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Would we want our children or grandchildren to see how America's horses are treated by our public agencies?

Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates


Issue: "Trap and toss" horse management. Lies and possible illegal activities surrounding the Nevada Department of Agriculture's plan to dump Virginia Range horses at the livestock sale.

Priority: HIGH

Status: Working

Date: September 7, 2012

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This is Part Eight in a series on the Virginia Range horses and the Nevada Department of Agriculture. To understand the context of this report, please start at Part One.


It was a long and controversial evening that was like a chapter out of Tales from the Old West.

At least four conspicuously armed men from the Nevada Department of Agriculture were present at Nevada Livestock Marketing in Fallon on Wednesday and they made their presence obvious.

The folks from the Reno based Hidden Valley Wild Horse Protection Fund were present to acquire the 23 horses that the Department of Agriculture had picked up in the south Reno area.

Advocates brought their horse trailers that were parked side-by-side in the parking lot.

Everyone was ready to prevent these horses, including a few foals, from going to the kill buyers.

What nobody expected was that the folks from Hidden Valley would be bidding against the "house."

After an exhausting stream of cattle came across the scale and were sold, the auction room then emptied out. All that were left were a cluster of advocates, a livestock dealer, a sparse sprinkling of spectators including a couple of men seated in the northwest corner of the room, and the armed brand inspectors who watched from the back of the room. All that was missing was a Gene Hackman character to call someone out and give him a beating.

When the bidding got around to the Virginia Range horses an interesting thing happened. Someone on the far side of the room started driving the prices up to over three times the market rate for these horses.

Sally Summers was present and stopped the proceedings with a loud vocal complaint that someone associated with the livestock exchange was bidding for the house without it being disclosed. Laura Bell thought she recognized the "bidder" as Jack Payne, owner of the livestock exchange. (Later Cindy Cherrigan asked Blaine Northrup point blank to confirm the identity of the "bidder" which Northrup did.)

The man in the far corner wearing a light shirt, cowboy hat and holding a beer
was identified by two people as Jack Payne, owner of the livestock auction.
The auctioneer mumbled something, looked at Payne, and the auction continued.

In many states "shill bidding" (bidding with the intent of driving up a sale price or commission) is considered a form of fraud. Advocates aren't sure yet how Nevada law applies to this practice and the purpose of this particular bulletin is to report events, not research the law and how and when it applies.

The next day Director Barbee stated in a KRNV Channel-4 interview about the "house" bidding against customers, Barbee said, "Yes. It was legal."

Link: Wild horse advocates bid high to save horses.

A quick look at the Nevada Revised Statutes reveals that the Nevada State Legislature does in fact have a policy that broadly addresses livestock auctions. If the actions Wednesday night didn't specifically violate Nevada laws, they certainly didn't appear to be acting within the Legislature's stated policy.


NRS 573.015 Declaration of policy. Because of the paramount importance of livestock raising to the economy of the State of Nevada and the essential function performed by public auction sales in the livestock industry, it is declared to be an essential part of the public policy of this state to regulate such sales in order to avoid fraud upon consignors or purchasers and misappropriation of the proceeds of livestock sold.

Hidden Valley ended up paying over $11,000.00 for a group of horses that would have normally sold for around $3,000.00 in a straightforward auction. The average price came to just over $475.00 per horse including yearlings and foals. The Let 'Em Run Foundation helped cover the "overcharges."

In his interview on KRNV, Director Barbee compared livestock auctions to the stock exchange. "The price of one particular stock can be low on one day and extremely high the next."

But what about extreme fluctuations from one minute to the next?

Some non-Virginia Range horses were also offered at this same sale. Laura Bell decided to see what was really going on. She bid on a titled horse that was about the same size as the mature Virginia Range horses and got hers for $161.00 including sales tax - a more customary figure.

The Dept. of Ag personnel seemed to be in a jovial mood. One was overheard saying, "They took it pretty well."

Link: Nevada Livestock Marketing Virginia Range Horses 9 19 12 002

Link: Nevada Livestock Marketing Virginia Range Horses 9 19 12 005

Link: Nevada Livestock Marketing Virginia Range Horses 9 19 12 007

Advocates who hadn't previously experienced the conduct of the Nevada Department of Agriculture and its allies were stunned.

At the end of the auction the livestock exchange didn't want to load out the horses. By this time it was pretty dark and they said that if they broke the horses' necks, it wouldn't be their fault. Hidden Valley was not going to leave without the horses. Some of the advocates supervised the sorting of the horses. The wranglers on horseback who sorted the sale horses did appear to do a safe and sane job dividing the horses among the trailers present and getting them loaded.

All 23 horses are presently in homes or Foster care, including "JJ," the foal with the damaged lower lip that the Department of Agriculture refused to let Hidden Valley have treated by a veterinarian. JJ and his dam are in safe hands and he will receive proper veterinary attention.

JJ is now in safe keeping and will be treated by a licensed veterinarian.

The conduct of the Nevada Department of Agriculture is making a great deal of people angry. Their failure to delegate management of the horses has produced unnecessary conflict in residential neighborhoods. Some residents are angry over horses grazing on their lawns. Others are angry over horse removals since they moved into the area to view horses ranging on nearby hillsides. The non-profits are no longer permitted to mitigate these matters so these problems, and public anger, simply get worse.

The Sandoval Administration surely must be aware that some of the major national horse and animal groups are entering this battle. These are the same groups who helped defeat the otherwise "sure bet" incumbents Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA.) Horse issues weren't the only factors in the outcomes of these elections, but they provided the "tipping points" that allowed some comparatively unknown challengers get elected. Governor Sandoval has been a rising political star who some political pundits say could some day be America's first Hispanic president. The Virginia Range situation leaves people to wonder why the Governor would allow such controversial handling over a herd of horses and egregious conduct by one of his directors potentially damage his career.


Since the days of Tony Lesperance the Nevada Department of Agriculture has been trying to deal Virginia Range horses to the kill buyers. When criticism builds, the department comes out blaming their policy shifts on the advocates and non-profit groups. When KTVN News reporter Brooke Boone asked Director Barbee why the department doesn't work with the cooperators, Barbee made an allegation that the groups were dumping horses back onto the range.

The alleged "dumping" involved eight Virginia Range horses that were picked up in Mound House. The local citizens wanted the horses to remain together if possible. Permission was given for the Let 'Em Run foundation to place these horses on 100,000 acres of private range where they could finish out their lives as they always lived them. The horses were put out in the same location that the state previously released 55 of the state's horses.

Link: TRI Horse Release

The only significant difference in the two releases was that the state's horses were dropped off and to our knowledge never checked on, while the horses "abandoned" by Let 'Em Run were checked on regularly and a photo journal kept.

When it benefited the state, the location was fine. When the advocates followed suit - with permission of the landowner - the department claimed that they were abandoned. It's how things work in Nevada.


Sometimes you can learn more about what may be really going on when the opposition gets defensive. For some reason the Department of Agriculture felt the need to put out an official media advisory denying that any horses had been stolen off the range.

Link: Clarification Regarding Unfounded Rumors Coming out of Lyon County

This media advisory might have been in response to some speculation surrounding "Dickie," the supposedly abandoned and neglected pinto that mysteriously disappeared from TRIC approximate to the date of the advisory. Dickie reappeared some time later in south Reno. The only comments we are aware of that were made came later and involved the relatively good condition that the horse appeared to be in when discovered, and remarks made by a former department staffer who said that in 9 years of keeping track of the Virginia Range horses, he had never seen a horse travel from TRIC to south Reno and that he felt it was highly unlikely for that to happen "without help."

The media advisory does state "illegally capture state horses." To be fair, this advisory could be referring to something completely different. On the other hand the words chosen could have been intended to create misdirection. Dickie wasn't a state horse. He was owned by the Let 'Em Run Foundation.

If this vague media advisory in fact does refer to Dickie, the department's need to claim that no horse "thefts" took place might reveal a new aspect of this issue that warrants further investigation.


When a state agency intentionally engages in provocative conduct people take notice. Given the capabilities of modern social media, hundreds of thousands of people take notice. When people reach a certain level of frustration and anger, they can and do adjust their purchasing choices.

Advocates have been receiving phone calls and messages from people who say that they plan to avoid travel to Nevada. A common theme from California is, "we now have casinos too." Advocates have been quick to ask these people to convey their opinions to the governor to see if this matter can be resolved before they take punitive action against Nevada. Those who have attempted to call the Governor and have reported back on their experiences have said that they weren't allowed speak to anyone in the governor's office, but are transferred to a Plant Industry Division employee at the Department of Agriculture.

Link: Horse Wars and their chilling effect on tourism

Link: Gaming is More Than Just a Game

A number of advocates renewed calls for concerned citizens to contact Governor Sandoval's office, insist on speaking to someone in authority, and complain about the conduct of the Nevada Department of Agriculture. His telephone number is 775-684-5670. Once again the advocates have worked together to protect Nevada's Virginia Range horses, and in doing so protect Nevada's image to the world. It is feared that when any Virginia Range horses are traced to a foreign slaughterhouse that public reaction could affect Nevada's tourism revenues. Horse lovers have flexed their "wallet muscles" before. Our struggling state doesn't need a repeat demonstration where our horses end up on dinner plates and the American public takes it out on Nevada's struggling economy.

Continue to
Fallout Begins / Another NDA Screwup?

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Return to Part One


Here are actions that you can take to protect the Virginia Range horses. Please remember that these horses fall under the jurisdiction of the Nevada Department of Agriculture and Governor Brian Sandoval. Here is contact information. You are encouraged to express your opinion in this matter. If you call, try to speak with someone in authority. Let's fix this business before more horses go to the kill buyers and we experience another tourism boycott!

The Virginia Range horses are not protected by any federal statute. The involved wild horse groups are just about all that stands between them and the kill buyers. Funds are always needed to protect these horses and to find homes and sanctuary opportunities for those that have been taken off the range.

Every contribution counts. The groups are all staffed by volunteers so the money donated actually goes to pay the expenses for these horses. Please help!


(PayPal donation button)
(To protect horses from illegal actions)


(PayPal donation button)
(To keep horses from kill buyers)

Fallout Begins / Another NDA Screwup?

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