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The War Against the Horse

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Posted on May 4, 2010
AP / Troy Maben

By Deanne Stillman

(Page 3)

People often ask me if I would have changed my mind about writing my book had I known how dark this story would get. The answer is no; I had wanted to investigate an incident and bear witness and it helped that a few months after the Reno massacre I met the lone survivor of it—an astonishing filly who was found near starvation in a gully during a winter storm, watched over by a band of bachelor stallions who could not provide her with mother’s milk but could fend off predators.  As I wrote in “Mustang,” her rescuers named her Bugz because she was permanently spooked, not unlike another twitchy Nevada character, Bugsy Siegel, said to have been demon-possessed and therefore buggy, and no doubt he was, having witnessed—and been the progenitor of—great rivers of desert carnage. For the next 10 years, Bugz was my guide; during my visits to Nevada, I spent time with her at Wild Horse Spirit, the sanctuary where she lived in Carson City, and when I couldn’t, we had conversations the old-fashioned way—across time and space, on the wind, where the great four-leggeds who made this nation were running free forever, out there in the American dreamtime. What Bugz told me was powerful and beyond words; whenever this story knocked me to my knees in shock and awe, I would feel her presence, and her spirit, and her will to go on, and last year when she passed away due to complications from an ongoing kidney ailment caused by poor nutrition after the massacre and no doubt a broken heart, I thanked her for enduring long enough for me to finish my book, for I could not have done so without her.

I am not so naive as to think that one book would bring about an end to the scourge of wild horse killings in our land. This wound is open, deep and cannot be easily healed. But it has been gratifying to note that since “Mustang” was first published in 2008, there has been a slight shift in the atmosphere. Many people have joined a nationwide, grass-roots effort on behalf of wild horses (and burros—protected by the same law) that had been in place for some time, taking the call for mustang preservation to a new level. Various legal actions have resulted in good news for wild horses; one roundup was stopped in Colorado last year, and a critical aspect of federal mustang management—the housing of wild horses in crowded corrals after they are rounded up—is now under question. And the Bureau of Land Management itself may be reassessing its own policies, in the wake of increasing scrutiny of its practices.

But perhaps most heartening of all is that as I travel the country and talk about our war against the wild horse, I have learned that the mustang is the one issue, if I may reduce this magnificent creature to an overused word, that cuts across all party lines. In fact, it is through the wild horse that I see America and it is through the wild horse that Americans of all persuasions are coming together.

At my talks in bookstores, libraries and other events, I meet cowboys, kids, tea partyers, tree huggers, Ron Paul freaks, people who just got foreclosed, war veterans, recovering Democrats, reality show rejects and even men who have killed mustangs just because they could and now regret their role in the decimation of our great partner and icon. Last year, one of these men approached me in tears and took my hand in both of his and said he was sorry. He held my gaze and my hand for a few seconds and his grip was sturdy. Then he shambled off like a mirage, like Shane in the movies, as cowboys always do, but he wasn’t on a horse and he knew that there weren’t very many left, and my guess is that he didn’t have a job and probably had pawned his gear. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen to the rest of us if we cannot get right by the wild horse; as it goes, so goes a piece of America, and one of these days, bereft of heritage, we may all find ourselves moving on down the road.

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Deanne Stillman’s latest book is the widely acclaimed “Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West,” a Los Angeles Times “Best Book ’08” and winner of the California Book Award silver medal for nonfiction. Her book includes an account of the 1998 Christmas horse massacre outside Reno, as well as the story of Bugz. Follow Deanne Stillman on Facebook.


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By A Real South Texan, July 4, 2010 at 7:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

STG- You’ve either never had a horse or if you did, it ended up at my rescue.
As for wild horses, they were on “the people’s land” long before it was the people’s. No over population, nature took care of that. No overgrazing until “the people” turned out herd after herd after herd of cattle/sheep.
One thing you said I do agree with- if you want to own an animal, “then use your money and land and resources to save them and care for them…”  Now, go tell it to the ranchers.
And yes- I use my own money, land, and time to rescue others mistreated, abused and neglected horses.

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By Suzanne, May 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wrong, SoTexGuy, when you say, “That’s what I think,” because you’re not capable of actually THINKING. If you were, you wouldn’t have written this piece of drivel.

God! I hope you aren’t really from Texas!

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By Craig Downer, May 9, 2010 at 4:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Really commend you, Deanne, on your sensitive and well researched account. The War on the Wild Horses and Burros must end!  It is so totally wrong. These wonderful presenses are restorers and healers of America, though their enemies maintain all the contrary!

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By Judith Pecho, May 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris Hanefeld, BLM PUblic Relations Officer in the Ely district said there was a pipeline going across some of the land that the Mustangs are on and that they want the horses also off the land for that reason. He would not tell me what kind of pipeline it was or who (what company) is running the pipeline.
I talked with him at length and he encouraged I write my legislators and BLM to effect the direction they have taken with the horses if I was concerned. Please write me if you know the most effective people to write but I will be searching this out soon. I am outraged with their round-ups and cowtowing to cattlemen.  We do need a lot of noise and numbers behind protecting the mustangs and mules to be effective, making our voices know within organizations and also as individuals.

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By Ariel Monserrat, May 7, 2010 at 10:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

SoTexGuy, seems like you’ve never actually been lucky enough to have a horse as a companion; otherwise, you would know beyond the shadow of a doubt that horses are extremely intelligent.  They are also very curious, some even more than cats (curiousity being a definite sign of intelligence)and extremely sensitive and they form very strong bonds with each other, any creature they befriend, and humans (if the humans value them and treat them right). I will never forget when I had to put down of my 2 horses, the other horse grieved for weeks afterwards and they hadn’t even been together that long.
I would put horse sense (intelligence) above most humans I’ve ever met; and as for being loving, I’d put their ability to love deeply beyond that of most humans I’ve met.
Nature is a Divine gift to all of us; to not treasure it and respect it is to be guilty of sacrilege, hubris and some of the most ignorant and callous attributes.
If you want to see a video of some truly magnificent creatures, watch this brief video, it’s only a few minutes long, but well worth it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9_mdwvU1Gc

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By coyote loco, May 6, 2010 at 1:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the way the author uses the term “wild horse” is inaccurate and misleading. the horses she writes about are the result of manipulative breeding and carelessness by humans, escaped genetic experiments, and are a problem to the truly wild ecosystems of the west. don’t trust me, read the wikipedia article:

Wild species surviving into modern times
Main article: Wild horse
Three tan colored horses with upright manes. Two horses nip and paw at each other, while the third moves towards the camera. They stand in open, rocky grassland, with forests in the distance.
A small herd of Przewalski’s Horses

A truly wild horse is a species or subspecies with no ancestors that were ever domesticated. Therefore, most “wild” horses today are actually feral horses, animals that escaped or were turned loose from domestic herds and the descendants of those animals.[113] Only one truly wild horse species (Equus ferus) with two subspecies, the Tarpan and the Przewalski’s Horse, survived into recorded history.

The only true wild horse alive today is the Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii), named after the Russian explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky. It is a rare Asian animal, also known as the Mongolian Wild Horse; Mongolian people know it as the taki, and the Kyrgyz people call it a kirtag. The species was presumed extinct in the wild between 1969 and 1992, while a small breeding population survived in zoos around the world. In 1992, it was reestablished in the wild due to the conservation efforts of numerous zoos.[114] Today, a small wild breeding population exists in Mongolia.[115][116] There are additional animals still maintained at zoos throughout the world.

The Tarpan or European Wild Horse (Equus ferus ferus) was found in Europe and much of Asia. It survived into the historical era, but became extinct in 1909, when the last captive died in a Russian zoo.[117] Thus, the genetic line was lost. There have been attempts have been made to recreate the Tarpan,[118][117][119] which resulted in horses with outward physical similarities, but nonetheless descended from domesticated ancestors and not true wild horses.

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By mmadden, May 6, 2010 at 3:38 am Link to this comment

Such a shame that MAN once again decides what to do concerning wildlfe. One of these days those people that cruelly destroy these magnificent animls will be the one hunted.

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By equine professional, May 5, 2010 at 8:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

SoTexGuy,

Actually, Federal law provides for protecting a lot of native species, vegetation, animals, lands, birds and so on. That sticks in the craw of some people, mainly ranchers, who can’t stand the thought of anything not under their control being allowed to live free, as if that is a direct insult to their .. ah.. manhood. 

Wild horses are among those native species protected by law. That does make it the business of the Federal government. Federal law directs the US government to leave them on public land owned by the taxpayers, almost all of whom want our wild horses left in peace.

You seem like an authority kind of guy. If you don’t like the laws protecting native species, if the thought of another being competing with your me-me agenda sends you into a tailspin big enough to disregard geography, science, economics and history, let’s not leave out grammar and spelling, go ahead and visit Washington or your local Congressional office, and lobby to change them. Good luck with that.

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By REDHORSE, May 5, 2010 at 9:18 am Link to this comment

CAP’N: Greed is greed and by any other name it also stinks. But, greed is not the exclusive domain of white people. True, corruption (and lack of humanity) has allowed serious travesty in our history but lets not become inhabitants of a false moral high ground. This is not a world of magic crystals and little pink angels. Nostalgic generalization doesn’t serve any of us. We’re all a little good and a little bad. It’s when we start thinking the darkness is exclusive to others that our moral compass fails and we become sheep that greed can flock and drive.

  Mankinds relationship with the horse is ancient. Ride for any length of time and you understand that the attitude toward the animal defines the attitude toward the man. We’re all being driven toward the canyon of doom by a real evil, alive in a real world. Americans are way past the indulgence of creed, race, gender or politics. Ethnicity has nothing to do with it. The evil is the loss of our humanity (most notably in our politicians), greed is just an aspect. Save our horses ans we might save ourselves.

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By firefly, May 5, 2010 at 9:18 am Link to this comment

Shame. When oil runs out, we may need those horses
again.

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By Betty L. Kelly, May 5, 2010 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

5-5-2010 SoTexGuy is an example of a minority who are so brain washed by the corporate public lands livestock industry and their “Daddies” and are controlled by this rogue powerful greedy clan, including BLM, that he is oblivious of the facts that the horse IS a native North American species, Equus caballus, whether re-introduced or even aboriginal by well documented evolutionary evidence, Mitochondrial DNA evidence and a host of other evidence.  The “feral horse” label is their (BLM and the public land ranchers) political slogan, when repeated enough it becomes falsely true in the eyes of the public.  Even BLM now uses this label in their so called ES. 

It is their propaganda slogan put forth to undermine the 1971 protection law and annihilated America’s wild horses and burros from their legal ranges in order to steal OUR public lands and its resources as their own. 

I suggest that SoTexGuy, but most of all that for starters the American public read an article from the Southeast Horse Report, Wild and Free, Vo. III No. 11 (November 1999) by Nancy Whitaker, “Wild Horses: The Feral Animal Label”.  It tells it like it is about the ongoing the war against America’s wild horses & burros and against our public lands by a minority greedy powerful faction, including BLM, pretending to be “entitled” Americans.  We taxpayers owe the public land ranching industry NOTHING. Thanks Deanne for Mustang.

Betty Kelly
Carson City NV

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By Betty L. Kelly, May 5, 2010 at 8:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

5-5-2010 SoTexGuy is an example of a minority who are so brain washed by the corporate public lands livestock industry and their “Daddies” and are controlled by this rogue powerful greedy clan, including BLM, that he is oblivious of the facts that the horse IS a native North American species, Equus caballus, whether re-introduced or even aboriginal by well documented evolutionary evidence, Mitochondrial DNA evidence and a host of other evidence.  The “feral horse” label is their (BLM and the public land ranchers) political slogan, when repeated enough it becomes falsely true in the eyes of the public.  Even BLM now uses this label in their so called ES. 

It is their propaganda slogan put forth to undermine the 1971 protection law and annihilated America’s wild horses and burros from their legal ranges in order to steal OUR public lands and its resources as their own. 

I suggest that SoTexGuy, but most of all that for starters the American public read an article from the Southeast Horse Report, Wild and Free, Vo. III No. 11 (November 1999) by Nancy Whitaker, “Wild Horses: The Feral Animal Label”.  It tells it like it is about the ongoing the war against America’s wild horses & burros and against our public lands by a minority greedy powerful faction, including BLM, pretending to be “entitled” Americans.  We taxpayers owe the public land ranching industry NOTHING.

Betty Kelly
Carson City NV

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Gloria Picchetti's avatar

By Gloria Picchetti, May 5, 2010 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

Deanne Stillman is a champion. The BLM is out of control with it’s program to destroy wild horses. The poor horses are injured & murdered. The mares lose their foals. It’s pitiful. Why are our taxes used for this holocaust? So ranchers can make more money because the rich get richer. Our obese children in the US do not need another hamburger. They need to learn how to ride horses.

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By SoTexGuy, May 5, 2010 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

By Unregistered..

“Get your facts straight SoTexGuy.

“CLOSE THE PUBLIC LAND TO PRIVATE CATTLEMEN AND GET THE CATTLE OFF THE PUBLIC LAND!”

Thanks for that reminder!

My comments were aimed at the real problem of feral horses on public wild lands.. I did fail to include how imported cattle also destroy our fragile wilderness.. You are entirely right.. the system that allows so much of our western lands to be exploited for pennies by the cattle barons is corrupt and damaging and should be ended!

So.. Let’s get the livestock of whatever stripe (horses and cattle or whatever) off our public lands! .. and then we’ll go to work on the mines and oil wells and whatever else there is that is similarly wrong and destructive that I might have overlooked in this short note!

Adios.

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By CaptRon, May 4, 2010 at 9:39 pm Link to this comment

This is what I like about Truthdig. When someone speaks out of his ass, he gets called on it by someone who makes sense. Unfortunately, the horse seems to be going the way of the Native American and eventually the rest of us. Greed came with the white man from outside the borders of this continent and pushes and pushes as it corrupts. It could be reversed, but it isn’t because greed is presented as success. Everyone is pushed to be successful so-o-o. Horses aren’t needed anymore like the knowledge of the Native American, and soon, hell, now, more and more people aren’t needed or needed in quantity because automation makes money. We have been and are being used for the convenience of greed, and when not needed are pushed out of the way until there are no more places to be pushed. Then comes eradication by order of importance to whoever controls. This is why I read and contribute to Truthdig as an example. I want to change the direction of rich controlling poor while I still have a voice. Kill a horse, demean a Native American or any person, then you are my enemy. You can lose what you have very easily, or you can use what you have to make this a better world. You choose, but so far there are very many more bad choices being made than good. Just hope if you don’t make the right choice, that things don’t change. If you back those into a corner, well, you know. So start by not killing horses, or people. Treat the descendants of the Native Americans, who shared their country with us and taught the way to respect the land and its inhabitants, with respect and honor. Start respecting the land, water, the things you crinkle the nose at when someone mentions environmental, like respecting it like if God really did create it. You do go to church so you must believe, don’t you? Treat all people with respect and you will get respect. Good Luck, or else.

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By patin reno, May 4, 2010 at 5:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I live in Reno Nevada and the war against wild horses is real and very ugly. The BLM says it dosen’t have money to monitor the horses but it has money to buy a helicoptor.Running the poor things to death is animal crulty of the first order. The BLM does a bad job and most of us want them out of our state. The horses belong to the people of the state of Nevada. And the BLM has no right to destroy them.

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By Horses Not Cattle, May 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Get your facts straight SoTexGuy.
If the public lands are so “fragile”, why do we sell discount grazing leases to private profit cattlemen to graze their private profit cattle on our taxpayer owned public land? Cattle are much more destructive than horses as they tear the grasses up by the roots when grazing as oppossed to horses that tear the tops off preserving the root system of the grasses allowing for regrowth. It’s all about greed, Big Ag, Cattlemen Assn, lobbyists and special interest groups. Corrupt politics at it’s lowest. The horses belong on the public lands, the cattle don’t. CLOSE THE PUBLIC LAND TO PRIVATE CATTLEMEN AND GET THE CATTLE OFF THE PUBLIC LAND!

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By REDHORSE, May 4, 2010 at 12:48 pm Link to this comment

Good article. In past years I’ve often tried to help out at one of our local horse rescue centers. I wish I could add hope to this discussion but it’s a fight in progress and all I can do is say that the effort is well worth it. 

  Increased unchecked population growth and ongoing loss of natural resources endanger us all. As open range shrinks and corporate thugs continue to exploit our corrupt congress for limitless control of American resources we must prepare ourseves for personal survival and if possible include the horse in our plans. After all, the horse was our first ally in our attempts to conquer time and space. When city dwellers open that water tap and nothing comes out perhaps the reality will hit home.

  A few years ago a gentleman rode horseback across America urging the creation of a trails system that would allow travel by horse to any place in the country. Why not??  Also, small horse driven generators could supply electricity to entire neighborhoods (with better battery power storage).

  I’ve been horseback all my life. It breaks my heart to see, not only the slaughter of Mustangs but the outright cruelty and injury to domestic horses by people who must only see them as “things”. Well, people in America are treated as “things”. How would they know the difference??

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By SoTexGuy, May 4, 2010 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment

Like horses? Want one, or a hundred? Good for you! .. get some land, fence them in, feed and water them.. and love them forever.

Modern horses are large and destructive critters, non-native to our continent.. with a brain about the same as that of an educated chicken. They kill and injure many people and run rough-shod over our fragile public lands and wildlife refuges.

There’s nothing special about a half-ton grass-burner.. be it a steer or a horse.. but again, if they are to you then use your money and land and resources to save them and care for them.. It’s not the business of the US government or the people whose lands they hold in trust to provide pretty pictures of (non-native) horses running wild across what’s left of the American wilderness.

That’s what I think.

Adios!

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