I am writing to tell you why we need wild horses. I have spent the last 9 1/2 years in a love affair with wild horses.
On the very first trip that I took to the Adobe Town Herd Area in the Red Desert of Wyoming, I was falling fast. When I spotted ears sticking up above the sage brush, signs of a wild horse family lying down taking a nap, I was captivated. When the battle-scarred grey stallion jumped up and ran toward me, I was thrilled, I was scared, my heart beat faster. When he stopped, and his filly came up next to him and made a face at me that looked like a grin, I was a goner.
There is nothing in this world like the feeling I have when I am sitting quietly and just watching wild horses. It is peaceful, and very quiet – the horses communicate more with body language than with vocalizations, and the lands they live on are remote. There will occasionally be trucks driving by on the dirt roads crisscrossing the Red Desert, but there is mostly silence. Watching a wild horse family sleep in the warm mid-morning sun, some dozing standing but most lying down quiets my mind. The horses know I am there, but they allow me into their world, a temporary observer in their world where every day they cope with the elements, find forage, go to water, and interact with each other and with other family bands and bachelor stallions.
The more time I spend observing and photographing wild horses, the more I understand about their family dynamics and their society. I have owned and spent time with domestic horses my whole life, but a wild horse is very different. The heart of wild horse society is family. Each family unit, called a family band, is made up of at least 1 stallion, mares, and their offspring – foals and young adult horses.
One of the first wild horse families that I grew to know was in Adobe Town. There was a red roan stallion who had beautiful white flecks through his coat in the summer, which almost entirely disappeared as he haired up in the winter. I saw him and his family almost every time I visited the area for over two years. His mare was a gorgeous black beauty with a long tangled mane. She was shy, but the stallion was clearly an older stallion, would come quite close to me after a few visits. They were easy to spot because they usually stayed within close reach of the main road. They were devoted to each other – she would come up to him seeking reassurance, and he would patiently stand close to her. I wondered how long they had been together – a few years, a decade?
They had a two year old black colt who resembled his elegant mother, and this year a scruffy looking multicolored colt who probably was going to end up being a roan like his dad. He liked to hang out with his father, and even imitated him, learning how to be a stallion when he grows up.
Each time as I was driving out over the rough dirt road that wound through a maze of private then public land out of Baggs, I would wonder if I would, then hope that I would see them. They would be in about the same couple of mile area, and I even found them in the winter, hocks deep in snow, covered with long hair to stay warm, digging through the snow to reach the grass.
This stallion kept his family away from other family bands, and I have noticed that in Adobe Town, the older stallions like to keep their families away from others, wise enough to avoid competition.
I knew that the older black colt would probably be kicked out of the tight family unit come spring or summer next year when he turned three, and he would seek out other young stallions for company and for practice at becoming a stallion. The young bachelor bands are always entertaining to watch, causing trouble, and constantly play-fighting, practicing their band stallion skills for the future.
But I never saw this happen for this family. Instead, in the late summer I watched my first round up. This family was brought in with another two families and immediately the stallion was separated from his family, and put in with other stallions. The black mare was placed in a pen with other mares, and the two year old was driven into a pen with other young horses, and the multicolored colt was placed with other babies, separated from their mothers for the first time. The red roan stallion looked so small in the pen with other stallions, and he looked very unhappy, ears penned, uncomfortable having other stallions in such close proximity. Many of the stallions called out for their mares, and the thin, high whinnies of the babies rang out, calling for their mothers. Such a contrast to the quiet in the wild.
I watched the contractors sort the horses, and they put each one into a squeeze chute to age them by looking at their teeth, and then they would mark with paint on their rear ends whether they would be released back into the wild or hauled out on a truck to go to the Rock Springs short term holding facility. I was told by the wild horse expert from the BLM that they would not be removing any of the horses over 11 years old as they had no more room in long term holding for them. I heard the wrangler at the squeeze chute call out to Sue, the person recording ages in a notebook, that he was 22 years old, old indeed for a wild stallion. I was so relieved when they painted him with a blue number – that meant he could live out his life in his home in the Red Desert. He may have lost his family, but not his freedom.
Unfortunately the next day as they were loading wild horses in these huge transport trucks that could take 35 – 40 horses I heard from the wild horse expert that there were spaces for older horses in a “sanctuary” in Oklahoma. The red roan stallion was driven up the ramp into the truck, and I never saw him again. I tried to track him down, going to the sanctuary in Oklahoma, looked through pen after pen, but I did not find him. Some of the older stallions die when they are gelded, the process traumatic enough for a young horse, but devastatingly stressful for an old horse.
Why couldn’t they have left the older horses in the wild to live out their days and die with dignity in this harsh but beautiful land they called home? Especially since none of these horses would be eligible for adoption, and would live out what was left of their lives in pastures in Kansas and Oklahoma in fenced pastures with other horses of the same sex who were strangers, instead of with their families.
I watched a video that the BLM made two years ago where they said that the horses who had been rounded up and placed in long term holding facilities were better off than the horses in the wild – they were guaranteed plentiful food and water that they would never have to make much effort to find, a trouble-free existence. Surely they were better off?
And this brings me to the point of my story. Why wild horses? Why not just round them all up and put them in pens and pastures, sterilize them so they cannot breed, and bring tourists in to see them? Why let them live in the wild?
My answer is because there is something essential in their spirit and in their lives that calls to us and inspires us, taking us out of our daily life in cities and towns where everything is fenced and contained and and controlled.
I cannot watch a group of wild horses running, manes and tails flowing behind them, glorying in the sheer joy of living, without being moved. I cannot see a stallion and a mare devoted to each other, grooming each other contentedly without feeling that connection and that love.
I cannot look into the eyes of a wise old stallion or mare who has lived through countless winters and springs without feeling a part of me yearn toward that wisdom of the earth, and that wildness of the soul. I cannot watch a young foal finding its legs and leaping in the air because it can without discovering again that the world is a wondrous and exciting place.
I need wild horses in my life, and I need to share their beauty and inspiration with others through my art so that they are not lost to the world forever.
Well said Carol! I too find peace when I visit the wild horses. A wild horses wants and needs are not so different from humans – a chance to live their lives with their families through the times of plenty and the harshest winters. It is not an easy life, but it is their own, and they deserve to keep that life and their freedom.
I cannot read these stories without my heart breaking. Just….so cruel.
This is breathtaking and brilliant. Thank you for sharing this with the world. I think that people who don’t get the whole connection with wild horses are those who have lost their connection to the earth. You bring so much beauty into the world with your words and your photography – it was writing and art like yours that helped open my eyes to what was going on and motivated me to move across the country to be a part of it. Your work brings hope and light to those who might not otherwise ever know about these magnificent spirits.
I echo Paula’s words … there is so much to life than what the 5 physical senses can portray … we miss the message at our peril. “Where is no vision, the people perish.”
Thank you for bringing me into the intimate and loving world of the wild horses. Your tender insights of how they live their lives in freedom are quite a contrast to the heartless roundup they are forced to endure. Let’s keep our wild horses with their families, living contentedly as they have for centuries in remote areas of the West. This is not only the heritage of the wild horses, it’s America’s heritage. Once again, thank you for sharing your commitment to the wild horses with us, through your beautiful photographs and your eloquent stories.
Thanks so much for this in-depth article on the wild horses. So many folks don’t understand why these roundups are abusive to the wild horses and I feel you’ve described it in word and pictures extremely well. Wild horses have stolen my heart also, and all my paintings about horses reflect their wild, free spirits and my admiration and joy in that. Freedom of wild animals is in danger world-wide as man believes himself superior to all animals and nature. This danger has to be removed and the only way that can happen is by articles such as yours and the public being made aware of the reality of the situation. Thanks again!
I love reading about the wild horses. This is heartbreaking though. We need to just leave them alone and let them live free!
Thank you for the beautiful touching story. It brought tears to my eyes. I have only seen the wild horses in pictures and in video’s and hope someday to see them in person. However even if I never am able to see them in person I too want/need to know that there are beautiful wild horses running wild and free.
Carol, thank you for putting feelings into words so eloquently. Wild horses are different than domestic ones which makes them all the more precious and the reason they must be preserved and protected. How sad that the old stallion lost his freedom and probably his life and that the roundups have increased. John Dever filmed the ones in the Red Desert some years ago.
Carol, I cried as I read this, you have captured the way I feel every time I am with our wild herd, & how I felt as I watched the Wild one’s in the Triple B roundup with Arla, Afroditi, Maureen, lose their freedom. Everyone should have the experience of just being quite & watching the Wild Horses, it truly brings peace to your soul. It is a wonder to be part of their world, as you say & a huge blessing.
This is the story of our wild horses now. This is the common thread; wild and removed. Wild and watched by all of us. Wild and lost to the world if we cannot stop the greed and ignorance and lies that confuse so many and will surely lead to the end of wild horses if the truth cannot be seen and felt by more folks who have yet to hear of these families pulled apart.
We need a 10 Year Moratorium, just like the mountain lions once had. We need studies to fill the holes where BLM management has failed to define their decisions with science and truth. A Moratorium would stop all BLM activity and begin a time of healing, recovery and restoration while herds and lands are studied and new management based on independent research can slowly find solid ground for the wild ones and we can have time to renew protections and close loopholes to save the wild horses into a future they belong in.
Your years of watchfulness are years of insight, understanding and passion to save these wonders of our Western heritage. Your photos reach so many. You and ginger and our painters and other wonderful photographers have kept the wild horses and burros before us in their reality; wild and removed. Wild and loved. There must be a new beginning not an ending. There must be a future with wild horses and burros on their range running free.
Thank you for this story of freedom and sorrow. Judy saw GrayBeard this year. He came through the yard at a dead run and took 5 mares with him. I think he has lost at least 2 bands to those who have been preying on the Brownie Mountain horses. It is a miracle he is still out there. I do not want to see Wyoming lose another horse. I drew a line there long ago. It has been crossed again and again.
Thank you, Carol, I appreciate all you are doing.
Deeply moving! With tears I am writing to thank you, Carol, once again for so beautifully articulating my heart and for your hours of solitary horse watching you bring to us with your camera. I am an Equine Tec at a local junior college, and students are approaching me about the wild horses. Your piece perfectly addresses a student who approached me yesterday, and I am giving him the link…
I am so sickened and disgusted at the extreme cruelty!! To remove this old stallion horse only never to be found!!! I HATE the BLM!!!
A Silent Tear
Stand proud wild horse of the desert plain
Do not let them your spirit claim
Stand tall, stand firm, do not give in
Though domination men seek to win.
God made you strong and gave you heart
And set you free right from the start
To roam the valleys and the hills
Yet your freedom men seek to steal.
Don’t they know or can’t they see
This is where you were meant to be.
Other beasts of burden cannot compare
Nor your beauty do they share.
If we listen we might hear
The thunderous roar, the silent tear
Of slaughtered ones from the past
And understand your plight at last.
I can’t imagine a collection of minds that can make policy for these animals while ignoring their ‘actuality’.
No one with a scrap of decency could – or should – make the decision to end their lives in the wild without first meeting them on their own turf.
Your narrative struck every chord I ever felt in regards to defending these animals, and that question we ALL ask every day:
This is so beautifully put. There are horses, and then there are wild horses. The elements of risk, freedom, beauty and the enduring struggle that call to us keep us connected and grounded in that spirit. They call me from the city to seek renewal and grant an opportunity to learn each time I visit. It is a deeply moving and profound heart felt statment. Thank you.
Every time I hear of another roundup and permanent removal of these living symbols of freedom, I feel a part of my soul being torn out. I feel pain. Even if I never have the experience of seeing our wild horses running free on their range on our public lands, I take comfort knowing that somewhere out there freedom still exists. That’s what these majestic beings represent to me and myriad other Americans. As the Act says, they enrich our lives. Why can’t the BLM understand this? How can they so callously disperse these loving families as if they were inanimate objects on a conveyor belt to be separated without any thought to the feelings and emotions of these close-knit families and friends. How dare this agency imply that being torn from their families and natural way of life, unnaturally segregated and sentenced to lifetime imprisonment with no purpose while being hand-fed by humans as if they were zoo attractions, can in any way compare to the full rich lives they experience as wild free-roaming horses? How can this continue? When will it end? I mourn for this family whose destruction you witnessed and I yearn for the day when this madness ends once and for all. We all NEED wild horses in our lives.
Carol, Your eloquent words speak volumes. If only the BLM had that type of understanding In 2003 & 2004 we were privileged to observe The Pryor Mt. horses and Cloud. It forever changed my appreciation and adoration of the wild horse. Keep up your valiant efforts!
Hearbreaklingly well said , Thank you Carol for sharing this and Amen & Amen fellow Advocates !! Thank you and God Bless you for the Warriors you are ,for the Wild Herds !!
As to WHY !?!? Consider this ..
If You/We think the ways and means , ” The Powers that Be ” are “controlling” the Wild Horse and Burro herds , via the BLM , are seperate topics from “We the People” ,You/We are fooling ourselves ..
For the fate of
our Wild herds and ‘We the People ” are one and the same the farther the progress of the “Powers that Be” implementation of “Change” continues “Forward” with the “New World Order ” ..
Marge Mullen ,
If anything can be both Beautiful and Sad
your “A Silent Tear ” truely is ..
The second or third time I read it I found myself thinking the same could/should be said for ‘We the People ”
Thank you for sharing it ..
Sincerely and prayerfully,
your fellow advocate,
Joy-N-FL @78yrs of age
People I am in nevada watching some horrible things happen to the “Wild Horses” due to our gov/blm & saying anything to them is worthless what needs to happen & there are enough of us to force a listen is going straight to the President Obama is the only way this is going to stop it Obama is the only one that can make this stop! Nobody else will or can do it “Obama” is the only one that can make this stop!!!! supposedly he must listen to us now the mob is in on this slaughter of wild horses so now it’s only up to OBAMA!!! we need to call him out NOW!!!!!
The fate of the wild horses is like the fate of the American Indian. They were removed from the land. They were put on reservations. The wild horses must be saved from removal and destruction of their lands. Can we never learn? The BLM must be stopped.
Nice story Carol with beautiful images and a purpose. I did go to Adobe Town/Salt Wells in late June. I can see why you are in love with the place. I have a few photo’s up on my Fb page. Thanks.
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful, yet sad story. The images you captured are breath taking. Wild horses are crucial for, not only us, but our children as well. Our country would not be half of what it is today if it weren’t for wild horses. Horses at all… America owes much of our countries development to horses. The BLM must be stopped.
Such a beautiful photo essay, Carol! Yes, they are so valuable as is their living as naturally and with as much unconfined freedom as possible. They uplift life on Earth, and also restore life on Earth, as I explain in my book The Wild Horse Conspiracy
Beautiful, poignant piece. Thank you for caring.
On behalf of Mica and all wild horses,
Sandy Ferguson Fuller
Wow! Powerful! I am reading a book about mustangs and it tells it from the horses view. It is amazing how the herd goes together and follows the stallion and how the horses have their foals. I love how beautiful the mustangs are!!!
For the horses!
Hope For The Equine
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My heart, along with my mind…. SCREAMS at the cruelty and the lack of respect for these beautiful animals… Are we living in the USA still today???
Oh, I wish I had $ to help… but I am spreading the word as fast as I can! and I will not stop. This cruelty must stop! Is anybody with me?
Unfortunately Carol, your need for wild horses doesn’t mean a goddamn thing to the BLM, nor does the BLM care about the feelings of hundreds of thousands of other Americans who object to the round-ups, myself included. There might be times when specific horses might need to be removed, but it should only be done if the complete family unit is relocated and returned to the wild. There should never be the callous wholesale round-ups and separations that the BLM carries out. Since it’s unlikely the BLM won’t ever listen to the huge outcry against them, I wish someone would start guerrilla tactics against the round-ups; destroying the helicopters to start with, and if more than that needs to be done, so be it. The government would probably call this talk seditious. I’m not advocating violence against any person, but it is time something is done. Or are the demands of the people going to be ignored until there are few or no wild horses left?
I love wild mustangs they are greatest spirit of their pressure. They have a family put their of the range