Thursday, February 25, 2010


The captive Calico complex horses are looking at some new experiences. Freeze branding, tagging, innoculations, worming, has begun in earnest. The new, state-of-the-art system of 7-foot-high walls of curving steel corridors narrowing into a one-horse-wide alley ending in the squeeze chute is now being used.

                                ©2/13/10  Photography by Elyse Gardner 

As you can see, the "catwalk" goes along the entire length of the 7-foot metal walls, which are solid.  From the top, we/BLM workers look down from above onto the horses.

                              ©2/21/10  Photography by Elyse Gardner

                              ©2/21/10  Photography by Elyse Gardner

The alleyways narrow so the approach to the squeeze chute is one-horse wide.

                              ©2/21/10  Photography by Elyse Gardner

©2010 Photography by Elyse Gardner

As you can see, the chute is beginning its tip-over in this demonstration.  Ultimately, it tips over to lay completely horizontally so the horses' hooves may be accessed.  The whine of the hydraulics is very loud and disturbing.  Dean Bolstad was gracious and accommodating in demonstrating the equipment and answering questions.

Since I have no current photographs of the chute in action, I'll post here a few photographs I took in the Pryor Mountains when Cloud's herd was being processed.  The Fallon facility is new and the walls of the alleyways are solid, but the hydraulic chute is identical.

Here you can see from above, a wrangler is holding a rope tightly around Ichalay's throat.   I have no idea if this practice will be followed in Fallon, which is one of many reasons we would sincerely like to be there to give you updated, accurate information.  By way of explanation, the practice you see below followed two incidents where horses actually escaped from the squeeze chute through that little window where you see the men shaving Ichalay's neck in preparation for the freeze brand.  The escape was a very painful, dangerous struggle for the horses.

You can view my videotape of this escape below.  Click on the bottom right corner of the video to play full screen.  To reduce the size again, hit "Escape."

By using the rope seen below, the staff was taking preventative measures to be certain there were no repeat performances.

I would like to know if BLM believes this to be necessary and see if this tight rope around the throat is to be employed in Fallon.

©2009 Photography by Elyse Gardner

So despite all assurances of new facilities, we recognize that it is a stressful and risky time for the horses.

Ichalay's neck has been shaved in preparation for the freeze brand, being applied below in the following photograph. 

©2009 Photography by Elyse Gardner 

 ©2009 Photography by Elyse Gardner  

I watched many horses being freeze-branded and could discern no involuntary movements or indications of pain although her flaring nostrils give me pause.  However, I believe that to be stress from the entire constellation of events and the sheer proximity of the man.  If anyone wants to enlighten me further, please feel free to post comments.  Thank you.

Speaking of comments:  Many of us have made known to the Bureau of Land Management that we, the American public, want to see this process.  Many of you have called and written letters to the BLM requesting that Craig Downer and I be allowed to watch and photograph as your proxies. BLM officials have staunchly refused to allow anyone behind the closed doors of the Fallon holding facility during processing, keeping the horses out of sight of any camera or pair of eyes other than the BLM employees.  BLM officials have stated concerns about injuries to people resulting from distractions due to public presence.  They've also stated that observers "make my staff nervous."

These are reasons why two designated humane advocate observers would be a good answer.  Given specific places to remain, they could quietly observe and photograph the process.  Prior to all this public scrutiny, I am told that BLM used to allow people to view this part of the wild horses' handling.

Regardless of what our opinions are, and clearly we disagree with BLM and feel we have not only an obligation but a right to be present, it is my sincere hope that all making their feelings known to BLM would be courteous and adult about expressing themselves.  It is good practice for us all.

That being said, I am pressing for some public access.

Below are photographs taken on tours given by Dean Bolstad, Deputy Division Chief of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, on February 13, and Sunday, February 21.  The weather took quite a turn, as you can see:  the snow accompanied us on 2/21.

                              ©Photography by Elyse Gardner 2/13/10

                                ©Photography by Elyse Gardner 2/21/10

Dean is holding the side of the chute open so we may see its padded interior.  This chute is well padded except for the area immediately above the horse's head, which has a series of metal bars.  I find this unfortunate.  I understand the need for light, and perhaps some accessibility, but we can count on the fact that some horses will go uP.  Fundamentally, a horse can only move in six directions:  forward, backward, left, right, up, down, and combinations of these basics.  If forward/backward, left/right are no longer possible -- which is what happens when a horse is confined in the squeeze chute, "up" is sure to occur.  "Down"puts a horse in a vulnerable position and so is generally avoided at all costs.

I have come to recognize, look for, and love many of the Calico complex horses who now spend their days at the Fallon holding facility.  It is very difficult to describe the heaviness and sorrow I feel at the thought of the doors closing except that so many of you already share this sense of loss.  We've watched these horses from the time they roamed free and were then driven into traps, pressured onto trailers and hauled off to these newly erected, sterile pens "for their own good."

Although it is hardly what I call having "access," Fallon is continuing to conduct public tours on Sundays, by appointment, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

And to our sorrow, yes, Lightening, the stallion photographed by Craig Downer in the Calico mountains, we saw in Fallon. Photos to come.  I will be posting more very soon.  Right now, I have a date with a horse.  :)

For the wild horses and their humble burro friends,


  1. Elyse, I can at least ease your mind about freeze branding. When I was living in Dallas, Texas in the 1980s, horse theft was an absolute epidemic because of the two nearby slaughter houses.

    I had two horses freeze branded in an effort to ward off thieves. You KNOW I'm one of those owners who watches their horses like a hawk for any signs of distress, and I can honestly say that I believe freeze marking is painless. Both horses widened their eyes momentarily when the iron first touched them, but only for an instant, and then they acted as if nothing was happening.

    The guy doing the branding said that the branding iron was so cold - super cooled with liquid nitrogen - that the skin was numbed almost instantly, and that sure did seem to be the case.

    The actual area of the brand puffed up for a few days, then the old skin flaked off to reveal perfectly healed bare skin. When the hair grew back in, it was white. Neither of my horses ever seemed to be sore or have pain of any kind. The site of the brand was never raw and wasn't even sensitive.

    This is such a sad time for all of us, but at least I am able to reassure you about the freeze marking.

    Take care of yourself.

  2. I can speak with some authority on the subject as we freeze brand all of our horses at the rescue.

    There is absolutely NO reason to freeze brand a horse without sedation. The rope around the neck would not have to be held so tightly with sedation. They could easily use 3-5 mil Xylazine as we do, which is a relaxent, sedative and pain killer, greatly reducing the stress and pain on these horses.

    When we freeze brand our horses, we give them 3-5 mil Xylazine IV (total cost: $3-$5.) Even with the painkiller affects of Xylazine, the horses still experience some discomfort while being freze branded. No doubt the Mustangs are trying their best to be brave and not show weakness, but between the choking rope and the unmedicated freezebranding, they are experiencing pain.

    Freeze branding without sedation does hurt.

    Let me know if you have any questions - Tawnee, vp - NorCal Equine Rescue.

  3. Well, neither of my horses let on if they were hurting - at the time or later. These brandings were several years apart because I boarded in those days and only owned one horse at the time. One was a 19 year old Quarter Horse and the other a four year old Morgan, and, believe me, I was hovering them at the time and later.

    Must have been something different somehow. Maybe the location - my horses were branded on the hip.

  4. hillbilly at norcal equine rescue
    Only a vet can give a sedative like Xylazine legally you just admitted to it and are gonna get you and your stupid vet in trouble.