A veritable blizzard of misfortunes led to the death of seven horses this winter on the Blackfeet reservation ranch run by the Blackfeet Buffalo Horse Coalition (BBHC), according to Bob Blackbull, founder and ranch manager of the nonprofit group.
The BBHC raises Spanish mustangs, horses historically used by the Blackfeet tribe; it seeks to get youth “hooked on horses, not drugs or alcohol,” according to its website. But the group’s problems started last spring, when an auction that was meant to reduce its approximately 125-horse herd fell through.
Then, in November, Blackbull wrecked his ATV while rounding up horses.
“I crushed about a third of my pelvis and fractured the top of my femur,” he told the Independent.
Wheelchair bound and recovering in a hospital in Rhode Island, where he has relatives, Blackbull hasn’t been able to work at the ranch since. Meanwhile, the price of hay jumped, and northwestern Montana had an exceptionally snowy winter.
As problems mounted, the horses began to suffer. Blackbull says 15-foot snowdrifts made it increasingly difficult to get hay to the pasture.
By late February, Peter Wood, a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) staffer in Maryland, began getting phone calls from concerned locals.
Wood asked some of the concerned locals to ski to the pasture, photograph the starving horses, and get a body count. PETA has since bought and delivered 60 hay bails to the horses.
“Thank God for PETA,” Blackbull says.
PETA also connected Blackbull with a Humane Society program for horse contraception, to help reduce the herd. Furthermore, Blackbull says he plans to sell about 50 horses this spring.
Wood says PETA is not pushing local law enforcement officials to pursue animal neglect or abuse charges.
“Typically, when we have cases of animals starving, people are like 50 feet away from these animals, sitting in their trailers, watching big screen TV’s,” Wood says. In this case, he adds, it doesn’t appear Blackbull willfully starved his horses.
If abuse or neglect charges were to be filed against Blackbull, it’s unclear who would investigate. When Wood asked about this, he says the Glacier County Sheriff’s department referred him to the Blackfeet Tribe stock inspector, Joe Bird Rattler.
Asked if he would investigate the case, Bird Rattler responds, “I’m a stock inspector, not the Humane Society.”