Friday, January 18, 2013

Challenge Painting #371 Cheddar Orphan Foal Owyhee HMA, Nevada

Orphan Foal from Owyhee Round up
8 by 10 oil on canvas
by LindaLMartin Artist
Cheddar is a wild horse foal that was part of a round up being held during December 2012 and January 2013 to remove a number of horses off of the drought ridden range of the Owyhee Complex. The Owyhee Complex is a group of  Nevada Herd Management Areas(HMAs) that are managed under the Wild Horse and Burro Act by the Bureau of Land Management.

The purpose for the wild  horse round up is to  reduce the number of wild horses on the range and thus remove  the potential for irreversible damage to the already stressed range. According to the BLM The lowering of the number of wild horses, along with temporary suspension of the grazing allotments for private citizens will give the range a chance to recover as long as the drought lessens.

According to the gather records so far the majority of the horses brought in have had body indexes of between 3 and 5. Stallions being mostly in the 5 range and Mares and foals in the  3 to 4 range. The body index measures the health and well being of horses according to condition. It ranges from 1 severe starvation to 10 severe obesity.  Average scale for a domestic horse on good care or a wild horse on good pasture should between 5 and 7. 
Cheddar has blue eyes.

Horses who are found domestically  and habitually  to be in the 2 to 3 range are usually considered neglected and if  the owner has  not been providing food and water as well as medical care. An investigation including a measure or  prosecution might ensue to look after the needs of the animals humanely.  Horses who are at level 2 over a prolonged period of time tend to have irreversible organ damage. And if the horses slip down int the the rage of 1 on the scale they are not likely to recover.

I have been told by some Nevada wild horse advocates it is normal for horses in Nevada to drop weight in during the dry hot summers,  often down to body indexes of  2 or 3.  Older horses of course would find it difficult to gain and drop weight and might go through  the winter months under weight. However, according to them, the horses pick up weight again in the autumn rainy season. This year the drought was so bad on  parts of the range that those who dropped weight in summer did not have enough annual  wild grasses to feed.them. 

I am told that even though the BLM did bring out water there was not enough rain to bring the on sight streams and springs back to life. The size of the HMA makes it too large to do whole scale hay drops. A management technique that the BLM and a lot of advocates think would be a bad idea for the over all health of the horses. Wild Horses sometimes eat the rich hay to fast and too much. This sometimes creates fatal digestive issues and painful slow death by colic. So horses on hay for the first time need to be monitored. The logistics of  hay drops would be unimaginable.
Cheddar with his mother.
This photo was taken  soon
after they were rounded up.
Cheddar's mother was showing severe
signs of starvation. This mare is also
in winter coat, which under  normal
circumstances, make her appear
large and fat. All of  the mares
from her group seemed to be in
this condition. She  seemed to be
giving all her nutrition to her foal.

When Cheddar and his dam were brought into the gather site everything was fine. They settled in quickly. And according to the BLM  little Cheddar quickly endeared himself to the entire round up staff. They named him Cheddar because of his unusual color. 

Sometime in the middle of the  round up  one of the activists observing the proceedings decided to go after a restraining order to stop the round up until better "handling and humane procedures" could be put in place. Unfortunately, that restraining order meant that Cheddar and his mother, and all the horses at the temporary holding sight had to stay put. According to the restraining order no horses were allowed to move. They could not be shipped to short term holding and those who were to be released back on the range could not be released. 

My understanding is the BLM continued to feed and care for the horses until all the conditions could be  reviewed and met by the Judge's standards. Then the movement of horses and the round up was able to continue. The restraining order was in affect from January 5th until the it was ended 5 days later and the round up activities began again on January 11th.

These activities are all a matter of public record and are on the BLM website for anyone to look at. 

During that time period, the horses in the temporary holding area were also subject to sleet and snow storms over the 5 day period. It is during that time that the loading ramp and alleyways become covered if not used.  This is what led to the accident where Cheddar's dam slipped and fell. She was put down because of the injury.  Fortunately Cheddar  and no other foals were subject to danger. The BLM policy is to ship the foals separately from the mares to prevent the larger horses from crushing the foals or stepping on them. When they arrive at temporary holding the mares and foals are reunited.( Mares and foals are often marked at the sight before shipping with blue animal friendly non toxic paint with matching letters, So that each mare and foal pair can be reunited)

Cheddar's mother's circumstances, according to one eye witness source were a combination of the snow packing down in the alley forming ice after previous horses had been loaded, the mare being weak from malnutrition and her worry over the temporary separation from her foal. All pretty normal reactions even in domestic horses. The really terrible thing here is that  some people are going to fight over it and say if she had not been taken from the range she would not have left her foal and orphan. But the real truth is the mare's body index was at 2 already and with 2 more months on the range with no food or water it most probably would have meant slow starvation for both the mare and the foal.

I am not going to judge who was right or wrong here. But I do feel that everyone needs to know the whole story. The BLM did not create the drought situation. They are, however, charged by law, under the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, to make sure that the animals are treated humanely and managed properly as valued historic icons of the the American people. In time of drought and fire, I do not think it is an extreme response in humane management, to remove a portion of the population of wild horses from the range. In fact it is the kindest thing to do.

As for Cheddar, he has a lot of people who know about him and who are fond of him. His story is sad yes but the ending will hopefully be a happy one for him. As of this week he is now in Orphan Care at the BLM Facilty at  Carson City Prison. He will be raised as an orphan and put through their program until he is ready for adoption.  What you all can do is help us to get the remainder of his herd mates that have not been released back to their HMA adopted when the time comes. As of today 140 mares and stallions who were in the best condition have been released back on to the range in to areas where there is enough food and water to sustain them until the spring rains and snow melt.

The over 1,000 horses rounded up and that will not be  returned  to the range, will eventually be available for adoption. We as private citizens need to step up to the plate as wild horse  activists, advocates and just people who love horses and make sure they all have safe happy homes when the time comes.

Photo Images of  Cheddar and his family were provided by the BLM and are available to the public to use with the proviso that  they come with limited use and the express agreement that use of the images will not be used to criticize or undermine the activities of the Government agency.

This post was upated on January, 22, 2013: I spoke with the facility director this morning to see how little Cheddar was doing. Because of the interest and the many phone calls to the BLM he was keeping especailly close tabs on Cheddar's progress. Unfortunately little Cheddar passed away in the night." I was surprised to hear it," He said, " the foal was doing so well."  He and I agreed that the conditon of the mare was possibly a big factor in his failure to thrive.  " He was drinking his milk and seemed to be moving forward in everyway."

As happens sometimes when these foals who are so weak from malnutrition, they sometimes seem to improve and even play in the first week to 10 days. However, some of the internal damage is not detected. A normal round up where both the mare and foal are healthy and well fed they have a very high success rate of  survival for the foals if they are orphaned.

I join with all who were concerned with the foal's well being in expressing my sadness. 


  1. Linda that was one of the best and most well written articles and summations that I have seen. Thank you for your care and well written article.

  2. Dee, thank you. I appreciate your positive input.