Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010: FALLON Holding Pens

Going to Fallon

©Photography by Elyse Gardner 1/7/10

On January 26, 2010, I visited again the Fallon holding facility.  Here I want to share with you photos I've taken over the course of several visits, which help tell the Fallon story. 

Above is one of the huge trailers -- which can carry 33 to 36 adult horses, I'm told -- the Cattoors use to bring captured horses from the trap sites on the four-hour trip to Fallon.  The horses usually spend the night at the temporary holding pens at the trap site and then are loaded onto these trailers early the next morning and brought to Fallon.

©Photography by Elyse Gardner  1/7/10

©Photography by Elyse Gardner  "Where are we?"

Horses Captured the Previous Day Arriving at Fallon after 4-hour trailer trip

Let's move on to Freedom.  With all the talk of his potential capture and the different stories flying around, we needed to assess whether Freedom was in captivity at Fallon.

Now let me say that Craig Downer and I spent four hours at the Fallon holding facility on Tuesday, 1/26/10.  We did two guided tours.  (Fallon has to be by appointment because it is a privately-owned facility.  They have two 2-hour tours, one from 10:00 to noon, and one from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. )  At first they did not want to let our little group of four go on both tours, but we finally got that worked out.  

Craig and I each brought binoculars and meticulously combed through the stallions' pens, scrutinizing every black horse.  We are well acquainted with the courageous Freedom and after examining every black stallion on the premises, we are both satisfied that Freedom is, thankfully, not at Fallon.  We understand it is possible to imagine all kinds of mischief that BLM or the contractors could do or have done, but we honestly believe they are just too busy catching other horses and really don't care that much about this issue.  Unless they go back to capturing horses at Black Rock East (Paiute Meadows Ranch), we believe Freedom to be free in his home.  

I managed to track all the rumors to their sources and personally spoke with the BLM person whom George Knapp called his "solid" source.  I did not find the story to be solid.  You decide.

She heard some boastful-type talk which she repeated to George Knapp but never saw any evidence of truth to it.  Call me a dreamer, but I do not sense a conspiracy here.  She invited us to go scrutinize the horses in Fallon and see if he was there, which is what we did.  I hope one day we will see Freedom in the wild.  If I am close enough, I will recognize him.  Until that day comes,  I will not conjure up definitive evidence I do not have one way or the other.  With all the facts we have at hand, and all the rumor-tracking we've done, both Craig Downer and I believe he still maintains the freedom and liberty he so dearly paid for. 

Look at these beautiful stallions below.  They are bewildered and unhappy, but thin and starving they most definitely are not. 

©photography by Elyse Gardner

If you want  BLM's daily updates of the roundup and of Fallon injuries and fatalities,  you can go to BLM.gov and click on the Calico gather, and then click on "daily updates." 

The death toll of the wild horses at Fallon continues to rise.  No one is including the dead foals in the official counts.  But the roundups stress these horses terribly.  One thing we have heard almost nothing about:  15 to 20 mares at Fallon have miscarried/spontaneously aborted.  We saw this mare standing and laying down, standing up, then down, and staying down.

                                       ©photography by Elyse Gardner

Follow-up has revealed that she had spontaneously aborted in the morning and was now, at 2:30 pm, passing the afterbirth.  I pressed manager John Neill, asking how much attention she would receive, if any, and he committed to looking after her.  My followup today indicated that the and owner Troy Adams got her into the chute and "cleaned her out," and he said she is "fine" today.   I wonder what she would say.  But I am relieved she is alive.  

If we had not been out there to see this with our own eyes and ask the questions, I believe this never would have been brought out.  I am more convinced than ever that It is vitally important to have an actual, personal, human presence continually showing up at all the holding facilities and the roundups, cameras in hand.  It is my absolute privilege to be there on behalf of the horses and to share this information with you.

Thank you in Boise, Idaho, for going to the holding pens.  If any of you live near the Litchfield, California facilities, can you go out there?

The roundup has killed this mare.  This was her last living day.  The vet came and ended her life after we left.

©photography by Elyse Gardner

©photography by Elyse Gardner

While BLM likes to say the depleted range did that to her, I cannot help but wonder what the many-mile roundup did to her, depleting her already slim body of resources, wearing down, stressing and weakening tired legs and muscles.  Winter, after all, is a challenge the horses know how to face.  Helicopters and plastic bag whips are another thing entirely.

She was unable to stand up after repeatedly struggling to do so.  Whatever strength she had that got her to the trap site depleted her small reserves.  Shortly after our departure, the vet arrived and her life was ended.  Thanks to the helicopter, any horse that was gathering his or her reserves to make it through the winter depleted them all and came into a huge deficit after that marathon run to escape the helicopter, losing a huge part of their chance to survive, terrifically stressed by being driven 4 to 14 miles.  Whether trotting, loping or galloping, adrenalin and fear floods their systems for the entire way.  I am so tired of hearing, "The range did it to them.  They were in poor condition because of the range, so they died."

Most of these horses are beautiful, healthy horses.  Meet a "curly" mare.  Amazing; even her mane and tail are kinky curly.

                               ©Photography by Elyse Gardner

Some are sleek, some are skinny. These are wild horses, and some of them are going to get pretty lean in the winter, as many animals do.  They garner their reserves, and they get through.  Some older or ill ones do not get through, and that is the nature of their lives.  

Go on record with your senators as strongly opposing these massive roundups.  BLM is strenuously campaigning on Capitol Hill, pushing Ken Salazar's insidious plan to move the horses east into some kind of sterile horse zoos of nonreproducing herds.  Our horses are being taken off the range in record numbers.  They are stacked up in holding.  

I will be attending the roundup on Saturday, January 30, and plan to get updates to you soon.

For the wild horses and their humble burro friends,
Elyse Gardner

Saturday, January 23, 2010

UPDATED: NEW VIDEOS & PHOTOS Saturday 23 January 2010 -Calico Range

Saturday, 1/23/10

Today we were at the Calico Range.  The trap site was right alongside a public road.  Two helicopters were again used simultaneously at times, rounding up large numbers of horses, beautiful, healthy horses.

 Once again, I was not able to get close enough upon the horses' arrival to document breathing and respirations, as so many of you have asked me to do.  Other people are walking around and talking withing 20 feet of the horses as they come in.  I have called Washington and requested formal permission to have this access.  I will let you know the results.

This day stands out as particularly poignant in that all the horses, each group, was particularly loathe to load into the very large trailer they were using to transport 33 to 36 horses at once to the temporary holding facility, which was located over two miles from the trap site.

         ©Photograph by Craig Downer                 

Craig Downer went to that temporary site while I remained at the actual capture site.  His photographs capture for us a sense of the horses' experience.  Less than an hour ago these horses were running for their lives.  For miles they were trying to outpace a helicopter.  Even if it went slowly, it was relentless, and they would run to simply try to get away.  Now they are enclosed, penned, often for the first time.

They have just been forced apart, separated from their families.  The mares have lost their stallions; the stallions have lost, in five minutes, the mares they spent their lives fighting so hard to get and keep.  They have all, to a one, lost their freedom.  For the moment, they are just trying to survive.  The shock and loss will hit them later, when they start calling to each other across the pens.

A horse's first instinct and choice is to run.  But here, they are trapped, often for the first time.   Now they are facing humans with scary noisy stickwhips, metal bars, narrow alleys, and a scary enclosure where they are convinced they will die if they enter.  No assurances or gentle coaxings await them from anyone.  It's pressure pressure pressure all the way.

More on this later, but we have learned that 15 to 20 mares have spontaneously aborted their foals in the Fallon facility since December 28.  The roundup run and subsequent stress is killing horses.

©Photograph by Craig Downer

©Photograph by Craig Downer

©Photograph by Craig Downer

Sue Cattoor has gone back to Utah for the week and will be returning next week.  In the meantime, here is a sample of the loading issues these animals faced.  I note a big escalation today in the pressure used on these horses to make them load quickly:  it has escalated to actually striking the horses with the plastic bag-whips, smacking them on the rump, pushing their faces.  Any horses to be adopted will now have some very vivid impressions they must overcome of humans.

Future adopters, please be patient and recognize what most of your mustangs have learned so far about humans.

At the end of the day, a young black colt spent over half an hour alone in a pen.  He paced, periodically calling out, his naked little whinny left unanswered.  His mother was gone, along with his father and all the other horses.  He could see all the other horses forced into the huge trailers and driven off.

He continued to call out intermittently in hopes of an answer.  The reality is he will never feel his mother again.   If he is extremely fortunate, he may hear her or see her through a fence if they are in adjoining pens.  Maybe.  But the life he knew in the security of his band is gone.

Please call your senators and tell them you want the wild horse roundups stopped.  Tell them you want the wild horses' rightful legal herd areas restored to them, the 23 million acres that wild horses have been zeroed out from, taken away.  Gone.  Tell them you want the ROAM Act to get out of committee and get passed.  Tell them.

The BLM took his mother away; she cannot answer his call.  Will YOU answer this little guy's call?

For the wild horses and their humble burro friends,
Elyse Gardner

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Calico Report: Thursday, January 14, 2010

Today the Calico Mountain roundup took place once again at Soldier Meadows. Madeleine Pickens with sister Chris, faithful old canine companion Oliver, and staff came to view for themselves this process of removing our wild horses from their homes. Attorney Valerie Stanley, wildlife ecologist Craig Downer, and I were present along with a "Good Morning America" crew. While be escorted by BLM on the way to the capture site, we saw the two huge truck/trailer vehicles full of horses being shipped to Fallon that day, and Valerie Stanley and Jerry Reynoldson saw a mare down in the first trailer. We promptly told Gene Seidlitz, who said he'd contact the driver.

BLM State Director Ron Wenker greeted us along with BLM Wild Horse and Burro Management Specialist Dean Bolstadt and two additional public information specialists -- Heather Emmons, Managing Public Information Specialist, with another Public Information Heather from Idaho (sorry, Heather; I can't locate your last name!) -- and a larger than usual cadre of security people. Gene Seidlitz and Lisa Ross were, of course, present as well. Alan Shepherd, BLM's lead Wild Horse and Burro Specialist, took the lead in speaking on behalf of BLM, followed by Gene Seidlitz.

BLM set aside this extra day to observe the roundup operation outside its committed Monday, Wednesday, Saturday schedule, in order to accommodate Ms. Pickens and the ABC crew. Craig Downer, Valerie Stanley, and I were asked by Madeleine to accompany her, and we were very glad to do so. Accompanied by several of her staff, Madeleine and Chris and staff arrived at the capture site carried by three helicopters BLM had given previous permission to arrive. Driven by Jerry Reynoldson, former staffer of Senator Harry Reid, and escorted in a caravan of nine four-wheel drive vehicles, we arrived a good bit later at approximately 9:55 a.m.

The day started on a dark note. BLM staff along with Sue Cattoor were angry, stating that Ms. Pickens and her helicopter crew had reneged on their agreement and had inappropriately flown over capture airspace, alleging that they had spooked the wild horses and jeopardized the entire day's operation. Alan Shepherd said he immediately downed their (Cattoor) aircraft when he saw the Pickens helicopters. This was an unverified statement since no one from BLM nor the Cattoors were flying or able to see the wild horses. We were tersely informed that it would be at least two hours before any incoming horses would arrive.

After listening patiently to the anger and frustration communicated by Alan Shepherd, Gene Seidlitz, and Sue Cattoor, Madeleine Pickens stated that they had flown over what they believed was well away from the capture area; that they stayed high enough so that the no more than 200 horses they had seen were not at all concerned about their presence. She said they came down lower to view one small band of five horses, who merely looked up inquisitively and did not move off their grazing spot. She stated, "This is not a friendly environment," and was diplomatic but clearly outraged at BLM's accusation that she had spooked the wild horses.

We prepared to move on to a tour of the area by BLM lead Alan Shepherd. First, however, I raised three questions.

1) The first had to do with the 30-year-old mare killed by firearm. I asked where she was killed, in what proximity to the penned wild horses, and Alan Shepherd responded it was about a mile from the horses. I asked how she was taken there, and he said she was trailered over. I am very saddened at the thought of this grande dame, this matriach whom we have named Cali for "Calico," spending her last minutes getting pressed to load onto a trailer by herself and taken off to meet a bullet. Why could they not have administered an injection, found another way to gently and humanely end her life in deference to her long life and service? I will discuss this issue with BLM tomorrow and report BLM's response.

Has anyone noticed that she was THIRTY? 30? Have not these horses magnificently adapted to this environment?

2) The next subject addressed the issue of ending our observation days at 1 p.m. I made a polite but firm objection for the record and reiterated that we hold that it is the public's right to witness these roundups throughout all phases of "gather" activities, and the private land issue is BLM's problem, basically. I stated that it is bad enough that we cannot go out each day, and now to end the public viewing days at 1 p.m. is highly objectionable. Gene Seidlitz stated he was flexible within a half hour to an hour, to remain longer as the situation warrants; however, the time factor is an issue, he states, because of the long drive (three hours-ish) back to town.

Then my final question: I made a formal verbal request on the record to BLM as follows:

We all know that a black stallion we have named Freedom self-released, as Gene Seidlitz calls it, and has probably sustained some injuries. Americans have fallen in love with this horse, and we are asking BLM to:

Number 1, inform us if he is seen and let us know his condition;
Number 2: We are asking that Freedom be permitted to live his life free and remain on the range. BLM is leaving some horses out on the range. If he gets rounded up again, we are asking that we be notified and that he be re-released. We believe this horse has earned his right and demonstrated his need for freedom. Will BLM commit to letting him stay free and to notifying us if he is seen or recaptured?

Gene Seidlitz very carefully responded that he believes Freedom to still be free; that he didn't know if they could identify him.

I responded and said I could identify him; we could identify him. I described him in detail, and I believe Sue Cattoor could identify him. I think his injuries from the barbed wire would also make him pretty unique. If there is any question, we can identify him.

Gene responded that he would do what he could. I was interrupte
d at that point, and it seemed a necessary ending point at that time. Although I do believe Gene Seidlitz to be in good faith, such a reserved response is insufficient. I will continue to be specific and press for a true commitment from BLM to Freedom's remaining free, and a commitment to direct the Cattoors to watch for this horse and immediately inform us if he is seen or captured.

© Photography by Elyse Gardner
Uncertain youngsters.

Stallions. Some really beautiful horses. Alan Shepherd states these horses were at a virtual ideal weight. He felt the mares were generally well but a little underweight.

Displaying a wary curiosity...

When roundup operations resumed, we first saw the helicopter off in the distance. It hovered for long periods before we could see any horses, and I was wondering what was going on. When the horses came up over the rise and we were able to finally see them, it cut deep: They were so far away, they looked like ants, but we could clearly see they kept squaring off and facing the helicopter, moving back toward it and trying to head uphill back into the safety of their mountains. The helicopter would face them like some omnipotent monster and sometimes slowly head toward them until they turned back toward the trail the pilot wanted them to travel. Here you can see the horses trying to move up the mountain toward the terrible machine.

2:18:51 p.m.

Below, we can see the defeated horses running back down the hill toward the trail. The helicopter has closed the distance between himself and the wild horses. My video clip shows trotting and cantering horses, not easy on the uneven ground. They are not walking casually.

2:19:12 pm

Below, the first to arrive is mom with her baby valiantly struggling to keep up.

2:23:01 pm

...followed closely by the helicopter now to get them into the pens. Note the Judas horse in front (the Cattoors' horse, "Shorty," a good horse who knows his job and does it faithfully. You can also see Dave Cattoor standing where he and Shorty stood just a half our or so about even even with the last horse.

2:19:12 p.m.

This roundup scene took place three times yesterday. Now trapped, the horses swell and whoosh anxiously around in this tiny space.
2:24:29 p.m.

I am not permitted to get close enough to document respirations. If the horses were still, my zoom lens could pick it up if I held steady, but the horses are surging and moving around so much, it is impossible. They are highly agitated.

We watch another group come in, sweaty, and then they are loaded tightly into two trailers and driven a short distance over to the capture-site holding pens, where they will wait overnight to then be driven the 4-hour drive to the new Fallon holding facility, where we are told they will probably stay until spring -- April or May. They have seen the last of their freedom.

2:24:29 p.m.

This palomino I call Braveheart was the last to be loaded into this very full trailer and fought desperately hard against yielding the next steps to his captivity. This is a scene repeated over and over.

I have more to share with you about this day, especially about a palomino stallion i call Braveheart, but for now I have to get ready for Saturday's roundup activities. Pray for the horses and for us, please. Thank you for all your kind words and support.

For the wild horses and their humble friends, the wild burros,
Elyse Gardner

Saturday, January 16, 2010


©Photography by Elyse GardnerA life turned upside-down...

1/16/10: Saturday: WARM SPRINGS TRAP SITE, Roundup of Summit Lake Paiute Indian Reservation Horses. Simultaneous use of two helicopters.

©Photography by Elyse Gardner 1/16/10 (All photos by Elyse unless otherwise stated.)

SATURDAY, 1/16/10: Today we are heading to the Warm Springs Trap Site. As usual, observers meet the BLM staff at 8 a.m. in Gerlach, Nevada, at Bruno's restaurant, where we have a short introductory briefing before embarking in a caravan out to the trap site. There are 13 people ready to go observe, 3 of whom were turned away by BLM since public observers are now limited to 10, and those three had not called the BLM Winnemucca office to reserve a spot in advance. At least one of the three had driven all the way from Montana. I was proud of the grace with which she accepted this profoundly disappointing news after making a real effort to be included. Reiterating: The BLM is limiting observers to 10 people on "Public Viewing Days" (Monday, Wednesday, Saturday).

The public observers include wildlife ecologist Craig Downer, Deniz Bolbol from In Defense of Animals, Pat Cuviello, Sally Summers of Nevada Horse Power, Laura Leigh from Horseback Magazine, German TV Chief Correspondent Ulrich Oppold and his cameraman Mario, author Terri Farley, and Nona from Concord, California. From BLM, we are escorted by Winnemucca Manager Gene Seidlitz, Public Information person Heather Emmons, PI Heather of Idaho, PI Liza Reid of Utah, as well as several armed security officers. Gene reminds us that security is present because of threats BLM has received against the roundup, which BLM is taking seriously.

After brief introductions, Gene Seidlitz stated that the horses to be removed today would be from the Summit Lake Paiute Indian Reservation. He states that the Summit Lake Paiute Indians have requested that BLM zero out all the horses on their reservation. What a disillusioning reality this is for me.

We proceed painfully slowly in our four-wheel-drive vehicles 1.5 hours out to the trap site. (When escorted out, leaving the trap site later in the day, we note among ourselves that our ride back out is virtually twice as fast.) As is always the case, we have to pull over on the way to make room for the two huge truck/trailers taking the captive horses away to the new Fallon holding facility.

©Photography by Elyse Gardner
When we arrive at around 10:10 a.m., we are immediately directed to park in a specific area and warned not to leave our vehicles since the helicopters are bringing in horses. BLM personnel and rangers are, however, out of their vehicles but are quick to tell us not to lean out of windows or doors, making photography challenging.

My view of these helicopter-driven horses is largely obstructed by other vehicles. Security people lose no opportunity to tell us to stay within our vehicles and would not allow us to move forward in between bands of incoming horses by even 10 feet to clear our view. We are feeling frustrated, marginalized. Gene Seidlitz states as soon as this wave of horses comes in, we will get settled and have much better access.

©Photography by Elyse Gardner

However, three more waves come in before the horses or we get a break.

From the back seat of the truck and over Deniz's shoulder (who is videotaping out the window), I see band after band of beautiful frightened horses about to lose their freedom, running straight toward us (but a good distance away) with the glass nightmare driving them closely now, unrelenting, veering off only after these horses have been trapped in the initial capture pen.

Sharing that moment with you, here they come: The first photograph in this blog (above), and the photo to the right record what my trusty camera and I saw over Deniz's shoulder.

We were not permitted to move our vehicle or debark because that group was immediately followed by another. Wave after wave: four times we watched as the Judas horse again and again leads them, trusting, into captivity.

We are finally able to park and get situated out in the midst of a large expanse where we could see all the horses coming from a long way off. I am dismayed to see two helicopters as I watch the horses nearly 200 degrees around:

A small band of about 6 running horses driven by helicopter to my right, then another band of about 8 who are just running, then around to my left here comes another band of about 12 driven by a second helicopter. The first, right-most helicopter directs the horses, driving them where it will, then veers away, expertly and sickeningly passing its band of fleeing horses off to helicopter #2, who now has charge of this huge herd. These animals don't have a chance. The expanse of the area covered is too big for me to photograph both helicopters simultaneously.

©Photography by Elyse Gardner
This goes on several times. There is a German television reporter with us, filming the "opportunity of a lifetime." He is saddened by what he sees. I am glad he is there with his cameraman and hope he reports a balanced story. He interviewed me, Craig Downer, and a few others, including one of the Cattoor's young wranglers.

A single horse is trotting off high up, in the opposite direction from all the running chaos going on in the large expanse in front of me. I'm told he broke off from one of the bands. He trotted off, calling out just a couple of times to the other horses. I notice this horse stumble a couple of times but seems otherwise sound. The captured, penned horses respond and call back. It is such a plaintive sound, such a desperate situation. All of us out there look at each other with tears in our eyes. What a heartbreak. He proceeds up over the mountain out of sight. His world has been turned upside down.

©Video by Elyse Gardner

(And see photo at top of this blog entry.)

Romanticized rumors of this being the wild black stallion Freedom sprang up, but Craig Downer and I have carefully viewed photographs, and with certainty, we know this to be a different horse. This in no way lessens the gravity and poignancy of this lost soul's plight.

I will also take this opportunity to say that Gene Seidlitz today assured me (1/20/10) that no horse resembling Freedom has been recaptured; that he hopes and believes Freedom is well and thriving and will inform me if any such horse is believed to be rounded up ("gathered" is BLM's preferred, benign-sounding term).

While he would not commit to re-releasing Freedom if he falls again into the Cattoors' net, he has taken note of my comments, which I'll share at another time, and will consider them. The decision would be his.

I mention this because although a BLM public information person told George Knapp on Friday, 1/15/10, that Freedom had been recaptured, no evidence of that has been given. I am tracing down those rumors, and Gene Seidlitz assures me he is, as well.

Freedom's capture and escape were in an entirely different capture/Herd Management Area, I'm told, ("HMA") 20 miles or so away with a fence separating it from the present HMA capture site; and that they are finished rounding up from where Freedom was taken. Be assured I will continue to ask direct questions about this horse who has so won our hearts with his desperate, beautiful determination to remain free.

And now, meet Calico Stallion.

© Photography by Elyse Gardner

© Photography by Elyse Gardner: The Stallion Pen, Warms Springs Trap Site

© Photography by Elyse Gardner
Notice his beautiful white tomahawk blaze, and the cinnamon heart on his right flank. Isn't he magnificent?

Is he not a true Indian pony belonging free on his range? What genetics we are losing as he is forever removed from his posterity, losing his legacy, losing his freedom. These genes, Calico Stallion's legacy, cannot be replaced. By now he is probably in a pen at the Fallon holding facility.

More to come. I will post this now. I must go prepare to leave Nevada for a few days and attend, hopefully, a rally in Sacramento, CA, tomorrow (Thursday, 1/21/10) and drive through a storm to get there from here (Nevada). Wish I could just keep writing! I am doing my best to keep you updated and will try to do better.

In the midst of all this sorrow and loss, I determine to endeavor to give grace (unearned favor) to all. Those with whom we disagree need it more than others! This is very hard sometimes. May I be tough, but nice.

Pray for the horses and for us. Thank you for reading this and sticking it out.
For the wild horses and their humble burro friends,
Elyse Gardner