Photo credit: Deanna Morehouse

June 13, 2014-The Yakama Reservation, spread over one million acres in Southwestern Washington, is home to some 12,000 wild and feral horses. In an effort to reduce their numbers the tribe is rounding up thousands of horses just after foaling season. Horses of all ages, including mares with nursing foals, are being rounded up. According to local sources, they are then being shipped to Bouvry Exports, LTD, a Canadian slaughter plant that slaughters horses for human consumption.

Return to Freedom (RTF), a national wild horse preservation and sanctuary organization, has been besieged with calls and emails from across the country regarding this situation.
RTF has been unable to make contact with anyone from the Yakama Tribal Council to either confirm or deny reports of abuse, or any of the reported plans to remove eight thousand horses this year.

On June 3rd, Return to Freedom Special Projects Coordinator, Marika O’Brien, traveled to volunteer with rescue efforts and witness the suffering of 49 orphaned foals, most of which were only days old. The orphaned foals, screaming for their mothers, fought to survive in a kill buyer’s corral. Nearby, their mothers and other herd members were being loaded on a truck by a local kill buyer destined for the Canadian slaughter house. Some locals report far more gruesome treatment of the foals when the adults are captured.

“We felt it was imperative that we observe the situation first hand” said Marika O’Brien, “What we have witnessed is two hundred wild horses at a feedlot in the vicinity of the reservation with dozens of rescue groups and individuals in horse trailers lined up down the road ready to adopt the 49 orphaned foals.”
“With so many solutions readily available to support the humane treatment and management of wild horse populations, it’s hard to understand why slaughter is the current practice. I have to believe that a better outcome can be achieved through cooperation.” Said Joe Tafoya, former NFL player and horse preservation proponent. Mr. Tafoya and his wife, Brandelyn, are deeply involved with equine rescue in Washington and are gravely concerned about the health and welfare of the Yakama wild horses.

“In January 2014, a Yakama Tribal Council member stated that they were actively seeking solutions to their wild horse population issue”, said Marika O’Brien, “Return to Freedom stands ready to roll up our sleeves and work together to implement a multi-pronged approach to population management on the reservation. What we cannot support is an on-going cash crop of horses at any age.”

Witnesses in close proximity to other reservations in the Pacific Northwest state that similar roundups are happening in their area.
“We urge the Northwestern Tribal Horse Coalition to lead the way in humane and sustainable management and alternatives to slaughter that will benefit their horse herds, local communities and provide an example for other tribes facing the same situation.” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom “Return to Freedom looks forward to the opportunity to develop a relationship and a dialogue.“The fact that 49 foals were adopted in 48 hours bears testimony to a recent survey that 80% of Americans do not support the foreign driven for profit industry of horse slaughter.” Said Marika O’Brien, “Horse lovers drove from as far as Idaho, Montana and Oregon to provide urgent care and homes for the foals.”

Less than two weeks ago, both the House and the Senate supported language in the 2014 Agriculture Appropriations Bill to defund inspections of horsemeat in US slaughterhouses. While this prevents the operation of US horse slaughter facilities, it does not protect America’s horses from being shipped to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. Until Federal legislation is passed which will not only ban the slaughter of America’s horses, but also prevents the sale and/or transport of American horses for slaughter, America’s wild and domestic horses will remain vulnerable to the inhumane treatment and suffering from traumatic capture, handling, feedlots, auctions, transport and slaughter.

Native Americans traditionally will not kill a doe that is nursing a fawn. The fact that nursing foals are being taken from their mothers sends a message that there is a clear departure from the traditional ways. “We are calling upon Traditional Tribal Elders for their input and leadership” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom, “Procedural steps are being taken to convene a traditional tribunal to re-evaluate the Native American position on what is happening to wildlife and horses on their lands.”

Media Contact:
Marika Clark O’Brien, 207-671-6927,
Neda DeMayo, 805-735-3246,
Return to Freedom (RTF), RTF is a national non-profit dedicated to wild horse preservation through sanctuary, education and conservation. RTF is the parent organization for The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) and operates the American Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, CA.