Wild horses are a legendary symbol of the American West. They mostly roam on vast areas of public land overseen by the U.S. government. To prevent overpopulation, the government periodically removes some of them. But critics say the practice is inhumane and could lead to the extinction of wild horses.
Wild horses, in the thousands, run free in 10 states in the American West. They are protected by law and live in remote areas where people don't normally see them.
Suzanne Roy is with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.
"It is a thrilling experience. It is an educational experience. It really strikes a deep cord with people everywhere," said Roy.
Roy and other advocates of wild horses came to Washington to protest the capture of herds by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The government has been moving the horses to the American Midwest and south. The horses are not slaughtered. They are put in holding pastures or fenced pens where they can be adopted, but fewer people are adopting because of the recession.
Currently, there are more horses in holding facilities than on public land.
Roy says despite the law to protect wild horses, the government has other priorities.
"The Bureau of Land Management manages our public lands, not for the interests of the public, but for the interests of the livestock owners that graze their cows on our public lands," added Roy.
Tom Gorey is a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management. He says the government values the horses. He says the bureau does the roundups to protect the herds because there are 10,000 more horses on the land than there should be.
"We are not managing for extinction as some of the critics have said," said Gorey. "We're just trying to get down to that appropriate management level. We don't want starvation on the range."
Activists say the government should use other methods to control the herds.
"By managing the horses on the range, through things like fertility control and limiting livestock grazing," explained Roy.
While birth control is used when wild horses are moved, Gorey says it is impractical to do that on the millions of hectares of public land.
"We're not at a point right now where we can just apply fertility control to control the population of the herds, which grow about 20 percent a year, and therefore, double in about four years," said Gorey.
The government is spending $63 million on the wild horse program this year and has proposed $75 million for next year. A separate request of $42 million is for the purchase of land for a wild horse preserve.
Despite their differences, both sides agree the wild horse program is too costly.
"We're eager to get out of the holding business," added Gorey. "We only want to hold the number that is consistent with public adoption demand. We're working on that."
But older horses often are not adopted. Critics say moving the horses is a waste of money and the roundups should stop until the system is fixed.