Last weekend the International Rallies Fighting for the Survival of Horses and Burros were held. Advocates gathered in an effort to raise public awareness of the plight of America’s horses. Information pamphlets were available about the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) role in managing America’s mustangs, the Pregnant Mare’s Urine (PMU) industry, sterilization and herd control methods, as well as information about the SAFE Act and current legislation.

The Inside Rein attended the NYC rally where advocates came from as far as Portland, ME and Pennsylvania to be a part of the cause. We caught up with rally organizer and horse advocate Elizabeth “Sunshine” Pandolfelli to get her perspective on the most pressing issues facing the horses today.

What inspired you to become an advocate for horses?
The plight of the horses has always been a concern to me. I rode horses as a young girl and a couple years later my father gifted me with a horse. Around that time I saw the movie The Misfits and that was a game changer for me. When you learned about these roundups it was heartbreaking. So when Velma Johnson came into the picture (AKA Wild Horse Annie) I followed her lead. She was my hero. That’s how it all began.

What is the most effective way to educate the public and make change?
Literature. Especially, in my opinion, for tourists. They may not have time to speak with you at a rally but if they approach you then you know there’s an interest. If you have current literature with websites and allow them to educate themselves they do it. Trust me. I’ve had people contact me and thank me. I’ve had people begin their own rallies. It was all through networking, that’s a big key for me.

What is the biggest issue facing wild horses right now?
Man. Definitely the horse slaughter and PMU industries. We know that the BLM doesn’t give accurate numbers in terms of headcounts and the effect of their grazing on ranching. A horse has 1 stomach and leaves little seeds behind as they graze. Cows and other animals with multiple stomachs don’t leave these seeds behind. The seeds serve as regrowth. The way they feed they aren’t damaging the earth, where a cow will rip everything including the root from the ground, the horse’s teeth just nibble the top. They’re very ecologically friendly, so the BLM’s argument that their destroying the land is wrong.

The BLM is now planning to contract out care of their horses. What are your thoughts on this?
That is questionable as are most things the BLM comes up with. Every other month they’re coming up with something new, the most horrific to date is sterilization in my opinion. They are also looking to have horse trainers train these horses so they are adoptable. I don’t want to form an opinion because there’s not enough data yet.

It’s always something new with the BLM. This year it’s sterilization, last year it was PZP. What it does is not only put the horses in danger but it divides the advocates. I think that’s what they want to happen. When there’s division in advocacy the focus is taken away from what they’re doing.

Oregon State University is now part of wild horse sterilization, what do you think of the University’s involvement with this program?
I think it’s horrific. It’s unsanitary for the horses and unsanitary for the workers. These mares can be pregnant and, if they are, the foal will be aborted and the mare sterilized. This is not even in a medical facility. There’s no aftercare. There are a myriad of red flags and it’s just unethical. I’m appalled a University would lend its name to something as barbaric as that.

Do you see the SAFE Act passing?
I’d like it to, but going off past experience it’s unlikely to go anywhere. So many people are concentrating on that but I feel we need a game changer. We chase after these politicians and its flavor of the week whose going to co-sponsor. Then they lose the position so you gain an advocate as quickly as you lose them. The whole time the horses are suffering. So we need a game changer. I don’t know what that would be but I’m willing to work with anyone to come up with something.

Anything you’d like to add?
I want horse owners to be responsible – not just when they have the animal but when they let that animal go. Make sure you have that animal rehomed to a forever home where it’s with good people. If you fall on hard times there’s help out there. I believe if there was an agency out there that helped these people so they didn’t have to give up their animals it would help a huge percentage of horses.

Ashley Fairfield-Remeza