See photos and video here.
I arrived on the scene at the Fallon Livestock Auction with my colleague Deniz Bolbol at approximately 7 a.m. on Saturday, August 17, 2013, when I observed Churchill County Sheriff Ben Trotter serve this Court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) on Fallon Livestock Exchange owner and auctioneer, Monte Bruck prohibiting the sale of all unbranded horses at the auction that day.
After much heated discussion, Deniz, Laura and I were instructed to leave the property until the unbranded horses were sorted from the branded horses because we were plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the auction.
Several hours later, Ms. Bolbol, Ms. Leigh and I were allowed back onto the property. We were informed that approximately 70 unbranded horses were segregated from branded horses and placed in pens at the side of the stockyard. After some discussion, Mr. Bruck, the auction owner, agreed to allow us to inspect the horses that remained in the sale pens, to ensure none of the horses were, in fact, unbranded horses whose sale was prohibited by a federal court order.
Inspection of pens – in response to the judge’s TRO barring the sale of unbranded colleagues The horses we observed were frightened, avoided human contact and became agitated when we looked at them. They behaved as I have seen wild horses behave at BLM holding facilities -- clustering together in a back corner of the pen, ears pinned, avoiding eye contact, then running together in circles when pressured with human contact.
Horses clump together in fear as stockyard employees begin to sort branded from unbranded horses.
We observed hundreds of horses in more than a dozen pens. It was horrendous from an animal welfare perspective. We observed many lame horses; two horses who could barely stand due to what appeared to be spinal injuries; one mare who struggled to her feet only after being prodded by the auction owner, teetered on her legs, her back legs helplessly splayed, looking ready to fall at any moment. We saw several horses with big gashes on their chests; numerous bloody faces and two orphaned foals, a little palomino and a flaxen-maned chestnut, whose mothers were injured at the auction yard and were euthanized (by gunshot). The horses were stressed, crowded together, exhausted and baking in the heat and direct sun without shelter.
The sale began with the auctioneer stating that of the horses to be sold that day, “Not one is halter broke or broke to ride.” Horses were herded into the sale ring, terrified, defecating from fear, as they were auctioned to the highest bidder. Their weight was displayed on a scoreboard over the ring, information the kill buyers use to calculate how much they get for the sale of the horse to the slaughterhouse.
Horses while they were being sorted—branded from un branded by auction yard employees.
In order of appearance, here is a description of the horses auctioned off Saturday:
That was all the horses sold in the ring. Next we went outside, where auctioneer was selling horses by the pen.
Unbranded horses after initial sort.
After the auction, as we were driving down the main road through Fallon, we passed the kill buyer, Ole Olsen with a trailer load of mature horses driving down the road. Our hearts sank as we knew these horses were doomed….on the way to the Mexican border. The nightmare that began with their capture from the wild was about to get far worse, before it would finally be over.
Doomed horse on trailer of kill buyer Ole Olsen, headed for slaughter in Mexico.
The unbranded horses remain at the Fallon stockyard, under the care of a Forest Service contractor (Cattoors) until the court renders a decision during or after the scheduled August 21, 2013 hearing.
*Update: On Wednesday August 21st, the judge lifted the order, clearing the way for the horses to be sold to the highest bidder. Clearly, we disagreed with the verdict and with the actions of the federal government, which was complicit in making these horses available to kill buyers.
Following the ruling, we did everything we could to save the 149 horses from slaughter, and after an amazing collaborative effort, these horses are safe.
To read more about the rescue, click here.