Wild Mustangs

No Longer Free on the Range

By Alice Billings

Alice Billings and Libby. ©T.J. Holmes

Alice Billings and Libby. ©T.J. Holmes

[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) calls them “gathers.” Wild horses are chased relentlessly and some die in the process. Some are so traumatized, they run into the panels set up to catch them, break their necks, and have to be euthanized. It is not a pretty sight—for in that moment when the horse enters the trap site…in that very moment…their freedom is lost forever.

Their lives may be lost, too, and this is what one wild mustang may have felt after a “gather” that took his life.

“I died today. This morning, I was running free on my range. Then this horrible sound appeared in the sky and chased me and my family. We ran so hard to get away, but the machine was relentless, and ran us so hard in the heat of the Nevada sun, that I couldn’t run any more and collapsed. Now I’m on the other side. I see that some of my family were pushed into corrals. And, I know what fate awaits them. Some will be adopted by humans. Some will stand around the rest of their lives, crowded into large pens. And, far too many of the others will find their way into the slaughter pipeline and—be brutally murdered.

So maybe I am the lucky one. Because, I died today.”

This gives you a pretty clear picture of what a roundup is—oh yes, I know—I was at the roundup when my girl, Liberty, lost her freedom.

A Colorado wild horse from Spring Creek Basin in Disappointment Valley, she was just 2 ½ years old and pregnant when she was rounded up on September 16, 2011. She lost the foal—trauma and stress lead to miscarriages among many of the captive animals.

Alice and Scout. ©Kathryn R. Burke

Alice and Scout at her ranch. ©Kathryn R. Burke

Liberty—I call her Libby—was born on the range, born free. but is now no longer free. She is one of the lucky ones who got adopted and is living a good life. Now ten years old, Liberty has been gentled and trained under saddle. She is a great little mustang mare.

I also have another, formerly wild, mustang mare. Annie is a three-year-old Nevada wild horse, that somehow ended up in a kill pen in Northern Colorado. We will never know all the details of what happened to her after she was rounded up on November 21, 2016, but she is safe now. Annie comes from the Little Owyhee HMA (Herd Management Area). We do know that she was adopted out of the Elm Creek holding facility in Texas. The path she traveled from there to here is unclear, but she is finally safe with me.

Spring Creek Gather. ©T.J. Holmes

Spring Creek Gather. ©T.J. Holmes

There are approximately 50,000 mustangs in government holding facilities across the country that haven’t been adopted. They are held in crowded enclosures, and yet our government continues rounding them up. They say the roundups are necessary to manage their population. Many would disagree. A large majority of Americans would like to see these magnificent sentient beings left out on the range or at least gathered, when necessary, in a humane way and not in excessive numbers.

However, there are those who are lobbying our government to clear the mustangs off of public lands. They want the land for the grazing of their cattle and sheep—in other words, private grazing. We must not forget the part oil and gas interests play in all of this. All these beings can live peacefully out on the range—why can’t they be allowed to do so?

The horses are protected by The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, but over the years, that protection has been eroded— due to greed, money, and politics. And who suffers? We all do, but most assuredly, our mustangs pay the price.

Mustangs are great horses. I believe they are different from a domestic horse. People will tell you that that isn’t so; spend any time with a formerly wild mustang, and you will understand that difference—and you will fall in love.

Spring Creek heard on the range. ©T.J. Holmes

Spring Creek heard on the range. ©T.J. Holmes

Help us save our wild horses and keep them free out on the range and on our public lands. And, of course, you can always adopt a mustang. Adopt a living legend.

The following websites will provide you with accurate information about mustangs, and the issues we all face regarding our beautiful wild horses running on our public lands: americanwildhorsecampaign.org. wildhorseeducation.org.

If you are interested in this issue and want to be a wild horse advocate, you can always contact me—and visit my mustangs —I have eight horses on my property, four are formerly wild mustangs.

Alice Billings owns Thunder Heart Haven Horse Sanctuary in Ridgway. thunderhearthaven.com. 970-729-1848.