Thursday, April 15, 2010


                    ©3/9/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
 Here are photographs and video I have put together from when BLM allowed me to film their processing of the yearlings and two-year olds on "Media Day."  The consensus among the horses was unanimous, as you can see.  
     These horses below are waiting their turn in the squeeze chute.   And they are communicating with each other.  Watch, and listen, to the video.  They are amazing.  
     As it says at the end of my video, please go to my article at, scroll down and click on the title of the article, Media Day at Broken Arrow/Fallon Holding Facility by Humane Observer, Elyse Gardner, to get a more detailed picture.  My thanks to Marya Zubaty of The StableWoman Gazette for doing a fabulous job posting that article.  It is a work of art and love by all concerned.

©3/9/10 Photographs by Elyse Gardner
      ©3/9/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner

     ©3/9/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
Blood draw by Dr. Sanford for Coggins test

     ©3/9/10 Photographs by Elyse Gardner

                       ©3/9/10 Photographs by Elyse Gardner
When the door opens, sometimes they shoot out of there.  But sometimes they just stand there and tentatively come out, clearly traumatized and almost afraid to move.  They pick up speed as they get the courage up to move.  This mare couldn't exit the squeeze chute fast enough.

     It is clear that the adult stallions and mares would have a harder time with all this.  (I saw adults processed in the identical squeeze chute in the Pryor Mountains last summer.  Some of my videos and photographs are available at if you go to their "blogs" and click on "The Humane Observer" links and scroll way down past the Calico roundups.  You'll recognize some of the people, I'm sure.)
                     ©1/6/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
     A final, chilling note on the tagging and processing:
     Remember Mouse, darling silver buckskin boy?  I will feature him sometime. When I didn't see him last Sunday, and since they had posted that a yearling colt had colicked and died since I'd seen him last, I was anxious to lay eyes on him or at least know he was okay.  I called to check on him by tag number.  BLM hasn't entered the tag numbers into computer yet, so they had to dig through papers and call me back.
    Well, the papers had Mouse's tag number, which I had clearly documented since I filmed his processing on Media Day, as a three-year-old sorrel.  Does that horse above -- Mouse -- look like a three-year-old sorrel?  This is not a computer error.  Somebody didn't keep up with the tagging numbers properly.  I wonder how many horses are off.  The tags bear the same numbers as their brands.  
     Doesn't strike confidence into my heart...  
     Thankfully, they did go out and find Mouse, with his tag on, and verified that he was fine.  Many BLM people are very nice.  But the policies and practices of this organization are at this time utterly destructive to our wild horses.
Pigeon Fever News
     Here are photos of the young horses dealing with this ugly, sad disease.  But what disease?  Hmmm.
             ©3/9/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
     Verbally, at least, BLM is recanting its diagnosis of Pigeon Fever, which Fallon Manager John Neill first announced to public observers on the March 21st Sunday tour, and which veterinarian Dr. Richard Sanford's 3/31/10 report verifies.  
             ©3/9/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
Same horse as above, but so cute with sibling I had to include this, too.
    I was told it was a bacterial infection and asked to wait for the official report, which was to be posted either later Sunday or on Monday, to get the actual bacterial name.  It is now Thursday, and their report is not yet posted.  They think maybe the young horses got bruises from rubbing on bars due to the feeding setup, and then the bruises got infected.
    Horsepeople are skeptical at this news.  I wonder what the delay is in posting the report.  They would not say how or if they are treating the horses medically.  
             ©4/11/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
This gorgeous horse's pus pocket drained out and now appears to be healing.
             ©3/9/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
I noted how carefully this youngster is avoiding rubbing on the bars.  Ouch...
   [UPDATE: Staphylococcus aureus is the diagnosis. Nevertheless, I need not skip a beat because...)
    My view remains unchanged, which is: 
    FACT:  You have some kind of outbreak occurring which resembles a highly contagious, painful and sometimes (not usually, thankfully) fatal disease.  BLM itself diagnosed it as Pigeon Fever.
    Prudence and compassion and intelligene dictate that you separate the infected horses (or humans, if it were in people) from the general population as a precautionary measure.  Veterinary experts strongly recommend separating infected horses especially since feces and flies play a part in the spread of the suspected disease.  They say keeping the pens meticulously clean from manure is important to prevent spreading the disease.  
               ©4/11/10 Photographs by Elyse Gardner
This poor baby is miserable. Her eyes are pinched.  She is like so many we see there.  It's not just about the pus, either.  They    are    in     prison.
     Putting the, at the time, "handful" of infected horses in the AMPLE sick pens in Fallon would have enabled them to A) keep the pens mucked and very clean;  B) Protect healthy horses from contact C) keep an eye on and more easily treat infected horses.  Presently we counted over 20 horses with these abscesses.  Why not keep them from the general population as a precaution?  
     This is not rocket science.  And continuing to process horses on shared equipment, and then move horses around into different pens as they are re-categorized by age for future adoption events, is simply flirting with epidemic disaster.  
     CONCLUSION:  These people who are in charge of caring for and about our horses demonstrate a chilling lack of compassion in virtually every aspect of "managing" these sensitive, amazing animals. 
     Oh, sure, it could be worse, they'll remind me.  Yes, it could.  But it could be so, so, so very much better.  Like get the cows out of the horses' legally designated herd areas for starters; increase those arbitrary, completely fictitious "AMLs" (appropriate management levels). I want to talk about that issue and will address it directly in another post.  
     I am dreadfully concerned about the sand.  It's like walking at the beach.  The wind was up, and it was in my eyes, in my mouth, in my hair.  Worse yet, when I went to move the horses' hay closer to the pens, it was loaded in the hay.  There is no way to keep it out of the hay when ground-feeding as it's done at Fallon, even though the hay is laid on cement poured to try to keep the hay sand-free.  Nice try, but it doesn't keep the sand out of the hay, unfortunately.  The hay was really loaded with sand.  
     The facility is built on sand, like at the beach.  Some of the horses were coughing.  I'm hoping it was just because it was windy.  I'm covering a lot on this post, but it is all current, and I have to call it like I see it.
 ©4/11/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
Fallon is built on sand.  What is it going to be like in the summer?  It was terribly windy, sand stung my eyes.  It was everywhere.
     Right now, whatever the yearling horses are suffering, it is because of this roundup and living in these twisted, completely unnatural conditions.  We as humans couldn't come close to tolerating all the abuse these gentle animals have suffered at the hands of humans.  When will it be enough? 
       Think about horse-ness.  Think about the strange and wonderful healing that happens when abused or at-risk kids are given time with ...  h o r s e s.  Horses that will trust them, horses that will accept them.  I've worked in a theraputic riding program for disabled and at-risk youth, and it is AMAZING how quickly the horses open people up in a way YEARS of therapy could only approach.
      Horses are gifts. They are healing to our world to look at, to touch, to smell (they have a wonderful, earthy smell), to hug.  (I haven't even gotten to the riding part yet! One doesn't at all have to ride a horse to be transformed by his presence.)  Grooming them is so centering, this big "ahhh" sigh comes over us and we relax, get out of our head-spinning and connect to this wonderful gentle soul.  I enter horse-time when I pull into the ranch.  No rushing works around horses.  Leave the rush and the anger and the fight at the gate...  
     Even cleaning up after them is meditative.  We get flooded with endorphins and all kinds of good things looking at them, touching them, LOVING them.  And, oh, being  loved by them is the best.
 ©2009 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
Being loved by them is the best.
     Do we not get it, that they are unique gifts from an incredibly imaginative creator?  And oh my, to be carried by such a one.  I confess every time I get on a horse whom I know is okay with carrying me, I feel so elevated, almost like royalty.  Humbled royalty, because what a privilege to be borne by them -- not to mention the incredible fun it is.
     And what about the service they've given us in this country -- in the world as we know it?  How many horses died for every mounted soldier?  And now that horses are largely out of a job, we treat them with contempt?  What does that say about humanity? 
    I will leave you with another look at a little wild beauty. 
       ©4/11/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner 
I remain,
For the wild horses, captive and free, and their humble burro friends,
Elyse Gardner

Saturday, April 10, 2010



©3/29/2010 Photography by Craig Downer
Death trap

©2010 Photography by Craig Downer
    Before I move on to this very important story, I must address BLM's April 8, 2010, "Daily Update." They admit, because they were outed by the Humane Society's vet's comments, that on March 6, a mare and foal died in the birth process.  They claim their failure to include this fact in their "Daily Updates" then -- or anytime up till now -- was an oversight issue.  Oh, please..
    But I agree; it is an oversight issue:  The BLM needs oversight.
    Cases in point:
                        ©2010 Photography by Elyse Gardner
This girl is hurting, passing placenta of previously miscarried foal.  She is the one who told us what was happening to her friends
    --- Was it an oversight to omit mention of 15 to 20 spontaneous abortions?  They never said boo about all the miscarriages until advocates saw it and documented it during a visit to Fallon.  They then admitted 15 to 20 had happened.  They then started reporting them on their "Daily Updates."  They then called off the Ely roundup because of the late-term pregnancies, which of course they knew would be happening that time of year anyway.  Scheduling that huge Ely roundup for that time of year (February) must have been an oversight...
    ---  They didn't report the Pigeon Fever outbreak until two weeks after it was a known problem and advocates were on site at Fallon asking questions. And now BLM is saying the horses came in off the range with it.  Oh, please.  BLM is trying to say, "Oh, yes; we saw it when they came in off the range. We're on top of things.  We knew that."
            ©2010 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
No mention of Pigeon Fever when we were asking about the horses' health
    All I can say is I was there when the horses were being rounded up; other advocates were there, and we were asking direct questions about the horses' health because we were all concerned about respiratory distress from running these horses in the dead of winter.  No mention of Pigeon Fever.  They said they were ready and watching for strangles. Even in the Humane Society vet's visit and report as late as of February 13, and then March 6, they mentioned one horse in quarantine for what they thought might be strangles: never a hint back then to suggest, "We see evidence of .25 to .50 percent of this wild horse population having had Pigeon Fever," as they are now claiming.  Why not post it in the Daily Updates?  The public is interested in all things wild horse.  It was not posted because I'm thinking they didn't have one stray thought about Pigeon Fever.  Oh, wait; I know:  It was an oversight.
                     ©2010 Photography by Elyse Gardner
Mouse in the capture pen January 6, 2010
     They wonder why the public doesn't trust them:  well, they need wonder no more.  Calling this omission an "oversight" -- failing to report the deaths, DEATHS, of two horses --  is either:  A) major slovenly incompetence, or, B) a lie by omission.   So which is it, BLM:  are you incompetent, or liars?  Pick one.  I don't see an option "(C)";  sorry.
     Do I seem angry?  You bet. I am angry because we just want to know about the horses, and getting information is like pulling teeth, and I am heartbroken and tired.  I don't like things to deteriorate into petty rivalries and grievances and the like.
     BLM, we would like to know how many mares are birthing.  And dying.  We would just like to know.  We really would like to know if a mare dies in the course of delivering.  Some of us follow certain horses.  We would just like to know these things.  Why is it so hard?  You now have tag numbers.  We want to know what tag numbers you see giving birth.  And, sadly, we want to know who died trying. And who has new babies.  Let us volunteer to come out and log these things if you have manpower issues.  
     I bring this out here in my Humane Observer blog because it highlights the need for public observers.  BLM has demonstrated too high a tolerance for the suffering of the horses, for deaths, for injuries, for living in sand.  BLM has forfeited its right to public trust.  People feel strongly, demonstrated by the fact that a lot of advocates have been signing up and coming out to monitor the captured wild horses.   All 10 slots for the Sunday tour are full again.
     That being said, BLM people are not all bad guys, and I hope to build toward working together for the best outcome for our wild horses.  IS THERE ANYBODY LEFT IN BLM WHO WANTS TO SEE WILD HORSES IN THE WILD?   I'm looking for you.  You're the one I want to talk to.  THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT.  
   Here is the crux of the matter:  I am not seeing a will to work with the advocates; I'm not seeing a will on BLM's part to advocate for the horses, to get them a more fair share of the range, to increase their "AMLs" (appropriate management levels) and reduce the number of grazing cattle and sheep in the original wild horse Herd Areas so more horses can live free.
  Well, that's the truth:  I am not seeing it.  I am not seeing transparency.  I am not seeing access.  I am seeing arbitrary AMLs. I am seeing a dangerous, unnecessarily close helicopter on a straggling, limping colt in obvious pain who would rather die than lose sight of his family.  I am not seeing, and neither is Craig Downer, Terri Farley, or Don Molde, 600 wild horses left in the Calico Complex, which brings us to Craig Downer's story...
                             ©Photography by Craig Downer
     What you are seeing are the remains of a wild horse, discovered by Craig Downer, Terri Farley, and Don Molde on a recent excursion into the Calico Mountains looking for the living remnants of the herds, our remaining wild horse friends of the Calico Mountain herd complex, whoever remains of the living herd after the Bureau of Land Management's relentless, take-all-prisoners wild horse purge of these starkly beautiful mountains.
       Craig and company were also, however, greeted by the skeleton of this horse whose remains I am grieved to feature today.  However, in a grim sort of way it is satisfying because, like in a murder mystery where the victim retains the identifying necklace of her killer clenched in her right hand, this mare was able to point us to her killer in her dying moments.
       This horse died a miserable, agonizing death trapped in this cattle guard.  She stepped onto it, her hoof went through the rails, and she was trapped.  She may have broken her leg.  Even if she did not, she was trapped and could not escape.  She may have been attacked by opportunistic coyotes while caught, or she may have died slowly, but we know she was trapped.  And, ultimately, we know her leg was literally sawed off in order to extricate her from the cattle guard, as evidenced by the clean-cut bone visible on her leg.  It did not have to be this way.
      This horse's demise is a predictable, highly possible outcome when you have non-Wildhorse- Annie cattle guards along a path in a Herd Management Area (HMA) undergoing active helicopter roundup operations.  The BLM's choice to abandon the regulation providing for Wildhorse Annie cattle guards directly resulted in this horse's tragic, terrible death.
     But I've said too much.  It is my privilege now to present Craig Downer's story.  Craig is a wildlife ecologist passionate about securing and protecting the wild horses' and burros' freedom and reinstating the disenfranchised ones forcibly removed from their homes and families, now languishing in all-mare or all-male pens and flat pastures, missing their wild, simple way of life.  I will let him tell you.
By Craig C. Downer, Wildlife Ecologist, Email:
Composed Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010
                              ©Photographs by Craig Downer
                                Light horses slightly left of center
     On Monday the 29th of March, 2010, and with a certain mixed dread and anticipation, I revisited the Calico Mountain Complex of wild horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs) where large-scale, draconian helicopter roundups had just deprived 1,922 wild horses of their liberty.  Accompanying me were Dr. Don Molde, a long-time animal advocate from Reno, who generously drove his 4WD vehicle, and Mrs. Terri Farley, of Verdi, Nevada, popular authoress of the Phantom series of books depicting wild horses.  Along with the animal defense group In Defense of Animals, both Mrs. Farley and I are Plaintiffs in an ongoing legal suit that was brought before federal district court in Washington, D.C. this past December to try to halt the Calico complex wild horse helicopter roundups.
     Forewarned of the terrific winds and oncoming storm, undaunted we set off from Reno a little after 7 A.M., first taking I-80 to Wadsworth then turning north on State Highway 447.  As the day progressed and particularly in the afternoon, violent gusts dropped down from a 200+-mph jet stream blast that was assailing this part of Nevada, causing murky dust and shining alkali clouds to rise thousands of feet in gigantic and unhealthy, ominous clouds.
©3/29/10 Photography by Craig Downer
Alkali dust clouds
     After skirting the vast, dry Winnemucca Lake on 447 for nearly an hour, we finally arrived at the stark desert town of Gerlach, whose buildings are strung out along a parallel highway and railway line.  Gerlach is an old mining and ranching center where an Italian American by the name of Bruno has operated a thriving restaurant-bar-hotel for over a half century.  Refreshing ourselves here, we finally set out about 8:30 AM. proceeding NE on State Route 34.  This route skirts the east flank of the impressive Granite Range that is the southernmost wild horse HMA in the Calico Mountain Complex of five herds: Granite Range, Calico Mountain, Warm Springs, Black Rock West, and Black Rock East.  The populations of the these five wild horse HMAs were cruelly gutted by BLM contracted helicopter roundups starting in late December 2009 and ending on February 5, 2010. 
                              ©Photography by Elyse Gardner        
Calico Roundup
    Though I carefully scrutinized the SE side of the Granite Range HMA for wild horses, none were visible and no signs (droppings, tracks) encountered and I feared that this once magnificent mustang population had been sent into a tailspin, reduced to very low numbers that would be genetically non-viable.  I remembered this herd from as far back as Summer of 1980, when I toured the range in an official 4WD Chevy LUV pickup and was accompanied by a cheerful BLM wild horse specialist for this area.  
    This was back in the days before Ronald Reagan’s election when BLM officials displayed much fairer attitudes toward the wild horses and their advocates during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.  We had been enthralled by the pure beauty of the fine-boned, light-colored, black-maned and-tailed horses present in the high altitude meadows we visited.  These appeared to be true Spanish mustang types, resembling Andalusians, bearing many Arabian features, like the dish-shaped face, the large eyes and flaring nostrils.  Yet even way back then, these horses were having to put up with the machinations of local ranchers who had over-fenced the Granite Range wild horse herd area, blocking off vital water sources from access by the horses. 
©1980 Photography by Craig Downer
Granite Range Spanish Mustangs, Summer 1980
    In those days, BLM officials were trying to open up waters for the wild horses here, but since that time, the situation for these wonderful horses has only become more adverse, and reports from locals with whom I recently spoke indicate a large-scale disappearance of these mustangs especially from the southern and central portion of the Granite Range.  
     It seems the ranchers are getting their way nearly 100%, especially now that BLM officials side nearly 100% with them in their hostile demands.  Indeed, these officials are themselves largely drawn from the ranching community.
                            ©1980 Photography by Craig Downer
Ranchers rule:  Horses vastly outnumbered by cows 
   Toward midday, we proceeded north along Route 34, entering Leadville Canyon and the southwestern part of the Calico Mountain HMA.  No sign of the strapping pinto stallion was seen here, though for years I had always spotted him at the entrance to this canyon.  Proceeding north, it was not until we neared the old Leadville mining works that a band of four wild horses was spotted.  This consisted of two buckskins and two sorrels who were very wary, beating a hasty retreat out of sight except for one young sorrel who remained recumbent, perhaps due to an injury sustained during the recent roundup. This is not as farfetched as it may sound.  There are often horses who, for one reason or another, cannot keep up.  And Wild Horse Annie used to call the really young babies who got separated from their mothers "leppies," the left-behind ponies who couldn't keep up whether due to youth, illness or injury.  
                            ©3/29/10 Photography by Craig Downer
 young sorrel remained recumbent even in our presence, perhaps due to an injury sustained during the recent roundup.
     Several colorful bands that I had observed for years were conspicuously absent as I scoured the vast mountains and valleys of the Leadville and old Swingle Ranch areas to the north of the band.  I knew that the stunning palomino with the dramatic white zig-zags on his left flank named “Lightning” was missing, as I had recognized him in the new Fallon wild horse holding facility located on the private lands of the Broken Arrow corporation.  I had observed Lightning last October, playing with his palomino son and sporting with some of the mares and stallions, carefree and a gusto.  Fellow biologist Bob Bauer and I had spent a few hours with four associated bands in the valley here.  Those were halcyon times, and the horses seemed undisturbed by our presence.  Perhaps they sensed that we were their friends, not their enemies. (Editor's Note:  Scroll down to see my previous post in order to watch this extraordinary videotape of LIghtning and his family and friends.- Elyse)

                             ©2010 Photography by Craig Downer

    Tragically, nearly all of these wild horses have now lost their freedom and languish in that glorified concentration camp alluded to above and located several miles north of the town of Fallon on private land where public viewing is limited to two hours on Sundays – yet this has been cancelled today, Easter Sunday, and no alternative day has been given. 
                         ©Photography by Elyse Gardner
Eating at Fallon, Stillwater Range visible in background
Badly injured, limping young stallion, probably kicked by another horse in the pen
    Recently a serious outbreak of pigeon fever has been observed and threatens to spread throughout the ca. 1,800 wild horses being held in these pens in crowded conditions. (Called "Pigeon Fever" because of characteristic chest swelling, but this disease has nothing to do with pigeons.)  
©Photograph by Chrystie Davis
Uncomfortable Pigeon Fever-infected horse with pus-filled pocket 
As mentioned before, 1,922 wild horses plus unborn ones being carried in the womb were helicopter-gathered by the Cattoor family livestock gather company based out of Nephi, Utah.  Of these ca. 130 have died, many as aborted foals – signaling a death rate of around 7%.  Some, particularly younger horses, have had their hooves worn off or nearly so while being chased over rocky ground by helicopter, and were or still are in extreme pain.  Many have just fallen into a decline after losing their families and their freedom. 
                                  ©1/7/10 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
Exhausted, ill palomino mare I watched exit the trailer literally five minutes earlier when arriving at Fallon holding. She and her herd were rounded up the previous day.  
     I have made weekly trips to visit these horses often accompanied by the diligent humane observer Elyse Gardner and by other sincere, caring and usually quite knowledgeable wild horse advocates; and the horses seem to appreciate the fact that some of us humans still have a heart for them.  These wonderful horses are a grace to America and contribute positively to the ecosystems they inhabit, but they have been victimized by biased officials and a tradition of public lands exploitation consisting especially of livestock interests who target them for discrediting and elimination, for being in the way of their version of progress.
      This Easter Sunday/Passover/Spring Renewal it is my hope and the hope of so many that the appointed federal judge hearing our case will soon release these wild horses back to their now largely empty herd areas in the Calico complex.  Here they have every right!  Here they contribute so much that is truly positive in nature, animating and enhancing the character of this awesome and majestic region, most of which lies within the 1.2-million-acre Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon-Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area that is visited by thousands each year.
                             ©2010 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
… After peering through my binoculars for twenty minutes, I spotted a band three miles off to the SE at the base of the 7.281-foot Sheep Peak.  I had observed this band of several beautiful, steel-gray horses since 2006 and was comforted to realize that at least one band had escaped the monster clutches of the Cattoor capture team.  With muted, landscape-blending colors, perhaps these horses had escaped detection.  But how I missed the colorful paints and pintos (orange-brown and white, or black and white), the rich mahoganies, and the startling, flaxen-maned palominos who had so graced this sweeping landscape and such a short time ago.  It was hard to believe that now they were practically all gone.
                                     ©2010 Photograph by Elyse Gardner
     Early in the afternoon we veered off of Route 34 to the NE on the rough jeep road to High Rock Lake.  I glassed to the north, into the Little Rock Canyon wilderness, scouring the Butte Springs Hills in hopes of catching a glimpse of the lanky, muscular, sixteen-hand-high, olive-colored stallion and his colorful band that I had observed in October of 2009.  Scouring the landscape for nearly one-half hour, I did not spot a single band here, whereas before at least three had been detected.  To me, a very empty landscape lay before me.  Before it had been filled by the lively and alert mustangs. 
                                    ©Photograph by Craig Downer
     A grim reminder, however, of the violent helicopter roundups suddenly caught the corner of my eye.  Lying on the south side of a “non-Wild-Horse-Annie” cattle guard in a ditch lay the recently stripped skeletal remains of a wild horse.  Though coyotes, vultures, ravens and other scavengers had been rapidly reducing this body, the blood was still a vivid red around some of the leg joints and the time of death easily fell within the time of the helicopter roundups that had mainly occurred in January.  
©3/29/10 photograph by Craig Downer 
©1980 Photograph by Craig Downer
Editor's Note:  "Wildhorse Annie Cattle Guard":  Observe the life-saving steel rebar cemented in between the yellow railings.  It would have saved this horse's life.
     These remains were certainly not present this past October, and it is very probable that it was the helicopter roundups that had caused this panicked horse to run inadvertently into the “non-Wild-Horse-Annie” cattle guard, i.e. one without rebars between its rails.  Through these gaps, hooves can pass and get caught, breaking the legs of their unfortunate victims, causing their gruesome and painful deaths.  Annie was aware of how some unscrupulous sorts chase horses into cattle guards with the malicious intention of bringing their terrible demise. 
     Concerning man’s inhumanity to animals, during my investigation of the Valentine’s Day wild horse massacre of 2006, I learned that four horses had been gut-shot in the Calico Mountain hma.  This was in order to score high kills for a hunting competition.  The dying, bleeding horses drew scavengers that hunters then shot in order to win prizes for the most varmints killed.  For the animals involved and especially for the horses, this whole recreational fling was an agonizing bloodbath.  I observed the coyotes that had been shot at this site. Only their lower mandibles had been removed as proofs of kill for the contest.
     Early on in the history of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, during the 1970’s, the federal government was more sympathetic and merciful toward the wild horses, responding favorably to Wild Horse Annie’s strong urgings to adopt the humane regulation of installing rebars in all cattle guards in or around any of the approximately 350 wild horse and burro herd areas on US Forest Service or BLM land where the law legally protected these animals.
     It is a discredit to the presidential administrations of the 1980’s and to subsequent administrations that this very important regulation has not only been forgotten but reversed.  Consequently now in and around nearly all herd areas, wild horses and burros have to contend with these death traps.  It is also particularly telling that during the inspection required in gather areas by BLM officials for hazards to the horses before helicopter roundups, these death traps go uncorrected – though I can hardly believe they go unnoticed.  It seems that with the record budgets BLM has been receiving from Congress, much more attention would be paid to correct these inhumane structures as well as to remove abandoned barbed wire fences, into which I have observed the helicopters to have driven wild horses, e.g. Little High Rock hma wild horse helicopter gather, September, 2006. 
     To make my point concerning the cattle guard perfectly clear: the sawed-off leg bone of the horse who had so unfortunately perished shows how persons had extricated this horse’s body from the cattle guard by sawing off its leg clean through the bone due to the hoof’s being stuck below the railings (see photo), hopefully after his spirit had mercifully departed this world.  This whole scene gave the three of us the shudders as we proceeded NE toward the High Rock Lake. 
     After a few miles of ambling along over the rocky terrain in 4WD, we came upon a meadow area and were able to detect a few fresh signs of wild horses in the form of droppings and tracks.  I recalled from my trip here last October the sighting of a statuesque black stallion standing at the edge of a bluff to the north and silhouetted against the light blue sky decorated with luminous white clouds.  I hiked around the meadow near the Little Smokey Creek, but saw no horses.  The wet muddy meadows had affected the road and caused us to turn back here, but before our departure we were finally rewarded by observing the muscular black stallion, alone as before, marching stalwartly though forlornly toward the spring.
©3/29/10 Photograph by Craig Downer
Driving back to Route 34, we proceeded north and finally were able to observe a few near and distant wild horse bands at the northern end of the Granite Range and the Butte Spring Hills.  These horses were in good shape, but justifiably very leery of people and keeping a safe distance from our vehicle and from us. 
©3/29/10 Photographs by Craig Downer

 Northern Granite Range mustang band A closer view.

They were fine as long as we kept a healthy distance.
     On the way back later in the afternoon, Don Molde spotted a handsome white horse I had observed in 2006 while investigating the illegal shooting of four similarly light colored horses.
As already mentioned, this horrendous crime occurred on St. Valentine’s Day of 2006. Evidence pointed to the culprits very probably being hunters engaged in a vermint hunting contest during this time (see Fuller, Alexandra.  “Mustang Trails”. National Geographic. February 2009.  Especially page 106 regarding the Sportsman’s Warehouse organized competition).  Though two BLM law enforcement agents were assigned to the case and an unprecedented $15,000 reward was posted for the apprehension of the culprit(s) in towns around the site of the crime, such as Gerlach, Nevada, and Cedarville, California, to date no one has been charged.  Ominously, the reward posters were repeatedly torn down when posted in the town of Cedarville.  
                     ©3/29/10 Photographs by Craig Downer
 Don Molde spotted a handsome white horse I had observed in 2006.

 I was happy to see the white stallion's family he's built since 2006. 
L to R:  youngster, mare, stallion
     All totaled this day, we observed 41 wild horses in areas where I knew the bands to inhabit and where before we could easily have encountered three to four times this number.  Though BLM’s Winnemucca District Manager Gene Seidlitz and his wild horse specialist Jerome Fox estimate that ca. 600 wild horses still remain in the five wild horse HMAs composing the complex (whose population has just been gutted by 80-90%), our recent foray casts doubt that even this many remain in these vast legal HMAs totaling 550,000 acres.  But even if this number remains, this would be the equivalent of only one individual horse for every 917 acres of HMA territory.  This is a near emptiness and signals a true devastation of a once healthy wild horse population.  These herds had been thriving here in spite of the crimes against their members.  They were not doing any damage to their habitat, but rather enriching and enhancing such, contributing wholesomely to soil building, plant seed dispersal and germination and concomitant food availability, water retention and availability, fire reduction, and, hence, to the survival of so many symbiotic plant and animal species.
     With these species horses and their kindred have co-evolved over thousands of generations, millions of years, right here in their place of origin and cradle of evolution: North America.  And while so doing -- and of necessity -- these species have come to help rather than to hinder each other.  For this reason, it is no lie when the Wild, Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 in its preamble states:
wild, free-roaming horses and burros … contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.  (Public Law 92-195)

     On this Easter Sunday/Passover/Spring renewal of life, I call upon all men and women of conscience as upon the Highest Authority to restore justice here in America for these magnificent wild horses and burros.  These animals truly deserve to live free upon the land of their origin and ancient through recent ancestry – and moreover upon the land where their future and greater destiny still calls!
Report by Craig C. Downer, April 2010 
Editor's comments:
Was this horse's death an accident?  Or is the killer BLM?  Let's see. 
BLM does not consider cattle guards a threat to the health and safety of wild horses during a roundup.  We learned during the Pryor Mountain roundup of Cloud's herd, BLM does not consider lameness an injury.  Nor does this current BLM consider "tying up," or rhabdomyolysis, an injury. That being said...
On Friday, 4/9/10, I asked Wild Horse and Burro Program Division Chief Don Glenn if BLM performs a safety check on an area before a roundup, as their regulations warrant.  He affirmed that they do, and he reminded me how they flagged a fence in the Pryor Mountain roundup so the horses would stay clear of it. 
However BLM, allows these non-Wildhorse Annie cattle guards, these gaping deathtraps, to remain in all HMAs.  And they allow them to remain accessible, unfortified by rebar, during helicopter roundups, the most terrifying experience of a wild horse's life, an experience wherein they run for miles to try to escape a helicopter; where they run until their legs and feet are so bruised that some die from the injuries in the ensuing days and weeks.  If ever a wild horse were to dare to try to traverse a cattle guard, it would be while fleeing a helicopter.  Cattle guards exist as a supposedly impassible (by animals) gate (for humans) in between two fences.  A desperate horse would see this break in the fence and maybe just try this once to get across it. 
During our talk, Don Glenn stated that horses stay off cattle guards, that they "are not going to try to run over it unless they're pushed really hard into it."  I agree.  And when would a horse be harder pushed, more motivated to try to pass over a cattle guard than when pushed by a helicopter on its tail?  
Regardless of when this horse and cattle guard locked in their final terrible mortal embrace, BLM is culpable for her death.  They are mandated to protect and manage our horses; where is the protection on the range?  All we hear about is management.   
   Why on earth is not some of the record $67.5 million BLM budget for the Wild Horse and Burro Program spent to fortify the cattle guards with rebar?  Protect and manage our wild horses on the range.  
However, as Craig Downer's article indicates, cattle guards are not covered or reinforced with rebar to make them wild-horse safe. 
Don Glenn also said they could flag them with a rope or something if BLM thought the cattle guards would present a problem.  I thought that was kind of endearing, seriously.  But, (A) BLM has never flagged a cattle guard, to my knowledge; and, (B) when I got off the phone I realized how ineffective and unworkable that would be.  A flag?  Just something else to run into.  A rope?  So easily knocked down.
On February 4, 2010, in Quay County, New Mexico, a family filly was euthanized because she got caught up in a cattle guard on private property when she tried to jump it, and broke her leg.  This family has been trying to have the cattle guards removed and is in a dispute with their neighbor. To read the article
My point: cattle guards comprise a real and present danger to horses.  
For the wild horses, captive and free, and their humble burro friends,