Horse rescue and advocacy organization Front Range Equine Rescue (FRER) has filed comments to stop the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from conducting experimental sterilization research on captured wild mares this October. Should the BLM ignore these comments — a highly probable scenario — FRER says they will sue to stop the cruel procedures.

There are around 800 wild horses living in a single herd in Warm Springs, Oregon. The BLM plan to sterilize around 100 mares – many who will already be pregnant – using a dangerous and complicated procedure known as ovariectomy via colpotomy. This involves removal of the ovaries by crushing and yanking them out through an incision using a looped medical instrument – all performed under local anesthetic.

The procedure is known to be painful and has a high risk of complications, including ongoing bleeding, evisceration, and infection – as well as the potential to cause premature birth or abortion in pregnant mares. Domestic horses who undergo this procedure are closely monitored in a hospital environment for three to seven days, but with BLM’s plan many mares would be released back into the herd after only a short observation period following the invasive operation.

“Reputable equine veterinarians with wild horse experience object to this cruel and dangerous procedure, performed unvisualized while mares are fully conscious, because of the many serious risks during surgery or after due to complications,” said Hilary Wood, president of FRER. “There are added dangers if sterilized mares have complications after they are back in the wild. We urge the BLM to use the many available humane alternatives instead of this radical method of population control.”

This isn’t the first time the BLM has attempted to perform sterilization research on wild horses. As recently as 2016, they partnered with Oregon State University to proceed with a similar program, but dropped the plan after FRER filed a lawsuit.

There are other, more humane methods available for managing populations of wild horses, such as reversible fertility vaccine PZP. Rather than conducting barbaric procedures on these iconic animals, the BLM should focus on preventing their suffering and protecting the land they need to thrive.