Wild Horses: The Stresses of Captivity

Wild Horses: The Stresses of Captivity by Bruce Nock PhD examines the stresses placed on our wild horses during roundups and being held afterwards in captivity, and the consequences.

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction:

The evidence that stress is a powerful destructive force is indisputable. It pokes and prods, finds weaknesses, and then exaggerates them … turns them into pathologies. Diseases and disorders from the common cold to degenerative diseases like diabetes to the atrophy of certain brain regions are now known to be caused or made worse by stress. There is every reason to believe the same is true for horses. And it may be hard to believe but psychological stress is the worst kind.

So let me tell you what happens to a wild horse’s physiology when he/she suffers the severe stress, trauma, of being chased by a helicopter and sequestered into captivity. Then, I’ll tell you what some of the consequences are. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say, as ‘gathers’ are routinely done in the USA, if a wild horse doesn’t die straight off from the immediate devastation and commotion, it compromises him/her physically and mentally, putting him on a path of accelerated deterioration.

In his summary Dr Nock states:

What our government is doing to the wild horses of the western US and the way it is being done is an atrocity. It is an injustice against nature. Even the horses left behind or turned back out suffer from the social disorder gathers cause.

Wild Horses: The Stresses of Captivity, by Dr Bruce Nock PhD, 24 pp, pdf.

Learn more at http://www.LiberatedHorsemanship.com.

14 thoughts on “Wild Horses: The Stresses of Captivity”

  1. Good point. What governing body is it who’s supposed to be protecting them now?

    You know, I recently had an encounter with human limitation. This is an example where humans directly handling the BLM round-up fall short and no governing body is there to guide them up to the next level. Government must consider human problems first ( because so many want it that way) but human problems just keep getting bigger, taking more away animals.

    Perhaps someone should go straight to the President. Certainly, the Obamas care.


  2. For one thing, if the BLM is, as they say, “about the land”, then they should manage the land. They have too many fingers in too many pies. If they’re “not about cows”, sheep, goats, etc., stop enabling the ranching business. If they’re not about wildlife, they should leave that to Game & Fish. Not about natural resource installations? Again, stop enabling those who exploit our lands. They should be about the water, but, judging from the number of lawsuits, obviously they’re not.

    And if they’re not about the wild horses and burros, for heaven’s sake get out of the WH&B business! We need a DOI branch agency dedicated to PROTECTING the wild ones.

    I live in NM, and as I understand it, there’s only one tiny BLM HMA still listed, with a 0 AML. And I don’t know what to think or do about the USFS. They take and take from the wild herds, and the only way to even slow them down is when local people mount a strong enough protest.

    I’d like to know how many wild ones roamed NM in 1971. I should think tis is one of the areas where the Spanish herds started. Why didn’t NM insist at least some of them be protected? I can only attribute it to greed.


  3. Linda, your plan sounds reasonable and very workable. But how do you get the government, particularly the BLM, to listen, to agree and then adhere to a plan such as this. There are solutions. We do not lack intelligent ideas. What we do lack is government co-operation. They seemed determined to zero every last wild horse and burro. Public trust is being zeroed out along with them. It does not matter the Administration. This appears to be bipartisan destruction. However, we have never seen it ramped up to this degree. To what end? It has been cattle interests, but there are others now in that not so pretty kettle of fish. It must stop. Now.


  4. I’m not directly “replying”, because our columns were getting way too narrow.

    How about this scenario – HMAs are expanded; the majority of expiring grazing permits are not renewed and new permits are not issued; domestic livestock AMLs are substantially reduced; wildlife AMLs are adhered to; wild horse herds are allowed to reproduce to an acceptable level; then predators are reintroduced or allowed to reproduce in numbers sufficient to maintain balance.

    Some domestic livestock would be killed, but, as I understand it, the government reimburses ranchers for stock lost due predation in areas where predators are reintroduced.


    1. As I understand it, many stockmen receive a stipend for stock killed by predators, so I’m not sure, for them, what the downside is. Low-rent grazing, a government check for your losses –
      I guess it’s more important to flex your subsidized muscle in mitigating or irradicating a species you find personally offensive, i.e., wolves, big cats, wild equines. I recently read an article where stockmen had elk ‘removed’ from grazing areas because elk, apparently, consume way more than their fair share.
      If Nature is to be rebalanced, humans shouldn’t have a hand in it. We don’t have the patience to allow a natural course, are unwilling to see an action through to it’s conclusion or live with the consequences.
      Where Wild Equines are concerned, there is little ‘natural’ in the course their existence has been forced to follow. Each and every year, another lame-ass excuse is found to disrupt their lives to the point where there is NO natural course.
      Back en pointe: I’m pleased with the Doctor’s report. It validates, in an expert opinion, what Advocates have known instinctively – that ’roundups’ and ‘captivity’ are NOT valid management tools.


  5. Feels like it could be a turning point. The technology is here. The scientific jargon can accomodate psychological disorders in all mammals equally. A vet is saying it! Reason must listen, and money must bow to humanity, at some point.

    No helicopters! How about real men on horseback, or something.


    1. Andrea, according to The Cloud Foundation and other long time horse advocates and humane observers, men on horseback doing the roundups is even worse, as they break necks and legs lassoing the horses. No matter who does it, or how they do it, it turns into a disaster. The roundups are harsh enough, but the separation of families, being free one moment, then crammed into holdings pens for the unforeseeable future . . . . we are glad Dr Nock examined this, but did any of us really need an expert to tell us this is detrimentally stressful to these horses and burros? Cannot the human heart and head tell us this? End these despicable roundups. Turn our wild horses and burros free. Manage our wild horses and burros in the wild.


      1. In future, some of the wild ones will have to be taken from public lands. Even the 1971 Act, unamended, authorizes removals. HMA/HA expansion/conversion may work for a while, but not in the long-term.

        Birth control by darting is one option, but who gets chosen under what criteria? What about male/female herd balance?

        Ultimately, it’s not a matter of when, but how. In the opinion of experts, what are the most humane methods of removal?


        1. Based on what we have read over the years, the bottom line is there is no humane way to remove these wild horses and burros. The mere capture and incarceration is cruel and as Dr Nock points, out, highly stressful and damaging. Of course, it is preferable in human terms than being killed. I am not sure Freedom, the black stallion who thrashed his way through barbed wire,at the expense of ever being reunited with his mares and offspring, to return to his herd area would agree. But that is one example; one horse. One has to wonder this: If there were NO livestock grazing and drinking the water on the public lands set aside by law for our wild horses and burros, would anyone even consider how many wild horses and burros are there? Didn’t they live just fine, by their millions, on these lands, before humans came along and disturbed them? Even if the act allowed excess horses and burros to be removed, that does not mean it would ever be necessary. If I remember my history correctly, the removal language was specifically added to encourage its successful passage. I can’t remember the fella’s name now (recently passed away), who was instrumental in that.


          1. Points taken, but people are never going to leave these lands exclusively for the animals, even if mandated by law. It just ain’t the American Way!

            Another approach to restoring balance would be the return of natural predators, since that’s mentioned so many times as a primary reason for herd growth. Opinions?


            1. Returning natural predators is more, um … natural. However, with the cattle out there, I don’t think the ranchers would welcome that idea. Because there are so few wild horses and burros left – numbers vary from 30,000 to as low as 15,000, I don’t see any reason to do anything leave them where they are and “manage” them in the wild for a very long time.


  6. Opened & downloaded Dr. Nock’s booklet. Lots of easy to understand conclusions, even if my understanding of the specific medical information was pretty sketchy. My primary takeaway was that the wild ones have the same and/or very similar responses to stress as humans and other mammals, especially those that live in family groups.

    Imagine yourself and your family evicted from your home, chased for miles by helicopters, separated from your loved ones, and forced to live behind bars on barren ground. No shelter, weapons, tools, etc., allowed. How well do you think any of us would make out, physically or psychologically?


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