While the rest of the country is concentrating on Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) wild horse roundups, one petite cowgirl is taking action in a very big way. Jill Starr, wild horse advocate and president of “Lifesavers ” in California, has become an angel to the wild ones in Nevada, horses that seldom capture headlines and often fall through some king sized cracks.
Nevada’s Department of Agriculture (NDoA) is responsible for wild horses in the state that are not on public or tribal lands. Tony Lesperance, current director of NDoA, feels it necessary to sell the animals at auction in order to pay department employee salaries. He transports them to the Fallon Livestock Exchange, northeast of Reno, where they are sold to the highest bidders, usually kill buyers who then sell the animals for slaughter in Mexico or Canada.
Though Starr has been actively rescuing horses in California, Nevada and elsewhere for over 13 years, her efforts have recently escalated. Last July she got word that over 170 NDoA wild horses would be auctioned to the highest bidders.
“Not on my watch!” she said, “ Not on my watch."
Starr quickly organized what she calls, “ an army of wild horse soldiers”. Horse trailers owned by Starr's army lined up at the livestock exchange opposite those owned by the kill buyers. The scene was reminiscent of a modern day shoot out at the O.K. Corral. When the dust settled, the scoreboard read “ Starr‘s army - 169, private adopters - 3, kill buyers - 0.”
Mid September brought another 100 horses from Nevada, more lives rescued from the livestock exchange and the kill buyers. They came from the Shoshone - Pauite reservation and a few were apparently from a nearby ranch. The tally was now 269 in addition to roughly 300 already accumulated at Lifesavers three facilities. October and November brought in a hand full here and there. Some were domestic animals whose owners could no longer care for them, but most were the wild ones about to be sold for slaughter.
Three days before Christmas Starr hatched a plan with Madeline Pickens, wild horse advocate and wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, to rescue an additional 235 horses already sold to kill buyers and scheduled for shipping to slaughter on Christmas Eve. They purchased them directly from the kill buyers and paid slaughter house prices. The 235 are currently safe in Lifesavers care.
The count is over 600 horses now, more than half of which have been rescued since July. Add to that 335 wild horses that Lifesavers is “baby sitting” and Starr has her work cut out for her. Although sponsors such as Ellie Phipps Price of Sand Hill Durell Vineyards, Mrs. Pickens and other individuals and organizations have helped with the purchase of these animals, the expenses don’t end there.
Feeding the horses runs $5,000-$6,000 each month for every 100 horses. That's $30,000 - $36,000 a month and growing. Every animal must have a brand inspection. They are also given veterinary care, photographed, logged and micro chipped for identification. Rent, water, transportation and utilities add to the ongoing expenses. Paid employees are also on site to feed and care for the constantly changing dynamics of Starr's extraordinary herd of wild horses no longer destined for slaughter.
UPDATE - Monday, Dec.28 - Negotiations with a Nevada native Indian tribe brought in 56 weanlings, intercepted before going to the livestock auction. Another 250 wild horses are expected to be available next month. “Our budget is stretched thin right now“ says Starr, “Their fate is in God's hands at this point.”
Lifesavers has found adoptive homes for some of the wild ones and hopes to find placement for all. Those that prove unadoptable will live out their lives at Lifesavers' "Born To Be Wild Mustang Sanctuary". There they will once again feel the wild freedom they were born to.
To learn more about Lifesavers, offer a forever home for one of the horses, or to donate click here.