Wild Horse Education

Volunteer Story, A First Roundup

Video above seen at full zoom, 300 mm. Further enlarged in video editing program.

One of the requirements for any volunteer that signs up with WHE is that they journal. WHE requires a code of conduct, presentation of materials and ongoing engagement protocol as well. These other agreements focus on how to engage (WHE has a long investment in creation of advocating for the horses interests in a myriad of political traps). The journal process helps a new advocate sort through a myriad of personal feelings that can conflict or enhance commitment on the road to developing integrity as an advocate for the wild horse.

At Reveille WHE had two newcomers in tow; one a volunteer and one an independent film maker.

note from Leigh: “Sometimes I feel like the doctor that has told ten thousand people they have an illness and require surgery. We can all become a bit desensitized to how the things we see almost every day appear to those that experience it for the first time. Periodically walking new people through the experience keeps me from that desensitization. Both of my passengers were engaged for reasons rooted in personal passions. Much of this journey for me has been experienced alone, shared only by the words and pictures I post online. I am honored they shared the road with me.”

Wild Horse Education Reveille observation, click here

revefebday4_marie-1Volunteer Journal from Reveille 2017 (Yes, it is long. It is the personal experience of an American citizen and mustang owner, in her words)

“My Eyes Have Seen,” Marie Milliman (part one)

God is watching, every trap, on private or public land, with or without public attendance, every excessive or abusive action, every act of kindness and compassion, the degradation of our public lands and the horse bearing the atrocity of the burden. The eyes of God see all.

My desire to witness my first round up developed from a deep personal offense, photos of my Grace’s round up, horses and barbed wire. Photos of Grace’s (who was not even a year old yet), “sisters and “brothers” of whom I could specifically identify as I matched a copy of her round up roster to the photos by Laura Leigh, from Owyhee 2012. Reality hit me hard, to see the faces of her herd mates with their identities so well defined, and now it was deeply personal.

Initially, I thought that I could not mentally “cowgirl up” to observe a live roundup of wild horses. The thought of their fearful eyes, the uncertainty of their fate, their sorrow from the division of their families, and for some, the eyes of pain from injuries, and the unnecessary deaths that occur was not on my bucket list. This poignant moment of reality is now added to my top ten- list of defining moments in my life.

Now I languish over my keyboard with the enormity of my one shot at my first words to share my only “first round up” I will experience in my lifetime.

Polite people along the way would ask where I was going, and why I was going to Tonopah, Nevada? I simply replied that I was going to see wild horses. The most common response was a very perplexing question, of which they would enthusiastically ask: are you going to round them up? It appears, to many lay persons that a round up should surprisingly be, fun and exciting.

The truths involved in the degrading history and mismanagement of our beloved icons of the American West have been misrepresented. The reduction of the designated wild horses rights as a resource vs. the mans, self assigned “rights” of this lands uses and greed, is too infrequently considered or accurately communicated. I am locked in my sorrow of the loss of their freedom, my anger to the loss of their faithfully earned rights, and the loss of it due to man’s rapacity. I search deep within for validation: If our historic contributors, the horses, are so mistakenly or negligibly considered, then what or how does anything fold in to the pride of our heritage?


Marie’s “first shot,” after editing and enlarging

Day 1: While driving to the gather area, I observed a group of wild horses naively grazing on their homeland, Reveille HMA. Reality harshly invades my admiration and reminds me that for most, these are their last hours of freedom that they have dutifully earned and legally been awarded. As the sun rises higher in the sky, I will soon hear the first helicopter with the intent to drive them to a trap, be loaded in to a trailer, transported to a temporary holding area, assessed, processed, and with no choice in their fate, either hauled off to Ridgecrest holding facility, or by the “grace” of BLM parameters, released back to their homelands.

We have been informed that our observation area is “optimal”. As we hike to our approved viewing area, I am sadly disappointed. The draw that the horses will be forced to travel through is a minimum of a mile to the Northeast, with no trap in sight.

I have installed my game face early in the day, and included a prayer for the horse’s safety. I am here to do a job, to observe, hold accountable, and afterwards, create suggestions for the handling of our beloved wild ones. My job is now reduced to the extent of how far my lens will reach, and what mysteries lay in the trap.

As the helicopter brings the first group, my heart remains surprisingly steady, at this point I am more attentive with how the horses are managed than my emotions. (“Do now, feel later.” Laura said to make that my mantra).

Thirty Two lives are “gathered” for the day, and the herd of which their community was built on, and the lands that they have evolved and served on, has betrayed them. Round ups are a symbol of the failure and mismanagement of our icons.


Sunset, a moment to reflect

On our drive back to the hotel, we spy some horses in the Stone Cabin HMA, home to my Hallelujah. It is a sacred experience to stand on the ground where she was born, raised, gave birth to her own Stone Cabin baby, and then rounded up. There are two grey mares and a grey stallion, like ghosts in the setting sun they move up the hill, and the stallion pauses at the top of the hill and looks back at us, as if at the end of a movie, surreal….. (Thank you Laura Leigh)


Waiting to see if the days operation will include capture after a critical accident, Marie pays tribute to the horses from the area that include one of hers.

Day two: My fortitude is my power and my will is my engine to dedicate my energy to their survival. I revere of my Hallelujah and Grace back home, and my heart longs to be with them, to tell them I understand more about the process that they have endured. While parallel is my desire to campaign for their origin, families, homelands and the plight of the wild ones, it is a two edged sword.

Our observation point is pitifully the same as yesterday. I want to commemorate this experience to include Hallelujah and Grace back home. With pieces of lava rock, I “write” their names in the snow. I then realize that in commemoration of them, I should also include ALL wild horses and herds, past and present. In my best effort to symbolize them, I “sprinkle” larger lava rocks around the names of my girls.

The first group is pushed to the mysterious trap. If only I could see them better from my inadequate camera lens, or for a better description, from my inadequate viewing point. Forty six additional souls are captured today, and we are informed that the trap will be moved for tomorrow.


Day one, slip and fall

Meanwhile, each day we have been observing the processing of the horses in temporary holding. I concentrate on the snow laden, icy unloading area and alleyway. The horses are slipping as they come off the trailer, and back up in to the gate that separates them from their herd mates and leads to the chute.


Slip and fall

This is my job, to document how this entire process could be safer for the horses, while Laura Leigh and WHE work for improvements to CAWP, Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy that is included in each round up contract and established by WHE and their legal efforts, thank you. I inquire on our walk around (after operations are completed for the day, you have an opportunity to view closer to the pens) with BLM staff how the footing could be improved, this folks is engaging the process, the valid work to establish better conditions for our wild ones. While pea gravel has been placed in these areas, with the snow and ice, it is not effective. For my written recommendations I will submit my photos as evidence and suggest an alternative footing, wood chips as suggested by Laura Leigh (pea gravel will freeze in and under and becomes slick itself, wood chips break down and create a surface with more friction when it refreezes), my guide with a heart bigger than all of these public lands combined.


Baby in crowded alley with gate shut behind. Baby can not back up.

The handling of the horses is accomplished primarily with flags, or grocery bags on the end of a whip. I recall in my initial work with my girls, that these were “introduced” after some less invasive forms of desensitization. I realize that the contractor does not have the time to desensitize each horse, and just as I am contemplating this, a miracle occurs.


Incredible fighter that Marie eventually sees released at the end of operations

A handler with a baseball cap on, and no whip in his hand, simply removes his cap, waves it behind the horse, and the horse moves forward quietly. Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Another point to attempt a solution oriented comment, and translate in to my recommendations.

The real work, my camera for photos of evidence, and thoughts for solutions, this is where the gravel hits the road. I prefer to concentrate my efforts for solutions, as opposed to “advertising”, that bring us even farther away from core solutions.

My determination motivates me, my resolve to create solutions fuels me, my passion ignites my soul, and my love for the wild ones is infinite.
To be continued…..
Marie Milliman
Wild Horse Education Volunteer

Marie stayed until the end of operations, days after other “observers” left and the studio camera too. She will complete her journal entries soon.

We hope by sharing these experiences that you can see through human eyes and feel our “guidance” to help take whichever of the myriad of issues that effect our wild ones from personal interest and passion, into an action to effect change, for the wild ones.


Marie was with us at the release. A long journey but she stayed until the end. More from Marie soon about her experience.

Help us stay in the fight to speak for the voice in process often  overlooked, our wild horses.


Categories: Wild Horse Education