AAEP's BLM Task Force Publishes Recommendations to Improve Captive Wild Horse Care and Handling in Holding Facilities - The Horse Owner's Resource

AAEP's BLM Task Force Publishes Recommendations to Improve Captive Wild Horse Care and Handling in Holding Facilities

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A task force from the American Association of Equine Practitioners has publisheded a white page report on welfare and living conditions in the Bureau of Land Management's holding facilities. Photo credit Alexxandra R. Duschner.

William Moyer DVM, AAEP President

William Moyer DVM, AAEP President

The following announcement was received today via a press release from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). The AAEP reaches more than 5 million horse owners through its over 10,000 members worldwide and is actively involved in ethics issues, practice management, research and continuing education in the equine veterinary profession and horse industry.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners' Bureau of Land Management Task Force today released its evaluation and recommendations for improving the care and handling of the nation's wild horses. The report comes at the request of the Bureau of Land Management, which asked the AAEP in June 2010 to evaluate the handling, health care, and welfare of the horses and burros at BLM wild equid gathers and holding facilities.

Beginning last fall, the AAEP BLM Task Force visited multiple BLM sites during a six-month period to observe gathers and evaluate conditions at short-term holding and long-term pasture facilities. The task force's data collection was limited to the safety, health status, health management, care, handling and welfare of equids in the BLM program.

"The task force concluded that the care, handling and management practices utilized by the BLM are appropriate for this population of horses and generally support the safety, health status and welfare of the animals," said William Moyer, DVM, AAEP president and a member of the task force. "However, the task force did see areas that can be improved."

Key recommendations include:
* During gathers, all contract helicopter pilots should adopt conservative flying patterns that allow a safe buffer distance between the helicopter and the horses, and between the helicopter and the ground.

* Areas of solid footing should always be provided in short-term holding facilities to allow the horses a place to lie down. In addition, resident horse numbers should be adjusted as needed seasonally within short-term holding facilities to avoid overcrowding when extreme weather is expected or present.
* Biosecurity standards and protocols should be adopted at short-term holding facilities in order to reduce the spread of the bacteria Streptococcus equi subspecies equi, commonly known as strangles, and minimize outbreaks of this and other infectious diseases.

In addition, the task force's 35-page report emphasizes that controlling the reproductive rate of the wild horses on the range is a central issue for all discussions involving the care and management of the wild horse population.

"The AAEP encourages the BLM to prioritize research and application of effective fertility control methods in order to reduce the foaling rate in wild herds," stated John Mitchell, DVM, AAEP president elect and Task Force chair. "The Task Force believes the control of foaling rates is the best available method to manage the wild horses on the range with minimal intervention."

Added Mitchell, "The AAEP will gladly continue if needed as a resource for equine medical expertise to the BLM Wild Horse and Burro program."

The AAEP BLM Task Force report is available here. For more information, contact Sally Baker, AAEP director of marketing and public relations, at (859) 233-0147 or sbaker@aaep.org.

End of news release

In perusing the white paper document, several additional recommendations caught my eye that might be of interest to anyone concerned with the welfare of wild horses in BLM holding facilities:

??? ?When equids undergo any procedure that requires general anesthesia, a surgical plane of anesthesia should be present before the skin is incised to insure a pain?free surgery. Additional anesthetic medications should be administered as necessary to achieve and maintain a surgical plane of anesthesia. A uniform surgical anesthesia protocol should be in place and reviewed with all contract veterinarians concerning medical procedures at all BLM horse management sites.
??? ?Foot trimming schedules should be created and customized for each facility in accordance with environmental conditions and periodic inspections to reduce the likelihood of excessively long hooves.
??? ?Horse population numbers in short?term holding facilities should be matched with the capacity of the pens at the facility. Population numbers should be adjusted as needed seasonally to avoid overcrowding when extreme weather is expected or present.?? ?The AAEP recommends the BLM utilize the facility manager, the contract veterinarian for the facility, and an APHIS veterinarian familiar with the site to create guidelines and limits for total horse numbers for each site. The Salt Lake Regional facility had an overpopulation of horses for the weather conditions at the time of the task force visit.

In addition to Dr. Moyer and Dr. Mitchell, the task force members were Drs. Rocky Bigbie, Kent Carter, Jacy Cook, Ann Dwyer, ?Roger Rees,?Stuart Shoemaker, Beau David Whitaker,?and Susan White.

(three recommendations reproduced verbatim from the white paper document by The Jurga Report)