Wild Horse Education

Remembering Journalist Laura Myers

BarrenValley_001In 2011 I met journalist Laura Myers at the Triple B roundup in Nevada. We spent a lot of time talking. Talking about the BLM, but also about ourselves. We spoke of some of the places we had been and things we had done. Over the course of the last few years we had contact through press releases. Yet Laura took time to touch base during my fight with breast cancer. She faced her own battle with cancer that was much more intense than my own. She lost that battle and left us far too soon. Yet she left behind a footprint in this world that touched many with her integrity to her work and her human spirit. May we all remember to live life with such purpose.


Pilot Conduct at Triple B

Pilot Conduct at Triple B

Excerpt from “Wild Horses: Preservation Program Flies Out of Control”


“Call him off, Ben. Call him off …”

Laura Leigh’s words echo across the desert valley, then die.

An hour earlier, the sun had risen over the Great Basin, revealing a vast and desolate high desert watershed known as the Big Empty.

Buck, Bald and Butte mountains vie for majesty here in northeastern Nevada, where wagon trains made perilous journeys during the 1800s gold rush that built the West.

Wagon wheel ruts mark the valleys still, permanent scars in a harsh land of survivors.

It is here where man and beast remain at war.

It is here where ranchers who gave the cow counties their nickname compete for scarce resources with America’s last wild horses.

It is here where the mustangs are legally protected as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.”

And it is here where, 40 years after a 1971 law put the Bureau of Land Management in charge of preserving those wild horses, the program is as out of control as the untamed animals themselves.

Like a devalued foreclosed home, the program is upside down: The BLM is holding more wild horses — 41,000, mostly in Midwestern pastures — than are roaming 10 Western states — about 33,000.

And the cost to taxpayers is soaring as the BLM expands its welfare agency for aging wild horses. More than half of its entire 2012 wild horse and burro budget is for holding costs alone — $43.2 million of $75.8 million. And this year’s total budget is nearly double just two years ago.

Overall, the BLM has spent at least three-quarters of a billion dollars to manage wild horses and burros in the past 40 years. During that time, the agency has rounded up at least 260,000 animals in an attempt to control where mustangs roam and contend with a runaway reproduction rate that has herds doubling every four to five years.

Most of those wild horses have been adopted, but the economic downturn has cut the adoption rate in half, revealing the program’s flaws.

“If you want to learn how badly your public lands are managed, just look at the wild horse program,” says Leigh, who has closely followed and challenged the roundups for two years. “It’s not working at all.”

This is one thing on which wild horse advocates and ranchers can agree.

“We can’t sustain it,” says J.J. Goicoechea, president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association and a fourth generation rancher. “They cannot be warehousing horses in the Midwest. … And we’ve got to get the number of horses that are on the range down.”

Nobody’s happy.

Wild horse advocates complain BLM is managing mustangs to extinction by inhumanely rounding up too many. Ranchers and their allies argue the agency must pull more off the overgrazed range and sell the excess — including for possible slaughter — to cull growing herds.

Caught in the middle, the BLM plans to remove at least 15,000 more wild horses from the West during the coming two years, contending the public land can support only 26,600 mustangs and burros. About half live in Nevada, mostly in rugged places where capture isn’t easy.

“We have these living legacies of the American West we would like to have for future generations,” says Joan Guilfoyle, head of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Division.

“But there’s only so much land for these animals to live on in balance with all the other uses.”


On this August morning, the battle rages under a brilliant sky.

Chased for miles by a low-flying helicopter across the desert floor, a wild horse finally loses its wind on a sage-covered hill. The pilot, stirring up a choking dust, swings lower, so close a landing skid appears to give the mustang’s rear a bump.

The horse jumps then begins trudging uphill, head low, pumping up and down with effort. Intent on escaping the thumping beast, the mustang moves farther from a carefully laid BLM trap below.

Leigh sits on a hill on the other side of the trap, videotaping the encounter. She urges Ben Noyes, the BLM specialist in charge, to call off the pursuit, a futile plea since Noyes can’t hear her from the trap site 700 feet below.

The close helicopter chase ends after several minutes. Two wranglers on horseback ride out to rope the loose mustang, a “waspy” critter, the wiliest of wild horses and hardest to catch.

The mustang is fine but the damage has been done.

After viewing Leigh’s video, a judge in Reno bans using the helicopter to finish the roundup. U.S. District Court Judge Howard McKibben rules that the chopper had flown “dangerously or unreasonably” close to the mustang, violating the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

Score one for the wild horse advocates.

As a result of the court action, the BLM conducted an internal review of the helicopter incident and the entire Triple B roundup, which captured 1,269 wild horses.

Videotapes showed isolated cases in which mustangs were struck in the face, kicked in the head, dragged by the neck with a rope, and shocked with electrical prods, mostly as wranglers loaded them into trailers.

The review concluded that “no single incident offered a consensus among animal welfare experts that horses were treated inhumanely.” Nonetheless, the BLM said it would set new standards for more humane handling of wild horses.

“Aggressive and rough handling of wild horses is not acceptable and we are actively taking steps to ensure that such behavior is not repeated,” BLM Director Bob Abbey said in releasing the report on Dec. 7. From:

Go to time code 21:27 to see what we saw at Triple B. This is an old video used as a fundraiser that was done on the “run” in a motel at 3 am…. life has been a bit of an adventure.

Hold Your Wild Horses! how did it get so bad? from Laura Leigh on Vimeo.

Categories: Wild Horse Education