Saturday, December 18, 2010


           Warm season's greetings to all.  It is a special, vulnerable time of year.  Joyful for many, filled with bittersweet memories for many, very lonely for others. My heart remains with the wild horses and burros while they try to winter together and have their lives turned upside-down with these violent helicopter removals.  As always, I speak from the horses' point of view:  Being chased by a helicopter is a violent removal.    
           First I want to bring you just a couple of sweet photos.  These are two of my Calico girls rescued and living at DreamCatchers Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary.    They are adjusted and dealing with the snow right now.  Because they are five closely-knit girls with a smart, self-confident alpha mare, they immediately took their position as the top ranking band.  Here I am with Gypsy, the 2 1/2 year-old girl from the Warm Springs HMA, on only day two of their lives here.  We had connected at Palomino Valley, and when no one was bidding on these girls, "just bays," I knew what I had to do.
                   ©9/2/10 Elyse Gardner
  Gypsy her second day with me at DreamCatchers. 
     You see this green barn?  It is huge.  Barbara leaves it open for the horses to go in in the bad weather.  The Calico girls are the first to scramble in.  Even though they are the most used to bad winters of all the DreamCatchers residents (having grown up in Nevada) they dearly love to stay dry.  At first, Dahlia stayed fearfully outside, but even that very timid girl finally went inside with her little band.  
             ©9/2/10 Elyse Gardner       
           Two of our wild Calico girls their second day at Sanctuary.  Gypsy let me put a fly mask on. 
her to protect her irritated eyes.  Her younger sister, Gemini:  "Hey, What IS that thing?  Are you IN there?  You okay?" 
           Gypsy was amazing.  She was interested, curious, and actually liked the mask.  It gave her irritated eyes some relief.  
          The percentage of horses as fortunate as these is pitifully low.  Sanctuaries are full, and BLM is on a tear rounding up more and more horses. It is incomprehensible when you use their own math and realize how few wild horses are actually still out there.
          Our thanks and prayers go to our eyes in the field right now, Laura Leigh.  I am laid up, very frustrating to be sidelined with a compromised right leg right now, knee and nerve issues following my recent accident and subsequent surgery, and want to express my relief and gratitude that Laura is bringing these images to us.  It is impossible to describe how physically, financially, and emotionally challenging this work is, more-so than anything else I've ever done.
           It's winter weather, cold; so cold some days the helicopter can't fly due to weather.  Laura's traveled several thousand miles in the last couple of months in the course of following these roundups.
Here is some of what's she has documented.


For more, you can visit her blog at
To see additional information and photographs from the field, you can also visit
        Why we go to roundups and to BLM holding facilities; why we do what we do:

          Following through with Laura's articulate talk, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of access to our wild horsese and burros in the BLM holding facilities.  Here is one practical reason why:
          The Indian Lakes Weekly Updates indicates 17 deaths in the last two months, 7 from broken necks/spinal injuries, 5 in the chute.  (Click on the link to see the updates.) This facility is "private," closed to the public, and this state of affairs is unacceptable. 

          This is a very high death rate from these sorts of accidents.  Some study is warranted.  I have numerous questions.  If BLM cares at all for these animals, some study needs to be made and changes implemented to stop these injuries and deaths instead of chalking up a certain measure of suffering as par for the course.  Some visibility is in order.

           In a spirit of what is best for the horses, I would like to know  if BLM is willing to do a serious study and make some modifications as we identify the cause of these fatalities.  
          I acknowledge that if these wild horses are to remain off the range, they need to be identified so we can track them through the system.  Confining them to do this becomes a necessity.  When the confinement is causing so many deaths, study and modifications are long overdue. 
               ©3/9/2010 Elyse Gardner
            ©3/9/2010 Craig Downer
                ©3/9/2010 Craig Downer
              There are too many of these broken necks happening at trap sites and in holding.  If we look at the daily updates for the various ongoing roundups, we see with regularity horses dying of broken necks.    
         It is high time for serious changes to be implemented.  If roundups must happen, then BLM needs to take responsibility for the welfare and safety of these individuals.  These are very frightened individuals; they are not mean or vicious or vindictive.  We need to help them through this alien, terrifying process.  
         This is nothing new.  What is new is that we are documenting all of it and telling the BLM it's time for a change.  BLM may accept broken necks and lame horses as par for the course in helicopter roundups; the American public thinks this agency that is the legal advocate for these horses can and must do better.  And for sure we have a right to see whatever it is that our government is doing with this national treasure, our wild horses and burros.  
              Below are photos from February 2010 at Broken Arrow.  None of the horses in holding facilities across our country have any overhead shelter.  No longer free to find a tree or a gully to break the wind, rain, and snow, the horses and burros are now naked to whatever the weather throws their way.  As I've stated numerous times before, horses can deal with cold, but if they are soaking wet, it is miserable, and I've seen them shiver badly where staying dry they'd be fine.  They can and do get very sick when subjected to the elements in this manner.  The stallions at Return to Freedom have overhead protection, and they love it.  
                   ©2010 Elyse Gardner

                  ©2010 Elyse Gardner

          The BLM shut the public out of the new Broken Arrow holding facility in Fallon, Nevada, in June of this year.  I had watched it fill up with its first horses, from the Calico roundup last January.  BLM was responsive to the public's intense interest and arranged for weekly tours of the facility, but then decided to shut it down just before the Calico internet adoption.  This was a terrific loss to the horses a well as to us all who had grown connected to these horses.
         Aside from the loss, these are America's horses, and I see nothing in the law that says they are to be managed off the range out of public sight.  If private parties want to contract to hold public horses, then accommodation needs to be made for the public to visit.
         I have no idea what is taking place in this facility now. I want to go back and find some horses, see some old friends if they are still there, as well.
         I hope you will seek out the links on the home/front page of this blog to see how you can help rather than sit and feel helpless and bad for the horses and burros.  The American Wild Horse Preservation is a great mailing list to be on; they send out action alerts letting us know where well-timed phone calls and letters will be heard and counted.
          I'm repeating some things in this post.  They bear repeating.  They will bear repeating until changes are implemented.
          Well, this was going to be a short little post, update from the field.  The problem is there is just so much going on.
          More next time.  Many projects to finish.  Meanwhile, please have a safe, spirit-of-the-season kind of Christmas if I don't check in before then.
         Acting as one voice, we have tremendous influence.  It is how HSUS and ASPCA all have the clout they have; their huge, responsive memberships.
         If every one of us who cares will actually take a small action, we will make a difference.
Doing my best to be part of the solution,
For the wild horses and their sturdy little burro friends, captive and free,
Elyse Gardner

Saturday, December 4, 2010


v       In the days, weeks, and months after the Calico roundup, I followed carefully two mares belonging to the iconic black stallion Freedom, seeing them at Broken Arrow every week until BLM closed the doors.
©1/2/10 by Craig Downer
Freedom making his escape, having just cleared a 6-foot fence
 and crashed through a 3-strand barbed wire fence...
                   ©5/2/10  Elyse Gardner  
Dahlia, Freedom's lovely, frightened three-year-old mare at Broken Arrow, four months 
(to the day)  following her capture.  
          We rescued them with the help of a precious sister wild horse lover and the stalwart Barbara Clarke, who took them in at DreamCatchers Sanctuary where they are living once again almost as wild horses.  I say "almost" because they don't live with stallions here.  There are stallions; Barbara doesn't geld, but the stallions live on several hundred acres fenced well away from the mares since DreamCatchers does not want to contribute more homeless mustangs into the mix.    
        Dahlia, Freedom's lovely young mare, lost everything, as the wild horses do, when she was rounded up. This is her introduction; I am working on the video and will tell you her story, as much as I know.  She had a foal; he was taken from her immediately.  
          I made a commitment to those mares that I would do all I could to see that they would never be separated or subjected to brutality, and thanks to these amazing women, that commitment is kept.  Well, nearly kept.  Dahlia is a particularly wild, frightened girl who clings to River, the older mare.  When first I met her, she could barely stand to be looked at from 25 feet away.  
              ©6/10/10 Elyse Gardner
It took us four months to find this timid soul among the 1,900-odd horses at Broken Arrow.  These girls were so spooked, they hid way in the back of the pens.  Here she is in her usual position -- taking refuge behind River. 

Dahlia and River, her surrogate mother.  I thought River was pregnant.  
BLM said no, she's just an older mare, and they look that way...
       One of Freedom's mares, River, had a bonus.  BLM thought she was just mature and round (she's 17, and according to them, "they just look like that sometimes after they've had numerous foals).  But alas, she surprised everyone, and right after we had safely adopted her -- she was bought and paid for but not yet picked up -- she gave birth to Freedom's little girl.  I was thrilled. I wasn't bargaining for another horse, but this little filly was royalty; what can I say? -- a legacy, a heritage, a precious family's story to tell, all the sweeter because it continued.  
      Meet Moonbeam, Freedom's daughter.
                    ©8/30/10 by Elyse Gardner
Freedom's little girl here is all of two weeks old, born at Palomino Valley around August 15.  BLM did not note the exact day of her birth, but it was right around 8/15.   
                      ©8/30/10 by Elyse Gardner
                      ©8/30/10 by Elyse Gardner

Arrival at DreamCatchers, Moonbeam is all of two weeks old. 
         I returned to see the Calico girls, as we call them, on September 24.  We had also adopted three other fillies from Calico.  They are quite the close-knit group, and all loved and protected little Moonbeam.  
          By November 4, when the photo below was taken, Moonbeam had turned completely black except for her blindingly white moonbeam sock on her right rear, and her star and snip.   
                  ©11/4/10 Elyse Gardner
 Left to right:  Dahlia, Gemini, Ladybug, Moonbeam (turned all black!), River, Gypsy.
 Gypsy, the alpha mare from the Warm Springs area, looks like she is with foal. 
       ©9/24/10 Elyse Gardner
      The Process of Turning Black:  Stepping back a few weeks to 9/24, what is happening to this baby?  Oh my; she's turning black like her famous daddy.  Full of black paint splotches...  
                   ©9/24/10 Elyse Gardner
                     ©9/24/10 Elyse Gardner   Sleepy Moonbeam turning black....
     Here is a brief sort of chronicle of this little one.  It's amazing to watch her transformation to becoming her father's and mother's daughter in looks as well as fact.  I'm loving the medium of video more and more...
For Moonbeam...
           On Sunday, November 21, 2010, a mountain lion killed a foal at DreamCatchers.  There is no easy way to say this, no easy way to hear it.  The foal was Moonbeam.  My heart is broken, and my knee injury makes me vulnerable, and it hurts all over.  But she got to live without pens.  My Calico girls were taking shelter up in the trees and boulders from the inclement weather, and being a very patient predator, the lionness waited for her opportunity.
            Barbara has moved the horses, and we will seek to raise funds to put up anti-predator fencing, which involves including some hot (electric) lines within the fence structure.
            River called for her baby for three days.  She was there; she knew what happened, but she continued to call in hopes...  
            The girls have settled down.  Gypsy is probably carrying a foal.  She would have conceived just before being rounded up in early January.
                       ©9/24/10 Elyse Gardner  
Gypsy... She's definitely our alpha girl.
                         ©9/24/10 Elyse Gardner  
              Gypsy had irritated eyes and allowed me to slip a fly mask 
on her, very calmly, her second day here.  
             So I have been very busy editing film, and wiping my eyes.  The reality is that wild horses do have predators, and the predation isn't just in animal form.  Barbara has lost five other foals to pneumonia this year, probably largely due to the very sudden shift in the weather.  The horses were putting on their winter coats, and it got very warm.  Then within a week, it was snowing and sub-zero temperatures. Five babies, older than Moonbeam, who was three months old, got very sick and died within two days even though Barbara got them in and began treating them.
               I do not believe in predator control, and neither does DreamCatcher's Barbara Clarke.  I miss this regal little girl.  I hope, and I do believe, that Freedom recovered from his wounds and lives on with a new family.
               What terrifies me is a BLM willing to rope and hogtie a horse such as this.  It has to be an odd sort of competition they feel with these beautiful animals that simply want to be free.
              After all, the contractors are paid for the horses who come in.  Period.  They were paid for Freedom.  If the horse escapes, they still get paid for having brought that horse in.  They were paid for that 23-year-old stallion who was hogtied; they didn't need to go get him a second time.  If a horse has the guts and physical ability to escape in this way, he has everything we want in a wild horse on the range; let him be.
                ©Barbara Clarke, November 2010
 River with Moonbeam:  August 15, 2010 (?) - November 21, 2010
                  ©11/4/10 Elyse Gardner 
            I have been moved in putting together the story of this family.
           The video of the Freedom Family's Story had taken a back seat to all the urgent things we've seen over these months -- the helicopter pushing Banner; the foals; Atticus; the crash into the crossbars during processing.  I was savoring having a happy story in my back pocket to bring out for you.
         And then I got the word from Barbara that a mountain lion had come closer to her house than ever before and killed a foal...
         And so it is time to tell her story.   As my dear contributing friend for their adoption said to me, Moonbeam shone for a season, and for a reason.
         So compiling all I have from their entire journey with us, starting January 2nd,  I hope to have that finished this week.  I just know I have this gift, this wild horse family story, which is a microcosm of THE wild horse family story, so we will learn of it together.
         Next time, in Part II, never before seen footage of Dahlia, Freedom's young, three-year-old mare, longing to follow her stallion over the fence.
©1/2/10  Elyse Gardner and Bob Bauer
Dahlia runs up to the fence in the adjoining pen as she helplessly 
watches her world forever changed as Freedom, her stallion, escapes. 
For Moonbeam, for Mouse, for Freedom, Dahlia, and River, for the wild horses, captive and free, and their humble burro friends,
To be continued,
Elyse Gardner

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Greetings from the Getting Well Chair...

      Well, I seem to have missed wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving as I learn how disabling pain can be.    As you can see, I have a big fat right knee bandage. I had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, damage I sustained thanks to the drunk driver who rear-ended me and Laura Leigh as we were heading for Nevada in preparation for the Tuscarora roundup in July, totaling my Rav4.  It took two cortisone shots to get me through the Twin Peaks roundup...  My doctor treated me like an elite athlete -- my heartfelt thanks to him -- because he knew how important it was for me to finish documenting that roundup.
        Anyway, that's all history now. I'm planning/hoping to be back at work with the horses in January, by God's grace and good physical therapy.
      Blog has been quiet; I'm sorry about that.  Here's why:  When I'm not saying, "Ow ow ow ow ow," I've been prepping a lot of film for different people in support of the horses and burros. It has seemed very important to meet these requests, but my own work keeping you updated has suffered, and that bothers me.
      However, we have all been kept well informed of the difficulties of the horses by others who have been diligent to appear, cameras ready, at the roundups.  Here is footage, courtesy of Laura Leigh, of the horses' experience as they were removed from their homes at the Silver King roundup in Nevada.  The  Silver King roundup was tragicll told.
               Once again BLM and its contractors demonstrate a chilling lack of compassion toward our wild horses, exemplified by their leaving these animals trapped -- frightened, fighting, thirsty -- in this space, and leaving stallions with mares like this, is unconscionable.  There is no justification for this.  It is entirely avoidable suffering.  These contractors, paid by the horse, should lose their fee for each horse having an avoidable injury caused in this circumstance.  In fact, they should be fined additionally for inflicting this needless suffering.  If they lack the compassion gene and are not motivated by empathy, then a little financial incentive is in order.  Congress has the ability to do this.  BLM has the ability to include this in its contracts with the roundup contractors, but BLM is complicit in all of it.  I do not single out the contractor because the buck, very simply, stops with BLM.
              Our cameras keep capturing scenes like this at every roundup.  BLM wants me to talk about the good things it does.  Okay: It would be a good thing to see these contractors penalized for this.  It would be a good thing to see BLM stand up like it's supposed to and ADVOCATE for these horses for a change.
              Instead, they are supporting the Summit of the Horse, and top BLM executives -- like Bob Abbey; it doesn't get any more "top" than he -- and Dean Bolstad are headlined as key speakers for this blatantly, unabashedly pro-slaughter rally put on by the slaughter proponents, scheduled to take place in Las Vegas in early January 2011.   
               Madeleine Pickens wrote an articulate letter to Bob Abbey which I encourage all to read.  She is right on point.
            It was a dream of mine after the Pryor Mountain roundup of September 2009, that the horses would never again be subjected in silent anonymity to roundups with only their captors present, with no cameras, no one there as a witness on their behalf.  Thanks to so many people, that dream is almost a reality.  People are showing up with cameras and Congress, and the world, are now seeing that wild horses and burros are not starving, as BLM has told the public for years, as though BLM were doing them a favor by removing them from their homes.
       Congress and the American taxpayer are now firsthand witnesses to the real fear, suffering, and cruelty the horses all face as a result of these roundups despite BLM's attempts to whitewash its callous behaviors through the handpicking of "humane observers," most of whom are vocal horse slaughter proponents.
       The Bureau of Land Management continues to try and perpetrate the myth that roundups are gentle and humane.  Likewise, the new report by BLM's handpicked "Independent Designated Observers" tries to cast roundups in a positive light despite mounds of evidence -- even their own evidence -- to the contrary.  For example, they note that in the Stinking Water roundup:
...a 23 year old stallion jumped out of the pen and escaped the trap site.  About 1/2 mile from trap (sic), he was subsequently roped and his legs were tied while in a recumbent position, and eventually was transported in a two-compartment stock horse trailer back to the Burns Corrals.
        "Eventually transported"?  Good night, how long did this older, proud and free stallion have to lay there hogtied in the heat?  What was so important that they couldn't allow this magnificent animal who managed to jump out of the pen, like Freedom did, to remain free?  Didn't he earn that?  Imagine chasing down and hogtying Freedom:  it's the same thing.
         And the "Independent Designated Observers" even found it necessary to make this their first recommendation (gee, I wonder why...):
 If at all possible, horses should not be roped or tied down in a recumbent position for long periods of time, especially coinciding with exhaustive or overheated conditions.  Strict criteria should be established to determine the initiation and purpose of this practice.
 (i.e., what is so darn important?!)
If necessary to implement these procedures, these horses should be identified, marked, and/or confined separately from the others in the gather and observed for any injuries or metabolic conditions for the next 48 hours.  This could be achieved by moving these animals to designated, smaller holding corrals.
         It sounds as though these observers couldn't track this stallion, who disappeared into the system, and they realize how wrong this is.
       They nevertheless call the handling "gentle"?
       The truth is, it would seem that wild horses are still victimized by a segment of the population a la The Misfits.
        Many things in this report are very troubling because of the misrepresentations made, such as horses merely "trotting" or cantering into the trap.  I have footage of, time after time,  horses running into the trap.  \  We all know that.   Perhaps the writers would like to explain?  And minimal roundup experience, I would add.
       I"m working on three different videos and situations for you, tying into Part 2 of Foals and Roundups.
      There are so many horse stories that need to be told, which brings me to what I've been trying to avoid. . .
       I've recently suffered a loss that knocked me to my injured knees.  I was going to wait to tell you about when the story is complete -- I'm working on the entire video -- but I feel I want to tell you now, and I will.  But this story deserves its own post, which will come right on the heels of this one.
       So for now, pressing on for the wild horses, captive and free, and their stalwart burro friends,
      Elyse Gardner