We are receiving multiple questions about our work that seem to be the result of a campaign by livestock interests aimed at discrediting us. We hope this answers some of the questions.
WHE is a relatively new organization. Why create another wild horse group?
Wild Horse Education’s (WHE) founder Laura Leigh has been “on the scene” of wild horse and burro issues for some time. She created WHE out of necessity, not design. She transitioned from working primarily domestic horse abuse and slaughter issues into devoting her attention to wild horses in 2008. Leigh worked with multiple organizations. There is not one major organization (or individuals within other organizations) that she has not worked with at one point or another. As issues surrounding wild horses are complex and evolving so do organizations and their agendas. Many agendas have changed over the years for multiple organizations, as it should with any evolving subject matter.
WHE was born as a vehicle to address issues from the ground up. Multiple organizations had conversations about using Leigh’s body of work as a vehicle for a “data bank” but nothing ever solidified. Issues in the wild horse world move fast. A small organization had an ability to operate in real time. WHE became a necessity of the time period in which it was created, the era of nearly ten thousand wild horses being removed from the range each and every year. A small organization that could run from range to courtroom and back to address the intensity of the “roundup machine” of that time period, a “missing link.”
Our ability to move quickly was key in gaining the multiple court rulings we have in our resume. Our legal actions have resulted in the first restraining order and preliminary Injunction in history against inappropriate conduct. We gained multiple court orders that include conduct issues at roundups. We have gained rulings against public land closures and a massive ruling on First Amendment issues. We have stopped roundups and gained orders against improper decision records.
Our daily reporting on roundups, and our follow up on holding facilities, brought intense scrutiny. Media outlets around the world have used our photos and videos that documented the daily reality of our American wild horse during and after capture. We widely distributed our documentation to other organizations that broadened the audience to that reality. WHE assisted in investigations like the one done by Pulitzer Prize nominee Dave Philipps that uncovered 1700 wild horses going to one kill buyer, Tom Davis, that had familial connects with the former Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar.
Those actions made us very unpopular with those that wanted their actions to remain unknown and unchanged. WHE endured intense campaigns to discredit and undermine our work from multiple factions.
As the “roundup machine” changed, due to court orders and fiscal restraints, so too has the focus of WHE. At this juncture in wild horse management our focus has shifted to on the range practices that include the management of the resource required to sustain wild populations. Only when government agencies create a data based chain of documentation, that includes factors of viability and sustainability, will we have “appropriate management” on the range.
Our range documentation, and exposure of practices that demonstrate a severe lack of accountability to range health, are ongoing. Our documentation is not only used in our work but is (and has been) distributed through channels to organizations that focus on range health and a diversity of species. As our understanding of the multiple mechanisms involved in public land management as a whole broadens, so does our work to preserve habitat to sustain viable wild horse populations.
Transparent and accountable use of a public resource is essential to any effort to achieve “appropriate management.” That statement applies not only to wild horses, but to all those that use public land. That statement appears to be, absurdly, very controversial.
This work has now made us a target for other interests that insist on prioritizing exploitation tactics, namely the livestock interest. Another wave of campaigning to discredit our work through misinformation is underway. WHE is not “extremist animal rights.” WHE is not “anti multiple use.” WHE is certainly not a large, wealthy organization with payrolls like the livestock organizations that are mounting the campaign against us or the “animal rights” organizations we are accused of imitating.
(The above video has been viewed nearly 4 million times and the song title, Is It Bad Enough For You?, has been quoted by Ninth Circuit court Judges as they heard our case)
Our work was key in the push to create the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP) and access to handling at roundups and holding facilities. We had to litigate intensively to get that momentum. The 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRH&B Act) uses the term “humane” no less than seven times. With no policy (for forty years) that defines humane, or has a mechanism for violation, that was an absolute outrage when practices were documented. That documentation was found, under the scrutiny of federal court, to be a valid testament that gained multiple court rulings. The lack of access given to document practices made gaining the documentation used in the fight for a humane handling policy a challenge and increasingly disturbing. Our fight to gain access to handling practices obtained a published opinion from the Ninth Circuit court in our favor on a day when we were held more than a half mile away from a hidden trap in freezing weather. However that fight has lead to a juncture where access to roundup operations, and facilities, will also become a standard protocol. Both of these efforts are still ongoing, but key in the real world progress we are experiencing today.
Many people forget about the relationships with many in the livestock community and contractors that are hired by government agencies to remove wild horses. Those relationships are becoming more and more evident. Tensions have increased as CAWP and access protocols have gone into contract discussions. Essential, defined tools on handling and access are sorely needed by government personnel during operations that contain an already huge workload. Standards must be defined and consistent throughout the program to reduce conflict.
Our work is not confined to the creation of a humane handling policy, although that was our first objective. As our work broadens to create defensible on the range management we have every expectation that attempts to discredit our efforts will intensify.
WHE remains a very small organization. Our work is both limited and achievable by that fact. We are limited by the lack of resource available to a small entity that has very little time to devote to fundraising and networking. Yet our ability to move from escalating issue to issue remains unencumbered by “organization building.” It is an interesting paradox.
WHE will continue to be as an effective force for change as possible. On the range that change can only come through accountable and transparent use of public land. For wild horses that change requires that we adhere to humane management on and off the range, transparent process engaged with integrity to the law and a focus on methodology designed to protect the resource required to sustain our wild horses and burros as a viable use of public land.
Who is Laura Leigh?
Laura Leigh is not a wanted felon, a vegetarian, a trust fund baby, extremist animal rights, a rancher in disguise, a rodeo queen, funded by big oil, funded by BLM, in the witness protection program or any of the other bizarre theories we have been presented with.
Leigh comes from an educational and experiential background that includes animal husbandry, biology, psychology, fine art and even a decade as a professional athlete. Leigh eventually continued studies with a media based focus and gained degrees in video production and animation. That craft gave her the real world experience of overseeing projects with millions of fast moving parts that dealt with mathematics, multiple personalities and creative solutions.
Leigh “walked into” the wild horse arena as a writer working on a series of children’s books. There was one objective, to tell the true story of the Mustangs living on our American landscape. She sold almost everything she had, fit her belongings into the back of an old 1980 pickup and set off.
First becoming a journalist covering the issue for Horseback Magazine, Leigh found the reality of access her first challenge. When access was given, what she witnessed changed her forever.
At her first roundup she says she was confronted by the “absurd.” The government allowed a once a week observation of an operation where a limited number of observers were allowed. Those observers were highly managed and accompanied by a security detail that rivaled a Presidential escort. Competitive advocacy organizations were present that in truth represented very little threat (Leigh was once quoted as saying “Is the government afraid they will break into tears?”). Wild horses were run in biter cold, over frozen ground distances more than ten miles in a relentless chase that saw a helicopter come within ten feet of a young colt lagging behind.
Later in a holding facility, more than 100 miles from the capture site, Leigh saw that colt again. In the biter cold of a Nevada winter the colt was laying on the ground in a pen that had no windbreaks. In the pens next to the colt were other youngsters with bandaged legs hobbling around. She vocalized to the colt on the ground trying to get him to raise his head. When he finally raised his head, for just an instant, his glazed eyes met hers. She asked about the colt and was told he has “ouchy feet,” as others involved in the tour (including the district manager and state public affairs) continued to engage in inane conversation and laughter.
“It made me literally shake inside. I have known horses since my childhood. That baby was dying.”
She named him “Hope Springs Eternal.” That poem summed up how he made her feel. As a human being Leigh is allowed to feel, regardless of the opinions of others.
Leigh was given a run around as she tried to follow up on the condition of the colt. She was told he died two weeks later. However the “documentation” she was given had no intake date, no treatment date, no identifying information on the colt and in no way resembled any veterinary record Leigh had seen before (she worked in wildlife rehab for a time).
“In that moment I was presented with a horrible truth. The wild horse itself was missing from any concept of management. That story I had come to tell, that of the horse, was one I needed to tell above all else. To this day I can see the eyes of that colt clearly in my mind. I know hoof issues well from personal experience and the agony they create. That baby had his feet literally begin to slough (fall off). According to the documentation I was given his treatment consisted of bute (short acting pain killer, equivalent of horse ibuprofen) once every three days. That memory is still a fire that burns in my soul. A powerful government agency funded by the tax payer stood by and allowed that kind of suffering and then tried to justify it with so-called ‘experts.’ It still makes me spit.”
That experience turned Leigh into an unrelenting advocate for wild horses and lead to the birth of Wild Horse Education. There are many stories of the journey that include filing litigation documents as Leigh was being pushed into a CT scan machine after being rear ended by a drunk driver and then appearing in court the next day. The following day Leigh and her companions were chased around the desert by law enforcement as they tried to witness a roundup. But those stories have to wait for another day.
(footnote: Another rumor on the rise is that Leigh “faked” breast cancer and used it to fundraise. Leigh never fundraised using her cancer battle as a platform. Leigh discussed her breast cancer publicly to help others that were struggling with the same challenges she is, fighting cancer while trying to keep your life on track. Those perpetuating this vitriol even went so far as to attack a magazine editor for publishing a story about Leigh’s struggle during “breast cancer month.”)
We hope that answers at least some of the questions we are getting about our organization.
Categories: Wild Horse Education