August 17, 2013 Auction of Ft. McDermitt Wild Horses

Auction Overview:

  •    2: Kill buyers confirmed present (Ole Olsen, Zena Quinlan)
  • 320: Total horses sold at auction according to my notes.
  • 148: Total unbranded horses pulled from auction (according to auction)
  • 470: Total horses brought to auction from Ft. McDermitt: 468 + 2 (tribe took back to reservation) = 470
  • 169: Total number of horses purchased by kill buyers
  •             (Zena purchased 132; Olsen purchased 37)
  • 143: Approximate number of horses shipped to slaughter. Kill buyer Zena Quinlan purchased a pen of mares and foals that she has since sold to a private individual who is rescuing them. 

See photos and video here

Auction Details:

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:

  • 27 mare/foal pairs mostly bought by rescue – sod for $200-500. One pair went for $900. They were mostly purchased by rescues.
  • 2 orphans (a little palomino and a flaxen-maned chestnut) whose mothers had been injured and then shot at the stockyard. Sold for $275 a piece. A seemingly nice couple bought them.
  • 62 desirable horses – mostly yearlings, young horses, a few adults. These were the colorful horses duns, buckskins, roans, paints, etc. Zena got about 16 of these horses and Ole got 6.) Horses sold for $75-$350.
  • 12 young Adults/adults – auctioneer said “Gary I got some cheaper horses coming up for you.” For one dark by adult, he said, “Here’s your bucking horse. Get in now.” Still some pretty colorful horses sold in this group. Sold for $120-$350. The bucking horse sold for $350. Zena got 5 horses in this group and Ole got 3).
  • 9 foals. These were pulled from their moms right before being pushed into the ring. They were “weaning age” …. maybe 3 months old.. These little guys were so scared, with their little whinnies and cries, going back and forth looking for their moms. They sold for $50 - $160. Rescues got them all.
  • 9 mares – The mothers whose foals were just taken from them. They were herded into the auction ring in two groups (5 and 4). They just huddled together looking scared and stunned. They were sold as a lot of 9 and bought for $165 a piece by the kill buyer Zena Quinlan.
  • 6 more foals just pulled from mothers. Sold for $85-$225 (for a buckskin). Went to rescues except I think buckskin colt went to family.
  • 6 mares – the mothers of the colts who had just been pulled. Sold as a lot. Bought by Zena for $175 a horse.
  • 18 geldings. Sold as a lot. Pushed into ring in groups of 6. Bought by Zena at $310/horse.
  • 16 geldings. Sold as a lot. Shown in two groups. Bought by Zena at $165/horse.

That was all the horses sold in the ring. Next we went outside, where auctioneer was selling horses by the pen.

  • Pen 302 – 7 mares/7 foals – purchased by Hidden Valley Wild Horse Protection fund for $165 per pair.
  • Pen 401- 10 mares/10 foals – purchased by Hidden Valley for $135 per pair.
  • Pen 402 – 13 mares/13 foals – purchased by Zena for $135 per head. She is reportedly selling them back to rescue and asking for $500 per head.
  • Pen 403 – 25 dry mares – purchased by Zena for $165 per head.
  • Pen 404 12 dry mares - purchased by Zena for $185 per head
  • Pen 405 &  406 -  28 mature stallions – purchased by Ole Olsen for $80/horse.

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.

Current Situation

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.