A herd of rescued horses—mares and their offspring—were recently relocated to the Wood River Valley, from Salmon. The herd was bred specifically for a juvenile rehabilitation program on a Cheyenne reservation in Montana, but when the deal fell through they were at risk for slaughter.
Of all domestic animals, horses may be the least understood. These enormous creatures allow humans to use them for a variety of back-breaking and disciplined work. From transportation to plowing to jumping, hunting and rodeo humans throw heavy tack on them and ask them to perform. And they do.
The paint herd is now ensconced at a horse farm owned by Skip and Tami Kammer, south of Hailey. Trainer Doro Lohmann is working to halter-break the animals. It's a slow process. Because the rehab center never received the horses, they were left out to pasture and were never broken. No one wanted to buy them and the breeder was in debt from not being paid for his work.
The horses were scheduled for slaughter in Canada on July 2. Instead, a mad push to save them occurred and Betts Simon, Skip Kammer's mother, eventually purchased them.
The operation was known as the "Betty Mom Equine Rescue." The herd is called Betty Mom's Girls, despite the fact there is one gelding in the mix.
"A woman in Salmon, Loryhl Davis, does holistic herbs for horses," Lohmann said. "She sent an email to everyone, and it got to me. I sent it to Tami, said 'look at this.' They are all papered horses."
"The reason it came together was I felt I was ready to take this on. This breeder, Ward Witte, is a good guy. He hired a sweet old couple to bring them to us. First we got nine mares and the gelding. Then last Sunday five mares and their babies. The first batch moved like a flock of birds. They are beautiful things. You felt like you'd stepped into an Indian village when you saw them."
Lohmann said they are feeding a ton of hay and spending a huge amount of time with the herd. As a result they are looking for donations of everything from volunteer time, to grass hay and halters. There is a wish bucket at Sawtooth Tack and Feed in Bellevue with a list of things needed.
"Some people have offered pasture," Lohmann said. "Some of the horses won't be adopted out right away so we may need to take advantage of that to give Skip and Tami a break. Were hoping to eventually do sponsorships for the horses. For $250 someone could help us take care of horse for month."
Now Lohmann and the Kammers are looking for a sponsor so they can achieve non-profit status and donations to the effort can be written off. A link to a site about Betty Mom's Gals can be found at http://members.cox.net/equi-librium.
"I've been dreaming my whole life about pulling a rescue together," Lohmann said. "I've trained horses 15 years [in my native] Germany, and 19 years—on July 4— in the US.
"Once you tap into the whole horse problem there is no end to it."
Indeed, officials with the Challis Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management decided in June to cancel a wild horse roundup scheduled to in the northern Boulder Mountains in August. In most years, the Challis field office conducts wild horse roundups in an effort to keep the herd at 185 animals, a level established as part of the Challis herd management area plan.
The Challis mustang, which roam some 126,000 acres, are featured in a photography exhibit called "Herd but Not Seen," by Hailey resident Elissa Kline.
"To me that's not overpopulation. It costs $3,000 to round them up, when they live for free on public land," Kline said. "If the goal is to keep the population down there is a nicer way to do it. A dart can be shot into a mare to sterilize her."
Meanwhile, on June 30, the Bureau of Land Management at its Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting announced a proposal to phase out long-term holding facilities where some 22,000 wild horses are housed after being removed from the range. Faced with budget cuts and more horses than they can afford to care for, the horses will be euthanized. The announcement marks the first time the agency publicly discussed the possibility of putting surplus animals to death, though not in the U.S.
The federal government is still mulling over the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would end the slaughter of horses for human consumption and the domestic and international transport of live horses or horseflesh for human consumption.
Neda DeMayo, founder of Return to Freedom, a wild horse sanctuary in Lompoc, Calif., writes on her Web site that although the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 was intended to protect wild horses, "it has been weakened throughout the years by policy and regulation changes, leaving our wild horses unprotected."
The issue came to the forefront in 2004, when Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., inserted a last-minute rider as part of a 3,300-page budget appropriations bill. The rider, which essentially gutted the Horse and Burro act, reads that wild horses and burros over the age of 10 or that had been offered for adoption three times could be sold "without limitations" to the highest bidder. Often, the highest bidder is a rancher who might sell the horse to a slaughterhouse for profit.
The Burns amendment has resulted in more wild horses living in captivity than remain in the wild. This costs taxpayers millions of dollars annually, ignores federal mandates and laws that guaranteed wild horses a home on public lands, and threatens the mustang's genetic viability and long-term survival. According to the American Wild Horse Preservation, in the 19th century, some two million wild horses roamed the west. Now wild horses account for less than 0.5 percent of large grazing animals on public lands.
It's hard to understand, Lohman said, how "six million head of cattle grazing on public land is not a problem but 30,000 mustangs are." Lohmann, who also volunteers at Sagebrush Arena, has three rescued horses herself.
Her technique, learned from training her own rescued horses, is based on the premise that horses are "flight animals who are afraid every second," she said.
"There is no reason to train them with fear," she said. "They're like children; all you have to do is ask, clearly, and they will answer. Mistreated horses leave their own bodies just to survive. Dogs and cats will whine, cry and bark to complain, but horses don't have that. They only have behavior. I think of myself as a facilitator. You have a partnership and you communicate."
In that vein, the Kammers are working hard to "gentle" the horses, Lohmann said. "Talk about commitment. They are touching them, handling them, talking to them. These horses are kind of a blessing. They're teachers. Other people talk about rescuing and see that we just rescued 20. And think we must be completely out of minds. We're going to run out juice eventually."
There will be an open house on July 14, for anyone who is are interested in helping, and to share what we're doing, Lohmann said.
For more information or donations call Lohmann at 309-2933, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.