Thursday, September 28, 2023

Legislation Redefines ‘Equine,’ Calls for ‘Free-Roaming Horse Expert’

Livestock Board would oversee wild horse management


State legislators in the Senate have advanced two separate bills that would redefine “equine” and substantially change how free-roaming horses are managed in New Mexico. Both proposed bills received “do pass” recommendations from the Senate Judiciary Committee late last week.

If approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, Senate Bill 271 would group horses, ponies, mules, donkeys and hinnies in the definition of equine. 

Free-roaming horses are a common sight in Placitas. (Courtesy Mount Taylor Mustangs)

Sponsored by Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, the bill would create a new process for the disposition of equine under this new definition, giving an equine rescue or retirement facility first right of refusal to buy the animal. The sale price would be equal to what the costs would be to impound the equine. 

If equine rescue or retirement facilities pass on purchasing the animal, the New Mexico Livestock Board would be required to auction the animal through a yet-to-be-determined sealed bid process. Currently, sales are awarded to the highest bidder.

SB 271 passed the Judiciary Committee with minor modifications to the procedure for announcing equine sales.

The other equine-related bill getting endorsement from the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Feb. 24 meeting was SB 301, addressing free-roaming horses.

Under the proposal, the Livestock Board would oversee the selection of a “free-roaming horse expert” to manage wild horse populations in New Mexico. While the law would apply statewide – expect on federal and tribal land – free-roaming horses have mostly been an issue in the Placitas area and around Ruidoso in southern New Mexico. 

“What we have now in current statute is not sustainable and it’s not addressing the problem we’re having,” said Sen. Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales, who is co-sponsoring SB 301.

The proposal is nearly a complete redraft of the current law covering wild horses, which called for deoxyribonucleic acid testing and efforts to identify horses of Spanish colonial lineage. 

“They’ve never conducted the testing, and it’s burdensome to have that in statute,” McKenna said. “That particular department has never done the test and I don’t understand what they were trying to identify them in the first place.”

The redraft of the existing law would create or change definitions for such words as “adoption,” “carrying capacity,” “free-roaming horse,” and “range.”

Under the proposed bill, McKenna said it would be up to the Livestock Board to decide the qualifications of the free-roaming horse expert and the selection process.

According the the legislative analysis, the bill would require the free-roaming horse expert to “control the free-roaming horse populations using methods such as fertility control via immunocontraception or chemical castration, humane capture and relocation to a horse rescue or retirement facility, humane capture, and relocation to a range, or for horses with untreatable medical conditions, allow for euthanasia.

The proposed law would otherwise prohibit the slaughter or export for slaughter of any free-roaming horse.

While the legislative analysis of the bill questions how the program would be funded, McKenna said the analysis didn’t take into account $175,000 of so-called “junior” money she and the bill’s other co-sponsor, Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, are using to fund the program.


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