His hooves pound the earth. His breath echoes, a deep reverberation in lungs far more powerful than that of a human. His eyes are deep recesses into a soul where secrets have been kept for hundreds, thousands of years. He is proud and full of a fire for freedom. He is wild, as many horses once were, but his time and his freedom are running out.
Modern day horses were first brought to North America by the Spanish explorers. Subsequently, the wild horses were horses that escaped or were set free.
These horses were once as common as buffalo on the western plains. Then man came and brought their fences and cattle. Much was lost in this westward expansion. The American Indian and the buffalo faded away, and so too did the wild horse. Horses were far more likely to be found under a cowboy working the range.
Then, even this new way of life became archaic. Horses became secondary in our livelihoods and what few wild horses remained were viewed as a nuisance.
These animals are a direct but fragile link to what is beautiful and untamed in all of us and yet, when they need us most, many of us are not there.
We must help to preserve their freedom and effectually keep the spirit of freedom alive in this country. Is that not what we were founded on?
Years and years of abuse and murder of these magnificent creatures resulted in an outcry from animal activists, but largely, people are unaware of what the wild horse has experienced over the years.
Initially, wild horses were gathered and sent to slaughter. Then, through the efforts of Velma B. Johnston, a concerned citizen and animal rights activist, a bill was passed to protect these horses, first the Wild Horse Annie Act of 1959, which later became the Wild-Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 according to Return to Freedom, a horse sanctuary.
In charge of these horses is the Bureau of Land Management. They are receiving criticism for their increasing round ups. There are also accusations from wild horse advocates that the BLM is violating laws about the slaughter of these horses. To put it simply, the BLM is allegedly deeming horses they round up as abandoned domesticated horses and therefore not protected from slaughter according to Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, a sanctuary and non profit.
Also alarming is the three strike rule the BLM has. Under that ruling, horses that are offered up for adoption three times and fail to find a home can be destroyed. While in BLM possession, the horses are often kept in poor holding facilities and have suffered brutally at the round ups.
Oklahoma’s branch of the BLM is the one of few, if not the only, holding facility that even remotely mirrors that of the open pasture land these horses are used to.
According to the BLM there are approximately 38,000 horses on the range but just this year alone, there are plans to gather very close to, if not more than 10,000 horses on the BLM website.
This means that efforts to protect these horses and find them permanent homes, or better yet, large amounts of sanctuary acreage, are more essential than ever.
Last weekend, I met two young women who had a slew of mustangs they had rescued. At least two of the horses were pulled back from the brink of slaughter by the girls. They were passionate about spreading the word and rallying people to fight for the rights and preservation of these horses.
The horses themselves showed extraordinary promise in their training. Already, the newly adopted ones were standing calmly and had been hauled in a trailer to an arena where I met them. Only one brand new colt was unruly. Then, he was no more so than some young horses I’ve seen that have been domesticated their whole lives.
These girls were proof that people are standing up for these animals just like the Lifesavers Horse Rescue that saved 169 horses from being killed in Nevada in July, 2010 and 101 more in September. There needs to be more people like this because the fate of the horses sent to slaughter gets worse than just death.
According to the rescue website, these horses are sent in crowded dangerous trailers and are often injured in transit. Once they arrive at slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, they are stunned by a stun gun to the head, often with the shooter missing the correct spot on several attempts. Then their throats are cut and they die a slow death. These beautiful animals become meat, considered a delicacy for many other countries.
I look at my horses. I have two right now. A beautiful but rather unruly, black gelding and my old friend, a 26 year-old bay mare I have had since I was 11.
My horses were never wild but I still see the spirits of their ancestors in their dark eyes. They have given me so much in my life. They have taught me to be strong and brave and to thrive. I feel I owe them so much of myself and my efforts to protect their fellow species. Many of us may feel at a loss as to what to do to help but there are many ways to get involved.
If you can, find a reputable sanctuary and donate time or money helping them in their efforts. Hold fundraisers, car washes and other events. Consider your audience and spread the word at horse events where you live. Get creative.
Awareness is also a huge need. Do your research. Tell friends and family what you find. Urge those you tell to speak out too. If you can adopt a mustang from the BLM, do it. The horses will make wonderful additions to your home and deserve a happy ending to their story.
He tosses his mane in defiance and shakes his finely sculpted head as if to say that he is molded from greatness and the natural born heir to the wide open lands stretching before him. He seems to be a gift from some higher power that sought to create the perfect blend of beauty and strength. This power created the horse. He is forever free in his heart.