Monday, April 18, 2011


Dedicated to all those left behind...
   A BLM trailer fulfilling its best mission:  returning wild horses to the wild.  
PLEASE NOTE:   All images by Elyse Gardner unless otherwise stated.  For consent to reproduce or use any images herein, please email  In all cases always, please give credit to the photographer.  Thank you.  
               On April 6, 2011, I was back in the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area to film a homecoming, always a welcome sight.  BLM's Litchfield Corrals were following through on the release and repatriation of 10 wild horses, 11 mules, and 1 burro, leaving behind all their 1,568 displaced horse family and friends and 159 displaced burros in holding pens who are fast being scattered throughout the country looking for a new raison d'etre.  Clearly, we are not the only species with midlife crises.
               Come along on this small but nice UNroundup.

                        I wanted to cover the release of the mules and burro as well as the stallions and was disappointed that the releases were not staggered.  Four trucks headed out, and observers had to choose which animals we wanted to see released.  I selected the four stallions, and among the few people present, no one covered the mules and burro.  I had seen and filmed virtually all the mules and burros coming in (rounded up) at the Buffalo Meadows trap site where these were being returned and would have greatly appreciated documenting their release, as well, but I could not do both them and the stallions.  The humble mules and burro, however, are not forgotten.
                        The Litchfield Corrals had other work to do for the animals living in its pens, and they needed to return for the afternoon and could not spare the personnel to stagger the release.  
                        I was happy to see these few wild burros on the way to release the stallions, as you saw in the video above. 
©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner
 ©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner
 ©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner
©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner
Heading deeper into Red Silver and Mace's home range

©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner
                           Red Silver and Mace are wasting no time separating themselves from the trailer. 
©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner
Ever cautious, Mace and Red Silver turn to keep an eye on Doug, who was enjoying his job today4/6/11 Elyse Gardner
            Nova (in the lead) and Jackson coming home.  
©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner
Nova and Jackson stepping out, putting space between themselves and the trailer.  
In case anyone asks you the horse-trivia question, "Does a horse always have a foot on the
 ground in a trot, you now know the anwer.  
           Correction; only eight of the ten wild horses had been removed.  The remaining two joined the ranks within the last seven months during which time all these equines have lived in pens at the Litchfield Corrals in Litchfield, California.  In fact, the latter two have never seen or heard a helicopter; they are infants, foals born within the last six weeks.
           Deniz Bolbol, Suzanne Roy and her daughter, and a couple I'd met during the roundups came to witness this very important time for these 10 fortunate horses who were collecting their grand prizes today.
           These wild horses were the winners and runners-up of the Wild Horse Northern California "Hottest Studs" contest and the "Wild Girl Knockouts"competition.  And the girls were really something since they aced the competition even though two were heavily pregnant when they entered the competition, and the other two were also discovered to be pregnant but not disqualified for it.  
            Trouncing all his competition, the burro had won The Most Likely to Succeed with Mares award and Father of the Mules trophy; hence his selection to be returned.  Jeff Fontana, the Eagle Lake PR person, also said the burro seemed unadoptable because of an attitude problem, but I think had he not sired so many mules, he would have remained at Litchfield with all the other less horse-oriented burros.  I do appreciate that BLM people would even say they'd consider releasing an animal because they didn't think it would adapt to humans; I only hope it is true.  
          (EDUCATIONAL NOTE:  Mules are the offspring of a male burro and a female horse.  It is the rare wild burro who successfully sires numerous mules.  (A hinny is the offspring of a female burro and a stallion.)  
           Wild Horses Are Not Saddle Horses in Waiting
            On the serious side, according to the BLM these fortunate horses all display the conformation considered desirable as "saddle horses" as well as the traits characteristic of the Twin Peaks area.  
            In my allusions to beauty competitions, etc., I'm playing with irony and sarcasm because I find the facts of life so unfortunate for those horses and animals who don't measure up to the ruling humans' subjective standards.  Wild horses are wild horses and deserve their freedom just as they are.   As Barbara Clarke so aptly states, they are not saddle horses in waiting.  
            Waxing philosophical for just a moment (go with me, please):  Do animals and things exist solely for man's use?  Solely?  Let's look at a couple of major belief systems with which this writer is familiar:  Under the Judeo/Christian ethic, man is appointed the guardian, the steward of life on earth, not their tyrant, and not their devourer though he behaves like it.  The new and old testament describe that as an act of the Creator's power and manifestation of His infinite love, all things were made by Him, through Him, and for Him, and that He made man the steward over all, much like BLM and the public lands.  We are all just doing a bang-up job, aren't we. 
             But I digress:  Before the fall there was no eating of flesh, no killing, no using of other living things in the destructive manner prevalent today.  Animals had been created and had a purpose that had nothing to do with consumption.  And the animals all were herbivore (plant eating, not flesh eating), and it was only under those peaceable, mutually beneficent conditions that God looked at all He had made (not "some," or "most") and declared with obvious satisfaction that it was "very good." (Genesis 1:29-31).  God even made an explicit covenant with all creatures as well as with man that He would not destroy the earth with a flood again (Genesis 9:12, 9:15).  Also, the commandment for the sabbath rest was clearly stated by God to extend to the animals as well as for man (Exodus 20:9, 23:12); and the land was to be allowed to rest every seventh year, as well (Leviticus 25:5),  in a mutually respectful, harmonious co-existence.  (Wonder how the land can rest from fracking...)
             In the Native American traditions, the spirits of animals are honored,  and they are treated with reverence and respect when they are killed or otherwise used in service of man.  The same can be stated for the East Indian traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism, the point being that ideally, most world spiritualities acknowledge other creatures' legitimate right to live, to be, apart from their usefulness to man.  
            Among all ideals and philosophies there will always be the issue of the hard-hearted who may even ascribe to a compassion-based faith but whose hearts are not so, and they fall into that 80 percent Dr. Temple Grandin talks about who slip into ugly practices when handling animals if they aren't knowingly being supervised, evaluated, or recorded.  
           So I am glad for those released, but on behalf of the horses and burros, I find the criteria for determining who is worthy of release back to their homes grievous even though I understand it and must confess I am guilty of those same subjective standards myself at times.  I am human, and I have to keep a close eye on not letting that get out of control...
            THAT BEING SAID, I am not opposed to all adoptions.  I live in the real world and realize some wild horses will need homes.  I own a three-year old filly whom I adopted at age two, and she is gentled to halter and will be engaged as a riding partner, and I will be honored every time I have the privilege of being carried by her.  But I do believe the older wild ones should be allowed to remain wild and free, and will continue to talk more about the details of appropriate wild horse management in the true spirit of the 1971 Act.  Actually, that's about all I talk about  on this blog in various ways, isn't it.
            AS A FINAL NOTE ON THIS SUBJECT, I do understand and agree that returning these well-proportioned, well-tempered horses to live free and bear young will produce a more desirable wild horse who will more easily find a good home in the future. I nevertheless need to acknowledge the subjective perspective from which we humans tend to impose our ways on the rest of creation without necessarily considering the other creatures themselves, without considering the bigger picture and their right to be here, or remembering that we don't own it all and can in fact do tremendous harm.             
©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner/courtesy of Deniz Bolbol 
           "Mares and foals together are never released back," we were told by a contractor during the Twin Peaks roundup, when several observers strongly urged that Atticus (who was released with the only other stallions released early in the roundup) be reunited with his mare and foal who all ceaselessly called to one another (see my video, "Twin Peaks, CA, roundup: Separating Stallions from Families."  
            Doug told me when these mares first came in they were recognized as outstanding and slotted for eventual release notwithstanding that they were all with foal.  His eyes lit up as he talked about these girls.  He wants these beautiful horses out there to keep the herd strong and healthy.  He told me, "There will always be wild horses in these mountains."  I told him the horses and I were counting on him.  
            Their foals are very fortunate, because barring mishap or predation — which is admittedly a real threat from mountain lions — they will get to grow up true wild mustangs and gain the herd knowledge and independent, self-sufficient, thinking brain that makes mustangs such amazing animals.  It can be a very hard life, but it is the life these exceptional animals were designed to live.  
             American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign's  Deniz  and Suzanne covered the mares'/foals' release and have made their film and photos available.  For their account of this day, you can click on this link just above.
  ©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner/courtesy of Deniz Bolbol   
Bayberry and Buttercup bringing their foals home
  ©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner/courtesy of Deniz Bolbol  
  ©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner/courtesy of Deniz Bolbol   

 Dazzles (in front) and her friend Splashes race toward Buttercup, the buttermilk, and her bay friend Bayberry, who with their foals were far ahead by the time these two very pregnant beauties were released from the trailer, and these girls took off at a gallop to catch up.
  ©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner/courtesy of Deniz Bolbol 
Buttercup and baby
                     As I stated in my comments in Phoenix at the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting, I believe the Twin Peaks roundup plan was a travesty and reveals, at the least, BLM's and Secretary Salazar's great fundamental ignorance concerning the wild horses; and at worst, the chilling disregard toward wild horses and burros which I have often found in BLM personnel in authority who could and should know better but just don't bother to do the right thing with these animals.   
                      SPECIFICALLY:   The reason the Twin Peaks catch/treat/release plan was a travesty and was not designed with the welfare of the horses in mind: 
                     In the plan, every single family band would have been literally destroyed,  unnecessarily, and that is no exaggeration.
                 BLM estimated 2,300 horses on the range.  They had planned to capture, via helicopter chase, all 2,300 horses.  As soon as the bands are captured, the animals are separated according to gender. They are held in the pens in same-sex groups.  This is because when mares are present, stallions will fight; when mares are not present, stallions generally get along with only occasional irritations.  So to avoid fights between stallions, they must be either separated in this manner, or be penned with ONLY their family group.
                  (In a BLM holding pen — or anywhere — a stallion with his family band will be the most content, and the mares and foals will be the most quiet and secure.  This family may include young stallions, male offspring not yet pushed out of the group.)   
                   BLM would then hand-pick 448 to return to the range.  All mares to be released would be treated with the infertility drug PZP; then release the stallions into their home ranges (hopefully) and separately release mares into their home ranges.  
                   What is wrong with this picture?   
                   So in a CATCH/TREAT/RELEASE roundup where horses will be returned to the range after mares are PZP treated, the way to do that with minimal feasible management practices, i.e., minimally disrupting the horses, is to keep the horses in their own family groups, each group in its own pen.  And after the mares in the band are PZP treated, the band should be released as a unit, together, having been kept together throughout the trap, and release, with only a minor separation while the mares are going through the chute.
                  Twin Peaks was a Catch/Treat/Release travesty because it follows the invasive national policy of immediately separating all the bands by gender.  The mares are PZP treated.  The stallions are released in large groups on their respective home ranges (hopefully).  Then hours, and even days later, the PZP-treated mares are released in a group. 
                 This practice destroys the family, everything in his life the stallion has scraped and scrapped for.  Adding insult to injury, the stallions now must often fight again in order to rebuild their heretofore stable families.  
                 Those that try to say this helps avoid inbreeding (stallions with daughters) do not know wild horses.  Inbreeding is seldom a problem among wild horses.    
                 This destructive practice is current BLM national policy.  They know better; they could do better, but they don't.  So what else shall I call it besides "chilling disregard"?   
                   Additionally, they are tampering with the sex ratios and returning 60% studs, 40% mares, a practice with no studies of long-term effects upon the horses.  
                  Many believe these to be NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) violations.  This roundup and case is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco.  We will see if the Judges agree. 
                  National policy trumps local authority unless the BLM people on the ground in each HMA make a stand and say,  No; we want to act responsibly.  We want to actually manage with minimal feasible disruption.  We will respect the family bands.  
                    CALLING  BOB ABBEY: 
                    Director Abbey now has a clearly defined opportunity to demonstrate a true willingness to respect the horses and the law by making this transition to preserve the family bands into new national policy.  This change would be in the true spirit of "minimal feasible management on the range" and begin to thaw the chilling disregard currently practiced.
                      In the Pryor Mountain roundup of Cloud's famous herd in 2009, under major public scrutiny, movie and media cameras, BLM and the Cattoors demonstrated very well that they know how to conduct a catch/treat/release roundup and maintain the family band structure throughout the entirety of roundup, i.e., during the helicopter drive, in the holding pens, processing through the chute, and through the ultimate release family by family. 
                That same thing should have been planned for Twin Peaks, and unless that approach is made in every catch/treat/release roundup, the BLM is derelict in its mandate to manage wild horses and burros with minimal feasible interference, prioritizing their welfare in the wild as self-sustaining herds that are an integral part of the public lands.  
           How Roundups Are Done Maintaining the Family Band
— and how Twin Peaks could have been done area by area.
         Below are photos I took during the catch/treat/release Pryor Mountain roundup in September 2009.  This was a "model" roundup for BLM, yet even it was called off before they finished/met their goal because of lame horses (10.8 miles down a rocky mountain) and horses "tying up" (rhabdomyolysis), which can be fatal and colicking.  
              But other than the heat and distance, BLM did some really excellent things here.   The horses were kept in their family bands, each band in its own spacious pen.  Plenty of good food and water, and kept horses in captivity for a maximum of only a week.  
             The blue dots you see on some rumps indicate that horse is to be released.  For Twin Peaks and other, larger HMAs, the blue (colored) dot is easily discernable by the pilot so he/she will not drive those horses in again. 
 ©2009 Elyse Gardner
 The stunning Bolder's family while in captivity, Cloud's smokey palomino son (far right). 
©2009 Elyse Gardner
 Bolder's exhausted daughter, Jewel, resting in the safety of her band.  She ran at least 10.8 miles (as the crow flies) in 96-plus-degree weather.   The horses are wary but calm and quiet.  
©2009 Elyse Gardner 
 Alerting to our presence, her mother and father protectively encircled Jewel.  
©2009 Elyse Gardner
The following day, Jewel is feeling better. Bolder is on far right.
©2009 Elyse Gardner
Diamond's band, with Cloud's lovely then-18-year-old mother, Phoenix
©2009 Elyse Gardner
 The charismatic Cloud.  What a fateful day Phoenix foaled and emerged with this son right in front of Ginger's camera.  I do indeed believe in Divine appointments.  
©2009 Elyse Gardner
 Cloud with his family in the Britton Springs temporary holding pens. The pens weren't as large as they look here from the distortion, but there were a good size
                It's a long time coming, and if this change in policy to uphold the family band doesn't come from the top, then the people on the ground — wild horse and burro specialists, wranglers, facility managers, good field office managers who listen to their people -- who care for and claim to care about these animals can and should insist on it.  It is doable.  Now.  
                      Freedom, family (includes friends),  food, and reproduction are the most important things to these animals.  So as much as we are able, we should center their care around respecting those needs.  
                      Today was a beautiful picture of wild horses set free, and I wanted to just have a nice blog post, but in just eight weeks the summer roundups will start, and by year's end we will lose 5,000 more wild horses and burros, and they will lose everything, their jobs, their homes, their families, and we will lose them.  If you find this blog (or any article or blog) informative, please use it to reach others.  Feel free to send the link to your Congressional representatives, to your family and friends.  The siege on wild horses is about to continue.
©4/6/11 erg/courtesy of Deniz Bolbol    
Nope, they're really not following us.  We're home, Splash.  

©4/6/11 Elyse Gardner/courtesy of Deniz Bolbol   
Dazzles keeping track of the people
             While in the Twin Peaks hma, I also visited my Calico girls at DreamCatchers, and they are mischievous and doing very well despite a particularly freezing, snowy winter.  They continue to be the "Devil Girls," affectionately so named by Barbara Clarke because they — particularly Gypsy and Gemini -- get into things, opening gates and releasing other horses(!), creating extra work at the sanctuary, but their ingenuity is not lost on Barbara, who has an appreciation of the nature of each one in her care and takes it all in stride.     
©4/6/11 ElyseGardner
L-R: Viper (gelding who looks after the girls and has attached himself to them); 
Dahlia (her face is under Viper), LadyBug (the sorrel; you can just catch her lovely red back and flaxen golden-red mane), Gemini and Gypsy (the "devil girls"), River.

    Enjoy this nice (long) post.  I  have some telling news upcoming next.   Don't you thing it is time to get into longterm holding?  That it is time to find out what is happening to our wild horses beyond everyone's view?  More later. As always, I remain,
For the wild horses, captive and free, and their humble burro friends,
For all who were, and those yet to be,
Elyse Gardner