In a country where currently all sorts of environmental and animal protections are under threat, the plight of the beautiful wild mustangs and burros in the Western USA is becoming starker and more urgent. Out there, on the great plains of the old wild-west, there is a tragedy taking place. Just over 100 years ago, more than 2 million mustangs roamed free across the great plains, and now it is estimated that a mere 90,000 wild horses roam the hinterlands of the west and the forests, in a shrinking area that can only logically sustain around 30,000 horses. The number of horses on Sovereign Native American land is unknown but in addition to this, around 45,000 horses are currently held in Government holding facilities costing the U.S. taxpayer significant amounts of money (around 60% of the Interior Department’s program budget). The question has become – what to do with the wild horses?
The Bureau of Land Management’s [BLM] methods of capturing and corralling the wild horses is frankly, unacceptable on the face of it. Using a “gathering process” with low-flying helicopters chasing wild mustangs roaming loose on public lands, they force the horses, out of sheer terror, to run for miles toward designated counting areas, where they are loaded into trucks for delivery to holding facilities. Running, at full speed, in abject terror from the helicopters, they break legs, they fall down ravines, mothers get separated from foals – in other words, they are terrorized and terrified by the time they are eventually held, as prisoners. The horses can spend up to three years corralled in these holding facilities until such time as they are adopted – or sold – often to “kill” buyers.
“For as long as slaughter-houses exist, there can be no peace.”
Leo Tolstoy (Spirit of Prophecy)
For many people, these horses have an almost mythological symbolism as an icon of the west, of the creature that allowed the first Europeans to venture further than the American east coast and explore the vast, uncharted areas west of the Mississippi river. Through popular culture, the western horse has been elevated to almost cult status and the mere idea that we should somehow need to cull some 40,000 wild horses is an anathema to many. Given the place, in our popular culture, of the western horse, is it any wonder then that it holds a special place in our hearts and our minds? My novel Spirit of Prophecy features a brown and white painted Apache Mustang who returns [reincarnates] until eons of karmic debt is fully atoned.
Wild Mustangs and Burros:
The first US Administration to actually address the real problem of the west’s wild horses, was that of Richard Nixon. In 1971 he signed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burro’s Act of 1971, a plan to both protect AND manage wild horses and burros, on public land. The Act required Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to protect these horses as “living symbols” of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West. Although no specific acreage, to be set aside, was mentioned in the Act, an original tract was designated but this is ever shrinking and the water supplies curtailed due to competing commercial interests. The BLM was tasked with maintaining a thriving natural ecological balance between wild horse, populations, wildlife, livestock, and vegetation and to protect the range from deterioration associated with overpopulation. One of the key factors in the Act was the requirement for the land to be available for “multiple use” (i.e. ranchers and farmers, along with horses. This has proven to be one of the most problematic conflicts of this whole scenario.
Just seven years later, though, the Public Rangelands Improvement Act sought to reduce (i.e. euthanize/kill) horses and burros if their population threatened to outgrow the sustainability of the lands they were kept on. Thankfully, despite the legislation, Congress, ever aware of their constituent’s sensitivities, ensured the culling of wild horses could not be implemented, by tightly controlling the budget for such activities. Consequently, the wild horse numbers continued to grow to the numbers mentioned earlier in the article.
The Two Major Problems:
The principal problem facing the mustangs and burros, is frankly, a bureaucratic decision to classify these animals as “exotic” rather than “native”. This is one of the major problems facing the wild mustangs and burros of the west. They are not classified, in the U.S. as truly “wild” i.e. an indigenous species to North America. Rather they are treated akin to “feral weeds” or an exotic species, by most Government organisations responsible for wildlife preservation and management in the U.S. such as the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Bureau of Land Management. When you consider that these organisations are often tasked with protecting and preserving native flora and fauna, it becomes bitingly obvious why the word “native”, as applying to wild mustangs and burros, is so incredibly important.
There has been significant palaeontological research to identify the origins of the genus Equus, onto the North American continent. The detailed and often complex biological research is too extensive to include in this blog, however, an excellent article on this, should it interest you, can be found here, on the Animal Welfare Institute’s Website:
Suffice it to say, there are two key elements in deciding whether or not an animal is a native species, or not.
- Where it Originated; and
- Whether or not it co-evolved with its habitat.
It is clear, from the research, that horses did both, in North America. Although one can argue about different “breeds” there is no scientific grounds for arguing about “species”.
It would appear that the designation of wild horses, by government as feral and non-native is a reflection of a fundamental unwillingness to accept the science of the origin of horses in North America, but more cynically perhaps a cunning method of keeping alive the conflict between two species; wild horses (which the government deems to have no economic value, by law) and commercial livestock, such as cattle (which the government gives great economic value and weight to).
If the wild horses and burros, of the west, were immediately given “native” status under law it would necessitate that a new category of native animal existed which requires management and stewardship.
The other major problem faced by the wild horses and burros, is the yearly shrinking of their habitat and their food/water resources. As humanity demands more and more meat production, the volume of land designated for “wildlife preservation” shrinks, literally by the minute. This insatiable demand for more and more meat for consumption, has led to major ecological disasters the world over. Watch this really eye-opening YouTube video; Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret in About 15 minutes.
The Lungs of the World
As I write this, the “lungs of the world”, the Amazon Rainforest, is burning out of control and seemingly the Government of Brazil does not much care. They, it seems, like the Americans, are more worried about the farmer’s incomes and their own short-term political gains than the earth’s long-term protection and survival. Similarly, in South East Asia, large chunks of the once virgin rain forests of Indonesia and elsewhere are being slashed and burned to feed the growing world demand for food, and more particularly animal protein. Simply put, given the problem of climate change and the desertification of large parts of the world’s previously arable land, we are killing our planet two-fold.
- By adding to the already overloaded “greenhouse gas” emissions in our atmosphere and
- Rapidly destroying the one thing that helps the planet maintain its atmospheric stability – our fast-dwindling rainforests.
Scientists are stating that catastrophic change will actually happen within the next fifteen years. Climate change activist,
Greta Thunberg says we cannot continue sweeping the mess under the carpet for someone else to clear up: we are now, under 11 years away from setting off an irreversible chain reaction, so there won’t be a reverse-back point. The extinction rate is up 10,000 times higher than what’s considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming non-existent every day. The time for Denial and Inaction, is all used up, no more ‘solutions’ that simply allow Governments to carry on as before. This is a crisis of building-buying-eating [meat] and consuming too many things. We are standing at the crossroads in history. Woe is us and the living conditions for future generations – unless we act collectively, NOW. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral obligation; our CO2 emissions need reducing swiftly by 50% to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees centigrade.
What are the options? (There Are a Few and Every Little Bit Assists)
- A Change in Designation for Mustangs and Burros: This is not only scientifically sound but morally, it is long past time we gave our greatest ally on earth, the horse, the rights and freedoms it deserves. As a species, we owe them so much to our development through history and yet we continue to treat them, along with the majority of our partners on this planet, with disdain and contempt. Shame on us! Re-designation may not solve the problem of the sheer numbers of wild horses and burros in the West, but it is a mighty fine, first step in the right direction.
- Halting the Destruction of their Habitat: Again, this may not be a very popular political step to take but the reality is, what we need to achieve “ecological balance” on this planet, is to ensure that all our biodiversity is nurtured and allowed to flourish. I know a common refrain to counter this argument is: “but we have to feed ourselves and the rest of the world”. NEWSFLASH: We are not doing that now anyway!!! Research by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation shows us that every single year ONE THIRD of the food we produce is wasted – yes WASTED! Imagine how much less food we would need to produce to feed the world, if we just didn’t waste so much of it. Secondly, we have, as a civilisation, it seems, yet to find a tool or a mechanism to ensure that the excess food we produce can reach those most in need of it (except when the media shows us extreme starvation somewhere in the world and then we are emotionally moved, to act). If food was grown sustainably and responsibly and distribution was equitable, more of the land resource would be available for the plants and animals that we share this beautiful world with.
- Wild Horse Sanctuaries: These are places where wild mustangs can be taken, and still find a useful life on what are colloquially known as “dude ranches”. There are numerous such places across the U.S. but one in particular springs to mind, that is absolutely committed to the concept of “Saving America’s Mustangs”. Mustang Monument: Wild Horse Eco Resort is located in Wells, Nevada and offers a wide variety of ranch activities, including; Horse-Back Riding Excursions and Wild Mustang Safari Adventures, plus numerous horse and ranch related activities. The most important thing they offer is a guarantee that the proceeds from every stay at Mustang Monument directly benefit “Saving America’s Mustangs” and providing essential care and perhaps most importantly, a voice for these horses. Their mission statement is; “An Unbridled Passion for Change,” and their aim is for visitors to leave Mustang Monument with two things – lifelong memories of an unforgettable vacation, and sharing their vision of a future where Mustangs continue to run free. You can check out their videos here, on their website: Founder Madeleine Pickens has become one of the wild mustang’s most vocal advocates. When, the BLM announced in 2008 that it was considering euthanising or selling 30,000 wild mustangs to overseas slaughter-houses, Madeleine acted quickly and began developing her sanctuary for the horses. Along with developing her Eco-Horse Resort, Madeleine, through her organisation “Saving American Mustangs” has become one of the foremost lobbyists for the wild mustangs, on Capitol Hill. It is through organisations such as this that the wild mustangs still maintain a chance for the future. Those of you who have read my novel Spirit of Prophecy, will recall near the end, that the American Olympic gold medal event rider, Juliet Jermaine, announces her plans to join the fight to save the mustangs. Watch out for this sequel to Spirit of Prophecy, to discover what ensues.
- Enforcing Existing Law: The aforementioned 1971 Act give the BLM all the legal tools to ensure the survival and freedom of the wild mustangs, however, it is the BLM’s practice to use this Act, instead, to manage the herds to point where they will ultimately be eradicated in the future. The BLM has, only half-jokingly been referred to at times, as the Bureau of Livestock and Mining because that it seems is its primary focus for the management of public lands.
A Fracking Site
The reasons why the BLM choose to ignore the plight of the wild horses is not because it is cost-effective to do so but merely because the supposed “rights”; of the States, the farmers, the cattle ranchers, the mining companies and latterly the fracking companies, are considered more important than the needs and rights of the beautiful, wild horses that roam our plains. The horse lobby is using legal challenges to BLM’s decisions and formal plans to try and ensure the horse’s needs are looked after and protected. Organisations such as the Wild Horse Education Organisation support many lawsuits against the BLM, in a number of areas and are regularly winning reprieves for the embattled horses. With an administration hell-bent on destroying existing regulations, and opening up formerly public land for private use, especially mining, drilling and fracking, the issue has become even more fractious and urgent over the past few years. Much effort is being focused on the BLM’s future management plans, being submitted to Congress for funding. These plans, according to many wild horse advocates, spell doom for our embattled, free-running horses. Going forward it looks as if my heroine Juliet will have quite a battle on her hands.
- Greater Advocacy For and Education About, Wild Horses: Ginger Kathrens is the founder of The Cloud Foundation a non-profit whose initial mission was to prevent the extinction of the herd of wild horses that once contained a particular horse called Cloud. Cloud was a pale-palomino, wild stallion from the Pryor Mountains on the Montana / Wyoming border. Ginger Kathrens had recorded, in documentaries, Cloud’s life, from birth to his presumed death, and had also written three books about Cloud. The foundation is committed to education, media events, and involving the public in both donating to the cause and joining in the foundation’s advocacy for the wild horses. Ginger Kathrens states they care about the welfare of all wildlife and the preservation of the public lands which makes it possible for the wildlife to survive and roam free.
- Birth Control: Suzanne Roy, Director of American Wild Horse Campaign assures us that there is a suitable birth control vaccine called PZP, which is used to control wildlife populations the world over. Horses would only be required to be darted, once a year and they would not get pregnant (and exacerbate the problem). She says; “…but the BLM would rather spend the money on helicopters and government holding facilities. PZP costs just $30 per horse, per year.” Just do the simple math. We currently have 45,000 horses held in Government facilities. At around $1,200 cost per horse per year, to keep and feed, that works out at a cost of $54M to the BLM and rising every year. To inject all the mares in the 90,000 wild horse population (assume 50% are mares) that would equate to 45,000 at $30 per mare, equalling $1.35M. Now, please explain the logic of the BLM – it can really be only one thing. The lobbyists representing the farmers, ranchers, miners, and frackers, are more powerful than the horse lobby. Let’s change this balance- your voice counts. Every single person counts. Humans are an animal species amongst others. It’s time to get passionate, and help the VOICELESS, be heard.
- Horse Adoption: This is another area that has the potential for future development. Finding adoptees is not an easy task – just ask any employee who is responsible for the thousands of wild horses already held in Government facilities but with the right support, the political muscle and some good old-fashioned hard work and dedication, it is indeed doable. There are also Government subsidies available for people who adopt wild mustangs, to help in their initial upkeep and management: You can find out more about this program, here:
- Raising Awareness: Some individuals have taken it upon themselves to try to help the wild horses. Ben Masters, along with three of his friends, set up a Kickstarter fundraising project to promote and facilitate “wild horse adoptions”. They created a documentary – “Unbranded”, the trailer of which you can watch, here on YouTube This documentary detailed the four men as they rode through America, from Mexico to Canada through the most backcountry route available. The documentary has been an outstanding success, winning more than two dozen awards and is available through Netflix. All the proceeds from the documentary have been donated to the Mustang Heritage Foundation to fund adoption efforts. What this does prove is that every-day, ordinary, motivated and driven people can make a difference in a world of apathy and egoism.
- The Availability and Development of Meat/Dairy Replacements: the arguments often put forward against reducing our intake of meat protein are many – “MANY PEOPLE LOVE THE TASTE! or IT’s CHEAP!” Not ecologically though, or in terms of improving domestic animal welfare – for instance dairy cows are repeatedly impregnated, then their calves are snatched away from them, just to create milk for our cereal bowls – why, when there are lots of great tasting alternatives- soya/oat/coconut etc, for instance? The development of meat substitutes is still in its commercial infancy but its importance to our future survival becomes more apparent as each year passes.
If it looks like beef, smells like beef and tastes like beef, then it is BEEF
A commitment to this technology (both politically and economically) and the realisation that we cannot keep taking more and more land from native creatures for food production, will quickly lead us to the point where “fake” meat is both mass producible, economically sustainable, and consumer palatable. As a vegan, I see this as one way to change people’s diets away from meat, and to foods that are ecologically more sustainable. This would allow more land to be rewilded, considerably reduce greenhouse gases – the meat production industry is one of the biggest causes of CO2 emissions, and significantly reduce animals being breed, with short, low-value life spans simply to satisfy the food chain and human taste buds. Better still, of course, ditch meat and dairy; eat a little fake meat food and switch to a wholefood plant- based diet. As Greta Thunberg says:
“No one is too small to make a difference.”
You as an individual, simply by changing your diet will wake others up too = awesome!
- Training Wild Horses: Many captured wild horses can be trained for specific purposes – Some horses can be repurposed into such varied roles as; pleasure horses, law-enforcement horses, veterinary teaching hospital horses, or for therapeutic riding programs for “at-risk” or challenged individuals.
There are two diametrically opposed schools of thought when it comes to dealing with the wild horse issue. On one side of the debate we have the ecologists, ranchers and range-managers, while on the other side, a vocal and powerful horse lobby. The ecologists’ argument is that the overpopulated wild horse population continue to do irreversible damage to the fragile desert ecosystems. Wild Horse advocates, however, argue that sheep and cattle don’t belong on public land and should be reduced to allow the horses to forage successfully, and not have to compete with domesticated farm animals – public land should be for wild animals, is their argument. Adding to the complex equation are general wildlife conservation organizations who believe neither horses nor livestock have a right to public land which should be totally reserved for native species such as bison, bighorn, sage grouse, pronghorn, mule deer, and other “native” animals. (This argument would be greatly watered down if the Mustangs and Burros were granted “Native” species designation, of course.]
Vegan Food IS NOT Boring
We need to arrive at a time when the American government will take away rancher’s and farmer’s leases for long-term agriculture in favor of wild (some, especially politicians, say mongrel) horses to allow them to roam free. The current administration seems hell-bent on releasing more and more public land for private sector use, which can only reduce even further the grazing land available for these animals. Go vegan and reduce the commercial demand for meat and thereby help swing the balance the other way. End speciesism.
As individuals who care about the plight of the wild horses of the West, we have a duty to join, support and donate to the many fine wild-horse advocate organizations, some of which I’ve mentioned in this article. Where it is an option, for you, please consider adopting a wild horse – they are beautiful, powerful, creatures who deserve the right to a decent and as natural as possible, life. I would also urge you to educate yourself more on the needs of our wild horses and to get actively involved in the advocacy campaigns – write to your representative, your senator – in fact anyone who will listen, but most of all, don’t allow our heritage to die and be forever lost.
Before we leave this contentious topic today, I would just like to give you a quote, which I believe sums up the importance, the beauty and the love we hold, in our heart for horses.
“A horse is the projection of peoples’ dreams about themselves – strong, powerful, beautiful – and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence.”
The horse, more than any other animal in history, has shaped our past, our present and hopefully, our future. Since we first tried to domesticate wild horses around 3,000 BCE, the horse has made many of our giant leaps forward in technology, transport, agriculture and communication possible. Without the horse and its amazing contribution to our heritage, man’s evolution would have been slower, harder, and less enjoyable. But, most of all, the horse is a loving, loyal, beautiful creature that deserves our love, our respect, and most of all, our care and concern, especially when no longer “useful” to us in their primary role. We owe it to them, to our ancestors and to our grandchildren yet to come to care for and nurture a being that has meant so much to us over the eons.
And as we ponder about the magnificent Mustangs, please spare a thought for the plight of all the animals in the domestic food chain – pigs/sheep/cattle/chickens and so on, because they too feel pain and experience love also. Witness the terror in their eyes, on occasions, and accept that they desperately need our utmost compassion as well.
That concludes, for now, our focus on the wonderful animals that surround us and daily surprise us with their intellect, their understanding, and their warmth. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series, as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing it to you.
And now… for Something Completely Different
Soon, we begin a brand-new series, fluttering above, yet only a little removed from the sentient animals here, who after all bring love, joy, and often are repaid with suffering. The next few blogs will focus on something we’ve probably all heard of, but very few have actually encountered or even know much about – ANGELS!
You won’t want to miss that, so I’ll see you up in the clouds, next week.
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Till Next Time I’m Sending: Love, Phire, and the Violet Flame of Peace