The 20 Wild Horses that Sparked a Slaughter Investigation

By Amelia Perrin 

(November 8, 2021) In investigations, there is always a pivotal moment in time that launches the whole thing. For the American Wild Horse Campaign’s (AWHC) investigation into the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Adoption Incentive Program (AIP), that moment came with the discovery of 20 wild horses from the Cleburne Livestock Auction in Texas.

PROPERTY OF AWHC

BREAKING IT DOWN

The AIP pays adopters $1,000 to adopt up to four wild, unhandled BLM horses or burros. The incentive is paid in two installments with the first $500 paid within 60-90 days of the adoption date and the second $500 paid within 60-90 days of the title date.

One of AWHC’s rescue partners, Evanescent Mustang Rescue and Sanctuary (EMRS), alerted our team members to 20 BLM mustangs -- including foals and pregnant mares -- at the Cleburne  Auction in Texas, which is heavily frequented by well-known kill buyers. We granted EMRS funds to help support the rescue. Thankfully, all of the horses were rescued. EMRS then provided AWHC with copies of the titles/ownership papers for these horses, who are now known as the “Cleburne 20”.

The Cleburne 20 went on to become the subject of the New York Times exposé on the AIP, which was prompted by months of investigative work by AWHC’s team members. The reporter, Dave Phillips, actually called one of the owners of the “Cleburne 20”, who when confronted with the knowledge that the horses were sold to a slaughter auction, promptly hung up on him. Prior to abruptly ending the conversation, the owner, Gary Kidd, admitted that when he heard about the incentive program, it was too enticing for him to ignore. He conspired with five family members to adopt the horses taking advantage of the BLM's four horses per adopter allowance. 

While we had verbal confirmation from the New York Times that these horses were adopted through the AIP program, we didn’t have it in writing. That is, until now.

It’s not easy to confirm horses and burros as AIP. First, we have to identify them by either obtaining their title through our rescue partners like EMRS, or by reading their BLM freeze mark brands.  Then we have to submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the animals' adoption records, compliance inspection records, and AIP payment records. Often, we don’t get the records in a timely manner, or they are withheld by the agency, which forces us to file a lawsuit over the failure of the agency to provide records. 

That was the case with the “Cleburne 20.  AWHC was forced to sue to obtain their records from the BLM. And we just won the lawsuit. We recently received the names of all adopters, the date they received AIP payments, AND we received their adoption contracts affixed with their signatures agreeing, under penalty of prosecution, that they would not sell their animals to anyone or any organization who intends to sell, give away or resell BLM animals to slaughter. 

These records were especially intriguing because they indicate that Kidds actually flipped the horses to the kill pen before the second AIP payment was issued, yet four of the five received the second payments even though they were no longer in possession of the horses. This highlights yet another flaw in the BLM’s disastrous program -- the agency does not verify that the horses remain onsite during the period between the compliance inspection/title transfer and when the final cash incentive is paid out. 

These flaws in the AIP allowed this one family to abuse the system, abuse 20 innocent wild horses, and take American taxpayers for a ride, netting upwards of $20,000 from the federal incentives and an additional approximately $10,000 at auction. In other words, this one family lined their pockets with $30,000 in taxpayer funds, collected on the backs of our cherished wild horses and burros. 

The “Cleburne 20” are safe. They are the lucky ones. These horses get to live the rest of their lives in a wonderful sanctuary where pregnant mares were safely able to give birth, mothers were able to raise their foals and this wild horse family gets to stay together, not in the wild, but in the next best thing. 

We are grateful to the team, including Evanescent Mustang Rescue and Sanctuary, that came together to rescue these 20 and literally hundreds more who have been sent to kill pens since the AIP was exposed as a pipeline to slaughter for "truckloads" of our cherished wild horses and burros. 

Unfortunately, whenever money is mixed with animals, the animals lose. And these federally protected animals are losing.  Every day, we uncover more BLM horses and burros dumped in kill pens. The BLM's so-called reforms of the program, announced in July 2021, have done literally nothing to stem the flow of wild horses and burros to slaughter auctions. 

AWHC continues to investigate, document BLM horses and burros in kill pens, and help rescue them when we can.

AND we are fighting back with everything we've got, including filing a lawsuit to end the AIP and mobilizing members of Congress to demand an end to this terrible program.  This is not over. The AIP must end and we are doing everything in our power to make sure it does.