Saturday, December 24, 2011


            Laura Leigh and I light candles in front of the Gerlach Eight, a little eight-horse herd/band (seen behind us) beloved by the town of Gerlach, Nevada, joining the nationwide Candlelight Vigil commemorating the 40th anniversary of President Nixon's signing the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act into law. 
           These horses lived just outside of Gerlach, a town in the Calico Herd Management Area which is presently undergoing yet a second massive roundup of wild horses in less than two years.  BLM rounded up this iconic little band two days after these photos were taken.  
           §1331 (first paragraph) of the 1971 Act:
                      Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
            That Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.   
(Section 1 of what has come to be commonly known as the historic 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which I will often refer to as The Act or the 1971 Act.)

Pryor Mountain wild horses:  Montana's last wild horse herd of under 160 horses, and BLM wants to round up more of them this year. 
                   NOTE:  In 1971, when The Act was passed, wild horses were found on approximately 53 million acres in the west.  Today that is down to approximately 26 million acres which BLM designates Herd Management Areas ("HMAs").  
             I'm back in the stark, beautiful Calico Herd Management Area of Nevada to share the Watch of another massive wild horse roundup by the Bureau of Land Management less than two years after the last massive and deadly Calico roundup.

             Here is a rare glimpse I was able to put together from the Twin Peaks roundup of 2010 of some of what goes on "behind the scenes" with the helicopter and the horses in the mountains during the hours before they reach the trap pen:
Here is the only time I was ever permitted close enough to document the respiration rate of  wild horses 35 minutes after a 10.8-mile (as the crow flies) helicopter chase:
                I would like to hear from some veterinarians concerning what we see here.  You can email me at  
            In January/February 2010, I witnessed the BLM peel 1,922 wild horses from their historic mountain homes, families, and freedom.  In the weeks following that ugly roundup in the dead of winter, over 100 mares spontaneously aborted, and we had a total of over 140 deaths during and after the helicopter chase.  
           Perhaps you recall Freedom, the black stallion who escaped from temporary holding at the trap site by jumping a six-foot fence and breaking through a barbed wire fence as they were "sorting" horses 10 minutes after capture.  Here are some of the stunning horses from Calico whose loss of freedom also means the end of  their genetic contribution to future generations.  Taking a quick trip down memory lane...
                              Tomahawk and Redman captured 1/16/10
                    Commander  (left) and General (right), captured 1/16/10, inseparable friends, both over 20 years old
                            Lightning and son, captured January 2010
           BLM is now looking to chase all 1300 horses they believe to be on the mountain into their capture pens, and,
         They say they plan to release up to 350 horses so as to permanently remove 950. 85 to 115 will be PZP treated mares, with a two-year infertility drug. 
          BLM has selected an "Appropriate Management Level" for what they've now expanded into a "Tri-State Complex" of nearly 600,000 acres:  572 to 952 wild horses and only 39-65 wild burros.  Sigh. 
           These are absurdly low figures on this large HMA, with wild horses vastly outnumbered by cattle even though cattle have 160 million acres of public land on which to graze. 
          The part I find particularly egregious, discredits BLM, and confirms to me that BLM has a callous disregard for these animals is this:  
          BLM plans to round up all the horses up first, breaking up every band as they come in, then release handpicked horses, a direct assault on the very core of the wild horse social structure because done in this way 
this plan will systematically, unnecessarily, decimate every single family band, creating social chaos.  Wild horses live in close-knit bands a stallion has spent his life building.  He wins and loses mares over time.  For the government agency tasked with this animal's protection and care to destroy this, by design, is the height of -- what? Pick one: Callousness, or ignorance? 
           Neither is acceptable, especially when BLM proved, in the Pryor Mountain wild horse roundup of 2009, it can round up wild horses and maintain the integrity of each family band through all phases of the process — meaning each band had its own pen; horses to be removed were removed, and then each band was released as a unit, with at least several minutes in between releases.  
           So BLM's current SOP (standard operating procedure) doesn't even begin to meet the Act's charge that: 
§1333(a)  ...All management activities shall be at the minimal feasible level ... 
            BLM is implementing untested, radical methods whose effects on the wild horse and burro populations are unknown, in its determination to minimize wild horses and burros on the western public lands, without waiting for the results of a two-year National Academy of Sciences study that is just getting under way to assess the Wild Horse and Burro Program and BLM's methods (more on the study in a future edition). 
            One wonders:  what on earth is the frantic hurry?  Or what in earth, as in uranium, gold, silver, natural gas?  Geothermal projects? — two of which are on track for the Calico complex soon... 
            These unvetted methods have drawn lawsuits from wild horse and burro advocacy groups, joined by Western Watersheds, which is not traditionally a "wild horse advocacy" group. 
      Specifically, BLM is gambling with wild horse and burro futures because in efforts to slow or stop population growth: 
                  A) BLM is planning to geld 200 studs and return these castrated horses/geldings to the range and manage them as a "nonreproducing herd."  This will significantly alter wild horse social structure in some unknown way. There are no geldings in the natural order of wild horse social structure.  There are no studies of wild horse HMAs, nor bands, nor herds, nor groups, nor anything,  where this has been done that anyone has produced.
                       This has not been studied at all, yet BLM is planning this approach in nearly all its plans for the various Herd Management Areas across the west.   

                      BREAKING NEWS:  As of this writing and only after The Cloud Foundation, Western Watersheds Project, and others filed suit to stop BLM from carrying out this massive gelding release in the Pancake complex, BLM has backed down and removed this "alternative" from their plan in that HMA.  This gelding strategy, however, remains a key component in BLM's management plans, and wild horse advocates are required to sue the BLM in each individual HMA (Herd Management Area)  to stop its implementation to protect the integrity of the wild horse herd structure.  This was the second HMA where suit was filed and BLM backed down and abandoned the plan for the moment. 
                       BLM was also going to zero out — remove all wild horses from — the Jake's Wash region of the Pancake complex, as if 26 million acres down from 53 million wasn't low enough.  Thanks to the lawsuit, they have let go of this plan.   
                  B)  Again, despite the absence of any study of consequences to the horses or the environment, BLM continues to skew the gender ratios, i.e., returning 60 percent stallions and 40 percent mares to the wild, in virtually all the Herd Management Areas where it is rounding up and releasing horses.
                        They also skew the sex ratio in CTR ("Catch, Treat, Release") roundups after PZP is administered to mares, an infertility drug.  The PZP in use is a two-year infertility drug called  PZP-22. 
                        It's not rocket science to deduce that skewed gender ratios -- decreasing the number of mares available to already competitive studs -- alters the herd dynamic, but how much?  Can we get at least a five-year study first, please?
                 And PZP-22 does not alter a mare's hormones, so she continues to go into heat and be vigorously pursued by studs monthly.  (PZP creates a virtually impenetrable surface to the ovum thereby preventing sperm from fertilizing it.) 
                I am incredulous at how irresponsible it is of BLM to foist these radical practices on these simple yet highly sophisticated, social animals with no studies.   My trust in my government has plummeted since I've learned of these practices.  We can't click "undo," either,  once it's done.   
  Beautiful stud captured recently in current roundup.
Back on the grueling roundup schedule
                 Up at 3:30 a.m. to be on the road by 4:30 a.m.,  drive to Gerlach to meet at BLM's Black Rock Station at 7 a.m. ...
... then drive across the surreal Playa, the salt flats, our speeding tires filling the air with toxic alkali dust...
... then bouncing through miles into the mountains on accordian/waffled, jarring gravel roads that shake my sleepy brain almost awake to finally arrive, signaled to park on the side of the dirt “road” by my pleasant BLM ranger-escort, familiar from last Calico roundup, who now feels more like a distant cousin I’ve run into at the funeral of a mutual relative.  It’s nearly 9:00 a.m.
           Stepping out of the car, I feel we are trespassers in the middle of the silent majesty of the wild horses’ mountain home, particularly in view of what BLM is there to do.  Some members of the silent peace patrol, the majestic guardians of the mountains — the unsuspecting wild horses — are now taking their last mouthfuls of precious free-roaming forage.  I steel myself to stay focused, prepare my gear for the hike to the designated observation place.
            By the way, the little Gerlach band of wild horses BLM rounded up tell a different version of the events than BLM; it wasn't as pretty as BLM first led us to believe, i.e., "No problem; they went right in.  Piece of cake." 
            But this is more than enough for now.  It is Christmas, and I have another message to write to give you all, so I'm going to stop here.  
             I've been away from the computer with my mustang filly these few months, learning from her about mustangs in a whole new dimension, and I am profoundly moved by these individuals, more so than ever.  I've also been dealing with some medical issues and mustang matters  (not life threatening, just hampered my work) issues.  Soon I will share what the Gerlach horses told me directly, and they can tell you themselves. 
             I am glad for what little I am able to do, though, for these animals for whom we must never stop standing up.  They are very special, indeed. 


Merry Christmas, everyone.
       What is Christmas? In honor of this significant holiday, on behalf of the wild horses, I want to step outside the box...
Pryor Mountains bachelor band
        Whether one adheres to a Christian faith or not, the Christmas story is one which teaches that God took the initiative and reached out to offer forgiveness to his creation which is ensconced in corruption and self-centeredness and where God was largely ignored or rejected.   And the story states that at great personal, sacrificial cost, God offered forgiveness to many who didn't even know or acknowledge they'd done anything wrong.
         So Christmas is really a model of humble forgiveness, of a wronged party being willing to take the initiative to mend fences with the offending party.  Hmm.
         The Christian faith teaches that man is the only part of creation that requires forgiveness, but the entire creation is affected by man's relationship with his creator.  We also get a wonderful model of forgiveness in the animals, who are generally very forgiving, some more than others, willing so often to forgive and trust us again, and again....and again.
        The premise is that man needs forgiveness.
         I need forgiveness.   I can guarantee I will sooner or later either do or say something that will require someone's forgiveness; or someone will harm me, real or imagined, and I will hopefully become willing to forgive them.  And there is nothing sweeter than to hear my friend say, "No worries, I forgive you," and not keep beating me up with my wrong.  Likewise, offering the gift of forgiveness feels so very good to the one offering, surprisingly.  But sometimes we really have to wrestle to become willing to forgive.
         So the great gift and meaning of Christmas, as I understand it, is all about the amazing issue of forgiveness.  The free, yet costly gift.  It means I give up my right to remind you of your wrongs.  It means I give up my right to discuss them with others.  It means we move forward.
         We all need forgiveness, don't we?
         And is there someone, or a group of someones, who needs your forgiveness?
        So often we judge one another and write each other off, and that's it:  that person is a  "bigmouth"; "she is a tale-teller, a gossip"; "cheat," a "liar"; "Jake cheated me.  He borrowed money and never even called to apologize for not paying it back."  And we tell all kinds of people...more wrong done.
         It's always going to be something because this is a corrupt world with imperfect people.  It helped me to learn that "Forgive"is a banking term, means a debt has been canceled and you no longer owe the bank, for instance, anything.  You expect nothing of one another anymore.   They expect nothing from you; you expect nothing from them.  It goes both ways.  Doesn't mean you love the person or institution or would do business with them again; it's just an ability to accept things as is, right now, and fluidly move on, not bringing up the old debt which has been canceled.
       QUESTION:  Is it possible you might be committing a greater wrong than was done against you by your rancor and self-righteous judgement against someone who has perhaps wronged you, and for talking about it and keeping it going?
        I want to challenge all of us reading this to venture to give the precious, priceless gift of forgiveness in this last week of 2011 so that we all might start 2011 moving forward for the horses, for a better world.  Or at least begin to wrestle with the issue if you are unwilling at this time.  After all, holding on to resentment is like drinking poison and expecting it to affect someone else.  Forgiveness makes room for new growth, for all kinds of good things.
       Are we willing to bury old hatchets for the sake of seeing what new good thing can grow in place of all this bitter baggage we may be dragging along?  Doesn't mean we have to have a hug fest, but leaving room for a power greater than ourselves, whom I call God, to restore, and to do new things.
       Just some things to think about... thanks for bearing with my diversion from my usual blog, but it is all related.  There is also a new blog post up just before this one, containing three new videos (one revisited one, actually).  I hope you will take the time to peruse it.
  And now about the horses:

          I came upon this thought provoking passage the other day in the Old Testament book of Zechariah, an Old Testament prophet, in the first chapter.
            7  Upon the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of the reign of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, the prophet. Zechariah said,
            8  I saw in the night [vision] and behold, a [a]Man riding upon a red horse, and He stood among the myrtle trees that were in a low valley or bottom, and behind Him there were horses, red, bay or flame-colored, and white.
           9  Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the [b]angel who talked with me said, I will show you what these are.

          10  And the Man who stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the Lord has sent to walk to and fro through the earth and patrol it.
          11  And they answered [c]the Angel of the Lord Who stood among the myrtle trees and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth [patrolling it] and behold, all the earth sits at rest [in peaceful security].

         Now, I don't want to make a new religion out of this passage, but I will simply say, hmmm.  It is fitting, is it not?  Whether symbolism or God has created and commissioned the horses as watchers of the earth, those who patrol and report back, these great, magnificent, peaceable creatures are like the canaries in the mines, whom the miners used to assess the conditions in the mine by lowering a canary into the mine shaft before humans descended.  If the lowered canary got sick or died, the workers knew it was toxic. 
        The Creator can come alongside and see, How are my horses?  What do they perceive?  How are they being treated?

     Pryor Mountain bachelor boys
   Because if God ordained that horses patrol and go to and fro and report, he wants the report from their eyes, and their perspective matters to God.  Hmmm.  Something to think about...  I don't claim to understand this passage or God's entire intent.  But the passage really bears some consideration.   I do understand that whatever it means in its fullness, these animals are unique and wonderfully special and deserving of our best, of far better than the lot mankind has dealt/is dealing so many of them, and in the new year, I will be working on their behalf.  I can't begin to describe what they give me.
        Just some thoughts.  Merry Christmas.