land the wild horse was captured,” she said. The livestock board is the proper agency to manage wild horses and livestock, she contended.
Other pending legislation includes House Bill 390, introduced by State Rep. Nathan Small, a Democrat from District 36, which would allow an equine rescue group first chance to purchase an unclaimed estray horse or it will be euthanized, later amended to allow public bid. Advocates contend that bidding would include buyers headed to a slaughter house. The amended bill was passed by the House 50-17 and referred to the Senate Conservation Committee. The initial aim of the bill was to prevent cruelty to livestock, advocates say.
House Bill 284, also introduced by Woods, hasn’t moved from the Senate Conservation and Senate Judiciary Committee referral. That bill deals with trespass on private land by horses, giving the Livestock Board jurisdiction and clarifying procedures to be followed when wild horses come into the custody of the board, including adoption, relocation to a preserve or euthanasia.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Horse bill stalls in legislative committee - Ruidoso News

Game and Fish officials contend they lack expertise to manage wild horses and the effort would divert resources from indigenous wildlife

The task of conducting a habitat study and then managing wild horse herds in New Mexico would be costly and time-consuming, and would divert resources of the conservation arm of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department from indigenous wildlife management, according to a Fiscal Analysis of House Bill 446 and its accompanying House Memorial 102.
Both the bill and the memorial were introduced by State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, a Democrat from District 37, and both were tabled in committee this week, according to a legislative spokesman. As the legislature prepares to shut down at noon Saturday, the bill sits in the House Energy and Natural Resources/House Judiciary Committee and the memorial, proposed by Patience O'Dowd of the Wild Horse Observers Association, languishes in the House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee.
The bill would have expand the jurisdiction of Game and Fish under the Wildlife Conservation Act to include wild horses without defining the term, writers for the Legislative Finance Committee noted in their analysis. The bill provides another definition of “wild horse,” as simply a horse “showing no indicia of ownership.” That differs from the definition in existing law governing the disposition of wild horses captured on public land, including descendants of Spanish colonial horses, the analysts stated.
The bill would transfer jurisdiction over those horses from the state livestock board to game and fish and would task the latter agency with determining when preservation of the genetic stock and range conditions require the use of birth control to limit a wild horse herd population. The bill also would extend the duty of private landowners to fence their properties from trespassing horses to include wild horses.
The report states that game and fish officials estimate $340,000 for start-up costs in Fiscal 2017, that would include hiring a wild horse biologist, conducting a survey of the state to determine the locations of wild horse herds, and building or leasing facilities to temporarily house horses while DNA testing is conducted. Another $100,000 would be needed each year to continue the work, plus a $50,000 annual estimated cost per horse to house and maintain any captured Spanish colonial horses in perpetuity, if no one adopts them and there is no public land or wild horse preserve available.
Listed as significant issues in the report were that adding wild horses to the definition of wildlife under the WCA is contrary to procedures laid out in state statute under the act. A species first must be listed, a process that could take nine months to one year and is only applicable to species of wildlife indigenous to the state, which does not include wild horses.
A second issue is that the livestock board has jurisdiction for managing wild horse, because their employees work with the animals and have expertise and access to facilities. Assigning the task to game and fish would take away resources from managing native wildlife species, they stated.
Other issues include that the bill provided no chance for an owner to claim a horse that may not be branded, tattooed, microchipped or showing other indicia of ownership. And the release provision conflicts with language that horses be adopted or relocated to other public land or to public or private preserves.
The analysts noted that the wildlife definition would “open the door for (game and fish) to create a permitting system for horse hunting as wildlife.”  They argued that no long-term effective contraception methods exist and that fertility control would have to be administered annually.
The analysis contends the deadline to finish the survey of December 2017 is unrealistic, because the agency has no expertise to manage wild horses, new staff would have to be hired and existing staff would require significant training. The agency also has no authority to implement any recommendations derived from a study. The transfer of jurisdiction would divert financial resources and could cost an initial $400,000 plus $800,000 in additional personnel for habitat analysis, plus the expense of helicopter surveys.
The analysts also had problems with some of the wild horse population figures in the memorial, but acknowledged that by not passing the bill, confusion over the capture and disposition of wild horses may continue.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Wild horses signs removed then returned to highway

Wild horses" signs attracted tourists as well as warned of potential traffic hazards

The often photographed signs on New Mexico Highway 48 and Ski Run Road warning drivers of wild horses in the area were removed last week by a state Department of Transportation crew.
The Ruidoso News contacted the department Monday and on Tuesday, at least two of the signs were back in place on NM48, but that may only be a temporary action.
     Emilee Cantrell, DOT public information officer, said new signs more in line with Federal Highway Administration guidelines will take the place of the horse signs soon.
     “Keeping our roads safe is our number one priority,” she said. “There have been more than 100 accidents in the area over the last five years, so it’s absolutely imperative that we do all we can to make travel safer. That’s why we are changing the signs to better protect motorists in the area.”
     However, until the new signs are ready for installation, the old signs were put back in place.
    An advocate for the wild horse herds that roam the Alto area leading into Ruidoso said the four horse signs instilled local pride in the uniqueness of the area and they drew tourists. “Wildlife Crossing” signs would be a significant come down on the “mystique” and tourism scale, she said.
     The advocate for the herds, including a dozen horses now impounded locally while the court decides their fate, said she thinks the action by the DOT is connected to that court case.
     The signs are reminders of the conviction of many locals that the herds are wild by common definition and have been for generations, she said.
     The signs were located north of Alto CafĂ© on NM48, one at Angus, and two on Ski Run Road.
     Several calls by concerned residents were made to the New Mexico Highway Department asking if that agency had removed the signs. They claim they were told initially that the signs were not removed and that because of the cost of the signs, such a theft would be a felony. But a subsequent call confirmed the action was taken by the DOT.
     “I firmly believe it is because of our pending court case regarding the Wild Horses of Lincoln County in an effort to get everything set up for us to fail in future cases should there be any,” the advocate said. “After all, how can they continue to claim the horses aren't wild, if the State of New Mexico placed the Wild Horses signs in the first place?”
     The case is pending in the 12th Judicial District Court and depending on the outcome, could place jurisdiction for the herds of roaming horses in the hands of the Livestock Board to be handled like cattle.

Wild horse bill would designate new experts

     Joe Cook and the museum he runs are designated by state law as experts on wild horses with the power to order them captured, moved, neutered or even euthanized. He has no idea why.
     “It was really a mistake,” he says.
     Cook is director of the University of New Mexico Museum of Southwestern Biology and also curator of its mammal division.
     The state law currently being disputed between the New Mexico Livestock Board and advocates for Ruidoso’s free-roaming horses puts the museum in sole charge of determining whether any given herd of wild horses is too big for its own good or for the range it occupies.
     “That language was put in there 10 or 12 years ago without our knowledge,” Cook told the News in a phone interview Tuesday. “It was slipped in there, and unfortunately we didn’t know about it.”
Cook would like very much to see the museum slipped back out of the law, and it’s possible he may get his wish.
      A bill currently making its way through the state Senate would amend the law to remove Cook’s museum and give its statutory job to something called the Range Improvement Task Force at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
       This time legislators have at least given their designated wild horse experts a heads up.
    “I’ve been approached,” said Task Force coordinator Samuel Smallidge, who has a doctorate in range science. “I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it. I know these things have a tendency to be amended.”
     Smallidge is probably right not to invest too much time in the new assignment yet. The main thrust of Senate Bill 126 involves other changes to the law that may encounter stiff resistance, since they appear to strengthen the Livestock Board’s control over wild horses that some horse advocates don’t think the board should have.
     Swapping in the NMSU Task Force for the Museum of Southwestern Biology appears unrelated to that goal, except for one thing. The proposed new language would get the Task Force involved with wild horses only when the Livestock Board called on them.
     The existing state law contains no such requirement. The museum’s mammal division is authorized to take action on its own if it determines “that a wild horse herd exceeds the number of horses that is necessary for preserving the genetic stock of the herd and for preserving and maintaining the range.”
     In such a case, the museum can order birth control measures on the herd, and have excess animals either moved to other public land or to a horse preserve, or adopted or sent to a rescue facility. Animals found by a veterinarian to be crippled or unhealthy can be euthanized on the museum’s authority.
      The museum wasn’t a completely off-the-wall choice for the job. Cook has a doctorate in biology, and he and his staff do study the relationship between wildlife populations and their environments.
     “But not wild horses,” he said. “We feel we’re not the right people to help figure out anything about wild horses in New Mexico. We’re not horse specialists.”
     But under the proposed amendments, the Task Force would do nothing unless the Livestock Board asked it to assess any given herd of wild horses.
     “Upon request of the board to determine the viability of a specific New Mexico wild horse herd on the range they occupy,” the statute says the Task Force will make an assessment and report back to the Livestock Board. Then it’s up to the board to do all the things the law now says the museum would do, i.e. moving, adopting, neutering or euthanizing excess animals.
     One other change from existing law is that there’s no mention in the proposed amendments of “preserving the genetic stock of the herd.” The focus of the Task Force would be entirely on the range.
     Smallidge said the Task Force is well qualified for the role the proposed amendments would assign to it.
     “The Range Improvement Task Force does represent demonstrated capabilities in collecting scientific data to inform decision makers regarding the ecology and management of New Mexico rangelands,” Smallidge said.
     “Regarding the legislation,” he added, “I will leave that in the hands of the New Mexico Legislature and respond appropriately to their decision.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Senate committee passes horse as livestock bill

Senate Conservation Committee passes bill that eliminates the classification of domesticated horse and lumps equines as livestock with specific exceptions

Local advocates for wild horse herds in New Mexico piled into a bus at 3:30 a.m. Thursday and headed to Santa Fe to voice their views on an amended version of a state senate bill they fead would lead to the elimination of wild horse herds that roam the Alto area north of Ruidoso.

Despite the efforts of advocates, they reported that members of the Senate Conservation Committee passed the bill in less than five minutes.The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  A series of hearings before the conservation committee led to modifications of the original bill submitted by State Sen. Pat Woods, a Republican from Quay County, that eliminates the classification of domesticated horse.

While under the amended version horses still would be lumped into the broad definition for livestock that fall under the jurisdiction of the New Mexico Livestock Board, specific exceptions were included for Spanish colonial horses and for a “wild horse” defined as an “unclaimed horse without obvious brands or other evidence of private ownership that is determined by the board to originate from public land or federal land or to be part of or descended from a herd that lives on or originates from public land; but does not include horses that are subject to the jurisdiction of the federal government pursuant to the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.”

Public land does not include federal land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service or state trust land.

Under the amended version, a wild horse captured on private land in New Mexico at the discretion of the livestock board “shall be” humanely captured and relocated to state public land or to a public or private horse preserve; adopted by a qualified person (for an adoption fee); or humanely euthanized provided the option is the last resort when the horse is determined by a licensed veterinarian to be crippled or otherwise unhealthy or cannot be relocated to a public or private wild horse preserve or adopted.

A new section throws in another wrinkle for the future of “wild horses” such as the herds in Alto. That section in the amended bill provides when requested by the board to determine the viability of a specific New Mexico wild horse herd on the range they occupy, the range improvement task force of New Mexico State University will evaluate the range conditions to determine the number of wild horses that the range can support while maintaining its ecological health.

The task force will report the results of the evaluation to the board. “If required, the board may cause control of the New Mexico wild horse herd population through the use of birth control and may cause excess horses to be humanely captured” and relocated, adopted or euthanized.

A second bill introduced by Woods, SB284, which has not yet been heard in committee, specifically deals with trespassing horses on private land. It gives the livestock board jurisdiction over any horse trespassing on fee simple private land and charges board representatives to attempt to determine ownership and simultaneously to notify animal rescue organizations.

“If no owner can be identified after five days, the horse shall be offered to animal rescue organizations. If no animal rescue organization assumes ownership after two days, the board may auction the horse,” SB284 states.

“These people apparently are hell bent on getting rid of the wild horses,’ one wild herd advocate said.

Noting that the incoming president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association backed the bill, contending it provided a remedy for a private land owner beleaguered by trespassing unowned horses, a Santa Fe attorney with government background said, “My question is, if a deer or elk eats her trees, does she had a remedy? If a skunk sprays her dog, does she have a remedy? If a coyote eats her cat, does she have a remedy? Is the state required to provide a remedy at taxpayer expense for every intrusion of wildlife onto private property?” The attorney also questioned if any data exists showing that overgrazing by wild horses has occurred on private land and how that data compared to grazing by other wild animals.

Local wild herd advocates mobilized in large numbers after the livestock board in August 2016 hauled away a dozen members of a herd in Alto that had been penned by a private land owner.  A lawsuit was filed by the Wild Horse Observers Association that resulted in a temporary restraining order against the sale of any of the horses in the herd. Under an agreement approved by the court, the horses were returned to the county until the court decides on the status of the herd as wild. That case still is pending in the 12th Judicial District Court.