Cornell vet raises health concerns for captured BLM Mustangs

Another excellent article by Steve Long from Horseback Magazine. Kudos to Steve.

HOUSTON, (Horseback) – A Cornel University academic veterinarian has raised concerns for the health of Mustangs captured by the Bureau of Land Management – concerns that go far beyond the current “gather” in the Calico Mountains of Northern Nevada.

Dr. Nena Winand, DVM/Ph,D, says many horses adopted from the BLM suffer a condition known as “metabolic syndrome.” Her comments were posted on the website of billionaire and wild horse activist Madeleine Pickens. Winand’s comments were harsh and unforgiving, charging the agency with callous treatment of the horses it takes from the wilderness and ignorance of medical conditions of some of those adopted by the hapless public later develop.

“Sorry, but are these BLM people on crack?” Winand asked. “How do they propose to manage all the Mustangs in their proposed Eastern and Midwestern refuges that will certainly develop metabolic syndrome?”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has proposed moving a very limited number of the animals from there arid natural habitat to seven holding facilities in the Midwest and East where they would serve as tourist attractions so the public can see the wild horses. Critics charge the agency is attempting to make the wild horse extinct through widespread birth control and removal from the land. They claim the agency is in league with ranchers who covet wild horse habitat for cheap grazing land.

Winand says the condition is “common in Mustangs (and other breeds) that are removed from their natural habitat and brought out here (the East). It can be very difficult to manage and can have devastating consequences.”

The “gathers,” as BLM prefers to call the roundups, have sparked a perfect storm of protest from coast to coast and even abroad. Petitions are being signed to send to President Obama to stop the practice of stampeding horses with a low flying helicopter into pens the agency terms as “traps.”

Winand speaks with first hand knowledge of the condition saying, “I should know, I have one and have to deal with this daily, and have managed many others, and watched many owner/adopters fail to manage still others with ghastly consequences.”

The Cornell vet says that many in the BLM at the ground level are ignorant of the dietary condition. Cornell is located in Ithaca, New York.

“Once I addressed this with the BLM wranglers that auction horses here every year or two,” she says. “I suggested that they mention this syndrome in their presentation to potential adopters, so that they would be better prepared to manage their horse’s needs. They looked at me like I was an alien – they had no clue.”

Winand charges higher ups at the agency have left their line personnel unprepared of dealing with, or even knowing what metabolic syndrome is.

”Obviously the BLM people lack adequate experience actually managing these horses to be aware that this will be a huge problem. It is time to demand that they enlist the expertise of qualified people (veterinarians, geneticists, etc) in developing their management plans and they should be stopped by Congress or whatever supervisory entity they answer to, until they put such an advisory structure in place.”

The vet says Mustangs are very good at making do in very limited circumstances. When wild horses come into the civilized world of modern horsekeeping, things change radically for them.

“Basically many Mustangs in captivity are the type of horse, along with many Morgans, Arabians, and Quarter Horses, that are extreme easy keepers that become obese and develop characteristic fat deposits, cresty necks in particular, if they are not very carefully fed and exercised or when they don’t live like they do in nature – to a large extent they are adapted to slim pickings and big rough territories.”

“In many cases they become insulin resistant, and if the condition is not controlled, they can develop laminitis,” Winand said. “The outcome of laminitis depends on rapid intervention and treatment of the acute hoof problems, longer term farrier care, as well as life-long management of the underlying metabolic/endocrine problem. Uncontrolled laminitis leads to rotation of the coffin bone and a non ambulatory horse in excruciating pain-as happened to Barbaro (different mechanism but same outcome).”

“Wild Mustangs, which get a huge amount of exercise foraging for a pretty restricted caloric intake – they are fit, or even undesirably thin, but they are not fat. Now think of putting them on flat or rolling hills like we have out here with pretty good grass cover. Since I’ve dealt with a herd kept like that even on crap pasture, I can tell you they get limited exercise – Richard Simmons is not coaching them – and they eat like hogs. Food and reproduction are their lives,” she said.

Winand’s own Mustang leads an austere but well-managed life.

“She must be fed separately so she does not eat other horse’s food (their appetites are ravenous),” she said. “I need to exercise her like trotting and/or cantering five miles a day every day to keep her weight controlled – MINIMALLY. Also, my pasture that she is eating from is not well managed intentionally so it goes to very scant grass by August. Often these horses are kept on dry lots and fed only hay, but I’m trying to avoid that – poor life quality for a Mustang.”

Winand is critical of plans to move mustangs off the rangelands they have occupied for centuries.

“How does the BLM propose to manage upwards of 30,000 horses out East, and presumably rely on private individuals to supervise them?” she asks. “Not all Mustangs would be predisposed to develop this problem, but certainly some will if not managed with insight and oversight. Who pays for that?”

Winand says there are also genetic issues she has raised with other vets.

In short, she sums up her feelings regarding BLM’s veterinary treatment of wild horses in four words.

“It is an outrage,” she says.

Winand has high praise for Madeleine Pickens plan to house wild horses captured by the BLM on a million acre facility in the West. Thus far, the billionaire wife of philanthropist T. Boone Pickens has been rebuffed by the BLM.

Winand is an executive board member of Saving America’s Horses, and is a founding member of Veterinarians for Equine Welfare. She works at the Department of Molecular Medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.


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