Journaling is a requirement for all Wild Horse Education volunteers. We ask that each day thoughts and observations be kept in a journal and then a review process occur to see how your thoughts and ability to observe change, how you change, through experience.
Volunteers join us for multiple experiences. A first roundup can be life changing as you sit at a moment that can be highly emotionally charged and physically challenging. WHE provide a safe framework for participation and background on the framework the horses live in. We discuss both the details surrounding the event and the larger picture. Navigating this moment can create an effective advocate or demonstrate an inability to balance between personal needs and agenda, that can hinder and not enhance, the changes that must be made for the wild horse.
We welcome Marie Milliman to the ranks of WHE volunteers that have renewed a deep commitment to making the changes in the physical world for the horses as she navigates her inner landscape. (Yes, we know this is a long read. But that’s Marie and she is doing a heartfelt and deep inventory).
Part one can be read here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2017/02/15/volunteer-story-a-first-roundup/
My Eyes Have Seen (Part 2)
As those of you who have attempted to document an emotionally charged circumstance are aware, with that comes a purpose and a responsibility; a responsibility to improve the victim’s circumstance and a responsibility to share the experience. My goal is to present you with a glimpse of one involved human heart and the horses’ experience. Somehow scrape away at least some of the calluses which have inevitably formed on those who are directly involved in the decision to undertake, and ultimately conduct, wild horse gathers. I am fully aware they each have a job to do, but I also hope they will join me and others in developing a solution of which we can all be proud. I also pose a question: Is our humanity and environment being sacrificed on the altar of wealth for a select few?
Follow your passion; it will lead you to your purpose ~ Oprah
If you read part 1 of this article, published on February 15, 2017, I shared my first impressions of a person with a sense of duty to witness my first “gather”. Although I’m blessedly not naive or egotistical enough to imagine I’m telling a story which has not already been told, I do hope my voice on behalf of them will add another grain of sand in the hourglass of their right to live wild; that seeing them through my eyes might move you to help make a difference; that in this struggle you too, might find purpose. In this, part 2, it is my goal to give some voice to my like-minded soldiers. It is also my intent to share a glimpse into the dire experience endured by these revered (by most) horses and make an effort to “speak” for them.
Day three – Reveille 2017
We have been observing for two days and have as yet only observed the process from the previous (inadequate) gather viewing point and the temporary holding area, excluding any views of the trap.
The trap has been moved and placed at a new location, and we have a “seat at the table” from which to view it (my guide knew where we were going and said this view should offer me a chance to see, unless our position had been changed from the last time she was there). Our vantage point, offers us a limited view of the approach, and not much of the “wings.” Thoughts of my Hallelujah and Grace reinforce my indomitable spirit and determination to help the still-wild mustangs – this makes it tolerable. I have a job to do, and I am determined to do it with the grace, intelligence and dignity these horses deserve.
Today I will observe and document the horses at the trap; from here, I will experience another aspect of the process which has brought me here to my destiny. Internally I cannot justify how this process can even exist – why, “they” (a privileged few) can reap profits at the expense of our public lands and tax-paying citizens. America was settled on the backs of these amazing creatures. Now “They” are denying a fundamental element of our heritage the well-earned right to survive as they should – in the wild, managed in a reasonable and humane manner.
The first run is coming in and I choose not to view it from my camera lens. I want to honor their plight and try to take in the full scene. I want to try to see the “experience” through their eyes; it is these eyes I want so desperately, and am determined to help. As the Judas horse does its job, as horses can be so faithfully depended upon to do, we see the wilds following behind. They are led by the Judas and pushed by humans into the trap, the gate is closed – their fate is sealed.
For most of these horses, this is the first human contact they have ever experienced – they have been trapped by and are now in the hands of a predator (Laura tells me these horses get rounded up with more frequency than other areas). Their worst fears have just been realized; their status as prey is irrevocably established. As we watch, the horses are pushed further into the trap and a snow fence is hastily added – elevating their panic and further obscuring our view (as precisely captured by Laura Leigh’s camera lens. “If the snow fencing is a critical part of the trap in those areas it should not be put up after the horses are driven in, but before. I find it disturbing that portion of snow fence was only added as one of the cameras of an observer was set at an angle that could see in. I’ll show you what I mean back at the room, snow fencing is not always at that portion of the trap.”).
As I related in part 1, “flags” (plastic grocery bags attached to the end of a whip) and “rockers” (resemble a plastic oar with rocks in it to make noise) are utilized to keep them moving them through – both elements adding yet another layer of fear to their already terrifying experience. Horses are ruled by a “fight or flight” instinct for survival, but from within these confines, they can do neither. From my resolve comes the strength to restrain myself from the visceral desire to fly down the hill and open the gate so they may return to their homeland, families, and the native life they have known. They are now reduced to whatever fates these humans and the rushed processes have in store.
45 spirits lost their freedom today, and my heart is aching…
We return to our hotel after having lost the other observers earlier in the day, they left before the last horses were even loaded.
I wonder, what is the strict definition of Reveille? Reveille simply means, “wake up.”
Day 4 – Reveille 2017
We arrive at the trap site viewing area, and “negotiate” for a better view of the wings and trap. Even though we have moved laterally only approximately 50-75 feet on the hillside, our view is improved and today should be the conclusion of the gather process (Laura said this is where she was able to sit at the last operation in the area as the sole observer. Today there wee only two of us and we were allowed to move). I’m relieved for the horses that an end of this process is in sight, and grieve for the herd that is being decimated before my eyes. I feel a deepening sense of responsibility to expose and campaign for each remarkable horse that passes in front of my mournful eyes. Does the word wild, not evoke an admiration of their survival and the freedom for its continuation? Perhaps the trap isn’t really something I wish to see after all.. But I must.
My purpose and resolve is growing. Are we not meant to be culpable for the horses, wildlife, and the land they stand on? And, as a result of that which in turn sustains our survival? Essentially, it comes down to self- preservation; one does not sink the boat on which they are sailing, nor do they poison the water on which it floats. I will tenaciously seek the intelligence and fortitude to aid and achieve priority and equality for all of the above.
When the horses make an attempt to dodge the direction the chopper is pushing them, I want so fiercely for them to succeed. As I hope for their escape from the tragedy of the trap that is within sight, I also realize how much more fatigue and strain they will experience in the escape process. Steadying myself against an internal war and remorse, I will them to go to the trap – my heart is scourged.
28 hearts are captured today; 151 total.
Ultimately, two horses are euthanized; a mare with a baby at her side, and a stallion. I say a prayer and apologize for the circumstances leading up to their last breath. I silently vow, “I will be your eyes and tell your story. I will stay the distance, and honor you in your absence.”
Day 5- Reveille 2017 RELEASE
On an ordinary day, this would be an opportunity to celebrate and appreciate their freedom and beauty in its entirety. While I am relieved for the “chosen few” to be released, I am despondent of the ones left behind to a captive life, never again to taste freedom. They will be jailed for never having committed a crime, never awarded a fair trial or an unbiased jury. It is cold and windy with intermittent sleet and rain. But, at the discretion of the weather we are moderately compensated with a rainbow…
(note from Leigh: At this point the emotional and physical endurance required was weighing hard on Marie. The weather during the release was raining, sleeting and windy. We were gifted with an incredible rainbow. To her credit she struggled through her personal discomfort and physical pain and documented the release, she did not stay at the motel or go home. A lot of people never express their physical struggle. One observer from another organization that was there a couple of days fell after a steep climb and needed help to stand back up. A (male) observer from another organization has repeatedly texted me from roundups asking that I come because he is actually frightened. To be nonreactive and aware, for the sake of reporting to engage, is not easy and there is no shame in saying so. ).
On my drive home from the airport, my friend Kay said to me, “you realize this journey began that day in the barn”.
No additional words were necessary between two friends who have repeatedly shared the sacred experience of loss. Kay was there in the barn with me shortly after my beloved Player (horse) had taken his dying breath. It was the enormous and shocking loss of him which triggered my journey and gave me my motivation to finally act on my long-standing desire to adopt a Mustang. I yearned to experience the privilege of being the first human to create a bond with a wild horse. Little did I know, my selfish motivation would give birth to a new “life’s purpose.”
Laura forewarned me of the magnitude of emotions that would erupt once I had returned home. As I review my photos and hit the forward button through my action shots, it resembles a video, bringing the experience back-to-life. I finally sob.
I email Laura to tell her the flood gates have opened, here was her reply: “I always want people to write and edit, it helps get the experience digested. It also gives you an idea of what it is to create a report, pictures, and then litigate. If we had to litigate, all of this would have had to be done before the roundup ended and a court case written on it. Afterwards we create a report that address any issues noted, without emotional footnotes, to help address flaws in process. You need to work through this. Your emotions can help strengthen you, but they wont help in the document or engaging process. Remember the ‘do now, feel later?’ Now is the time to feel. If you get through it, you will be stronger for them.”
Beyond my current abilities, but I aspire to “up” my game.
As I continue to review the photos I attempt to delete the “not so good” ones, and in the 2264 frames still to review, there are many. In the end, I could not actually hit the delete button on any of them – it was as if I was eliminating the reality of each horse’s existence for eternity. Each and every one of their faces has a story, a heartbeat, a soul, a family, and a life they will never know again. I save all the pictures but I remain despondent of my inability to save them – the horses.
As I enlarge each and every photo, the details to which I was oblivious “in the moment” catch me off guard. I grieve and my anger increases, the pictures speak an immeasurable number of words. I feel guilty for admiring their magnificence from a time when they are in such dire circumstances. An unremarkable photograph of a loaded trailer when enlarged, reveals that the baby at the head of the trailer is actually biting the slat of the door. A friend asked me, how can I cope with their eyes? The answer is the strength of my purpose; it’s the determination to help those eyes that makes it bearable.
It was a privilege to experience my first round up with a compassionate woman who has witnessed more wild horse removals than any other person since 2010, someone who didn’t just take pictures but took this to court and won.Our group had a very talented and insightful independent film maker that I will never forget. Some call Laura “cold” or difficult to understand. I now have an understanding of who she is, who I am, and who our amazing wild horses are; that I did not have prior to this experience. Both of my fellow travelers were encouraging and inspiring. – I thank you.
I also want to thank people in my life for their support. My gratitude for your love and support: Monique, John, Kay, Louis, Ginny, Rosie, Sherry, and Stitch the Donkey Hauler.
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