The vulnerable are silent. Everyone who knows me also knows my deep love of horses. They are the reason that I walk every morning in our beautiful Bavarian neighborhood and countryside. Every step I take away from the front door takes me closer to the stables that I end my walk at. I know most of the horses by name and if not, they seem to answer to any name that I give them. They gently come to the fence or stable window for a soft rub or pat on the cheek, under the neck, or for a short “talk”. They recognize my voice, my silly hat, and in the winter, my jacket. They are gentle and lovable and give so much tranquility to my undisciplined character. They start my day.
Horses have sustained economies and have died in service alongside soldiers and warriors. But its their beauty that fascinates us. Watching a horse run and enjoy its freedom is a mesmerizing experience. They are created with strong muscular bodies that often defy gravity. A horse twice my height can run and jump like a graceful nymph with little effort. These are animals that withstand pain silently. They give birth without human drama. They bond with humans on equal footage. They trust and love unconditionally.
This is the time of year when the US Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M) goes on a full-fledged assault on wild horses and burros. The roundups are disproportionally overhanded, dangerous, and often fatal to the approximately 70,000 wild horses roaming the American West. No muscular image of Marlboro Man rounding up herds of wild horses with lassos. The US government is more sophisticated and ups the ante with helicopters. Whizzing low on the herds, they force them into areas where they are rounded up and incarcerated. Terrified and disoriented, they run for their lives, often loosing young foals in the melee. The tragedy does not end there. Observers with the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) organization have witnessed wild horses running blindly into barbed wire fences that suddenly appear in their paths, courtesy of cattle ranchers.
Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post Writers Group wrote a scathing admonition of B.L.M and the reality behind these annual roundups. (This is no way to thin the herd of wild horses. June 29, 2021.) B.L.M justifies these roundups as a means to ‘thin out” herds that deplete public land resources through their unchecked grazing. The truth is that cattle ranchers want more grazing land for their cattle. The meat industry lobby is large, powerful, and rich. And if truth be told, cattle cause more harm to land resources than wild horses. The practice of rounding up wild horses is under the pretense of herd control. What the taxpayers do not know is what happens after rounding up thousands of these beautiful animals, all paid for by tax dollars.
Currently, B.L.M is holding approximately 50,000 wild horses in mass incarcerations. The government has an Adoption Incentive Program which allegedly allows adoptions at approximately $1,000 per horse, limiting the number of adoptions to four per year. But this does not deter nefarious backdoor horse-trading businesses. Horse traders who “adopt” wild horses have been known to sell them at a profit to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. They pile them up in double-decker trucks often on day-long trips to their final destination. Animal activists and reporters have taken footage of wild horses being prodded and beaten as they are pushed toward a killing “booth”. Depending on where the animals are finally sold, their death can include stabbing in the neck to render them motionless or hung by one leg while their throats are slit. One can only imagine the pain and the fear.
The rounding up by helicopters is supposed to nudge the animals to move. But AWHC reported helicopters flying low enough to almost touch horses’ heads. They also attempt to separate herds. Stallions are forcibly kept separate creating a serious problem because stallions lead their “families” which include mares and their foals. Horses arrive at the incarceration camps exhausted and some close to death. Nose and leg injuries are common resulting in pseudo “humane” euthanasia, a double standard of animal cruelty with impunity.
Follow the money. Both horses and cattle graze and eat grass. Cattle make money while wild horses do not. According to Grace Kuhn, Communications Director of AWHC, B.L.M permits approximately 2,000 wild horses to run free and live on 2.5 million acres of Utah public land. At the same time, it allows approximately 100,000 cattle to live on 22 million acres of Utah public land. Approximately 200 acres per cow or calf. The double-edged sword comes into play when we start discussing predators. Wild horses are subject to attacks by mountain lions, wolves, bears, and coyotes, especially the young. These predators are hunted down by ranchers to protect their cattle. A human interference that disrupts the ecosystem and throws it out of whack. If nature is left to take care of itself, it usually does.
The AWHC understands the problem with proliferation of wild horses, but it has suggested humane fertility control that would stabilize the number of wild horses roaming public land in the “wild” west. However, horses intrinsically and biologically feel the need to procreate when numbers go down. Another option offered is relocation. B.L.M had the nerve to justify their wild horse management using climate change narrative. Less ground to graze and eat is starving the horses. Really? What about the cattle? Cattle are obviously immune to climate change. What a load of garbage. The real problem is the increase in ranch property and consequent fences that have reduced the amount of land these horses can run freely on. More land for cattle means less land for horses.
No administration has ever done anything to curtail the cruelty associated with thinning wild horse herds or prevent them from being exported outside the US for slaughter. However, Senator Diane Feinstein has recently written a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland requesting a suspension of the helicopter round up pending an investigation into the practice and also into the Adoption Incentive program under B.L.M. 30 other House members have written similar letters urging for the passage of the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, that would ban horse slaughter in the US and ban export of horses abroad for the same reason. But this will not stop the process that will start in a few days in the Southwest.
Humans have always managed to screw up what G-d created, a manageable ecosystem that takes care of itself. Countries have tried to tweak nature and completely fucked it up. The wild horse “problem” didn’t materialize until money and greed made its way to the prairies and Capitol Hill. Cattle make money, wild horses don’t. Ranchers lobby for more land and they get it. They are louder and more powerful than horse conservationists. There are more cattle feeding on horse land than the opposite. Every year, ranchers move closer into horse territory also infringe on coyote, bear, mountain lion, and wolf indigenous land. Feigning protection for their cattle, they kill the predators who keep the balance of nature constant.
The bond between humans and horses is historic and unique. When a human owns a horse, they both merge into an understanding of spirits. They are one in trust, loyalty, love, and compassion. Horses are trusting to a fault. They trust us to take care of them in return for watching their beauty, giving us hours of pleasure. They have served humans through time immortal. When a horse allows me to touch it, we share mutual understanding and trust. A silent bond.
Santaro is one of the many horses I visit every morning. I call him and he gently pokes his head out of the window. On cue he raises his head to be rubbed on his neck and under his chin. A ritual we have both perfected. An area he can’t reach on his own. He often rests his large head on my shoulders, and I feel his warm breath on my neck as he relaxes and enjoys the few minutes of love and attention I give him. At that moment we are no longer human and animal, but friends. The suffering of every horse is a betrayal of this special bond. None of us should be allowing it.
(If you wish to sign a petition to stop the B.L.M helicopter round up, you may access: Roundups – Return to Freedom)
Parker. K. June 29, 2021. This is no way to thin the herd of wild horses. Washington Post Writers Group. Stars and Stripes