Wild Horse Education

Roundup Journal; Volunteer Entry

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The gift of seeing a wild horse

On November 15th the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began the Fox Lake and Range removal operation of wild horses in Nevada. You can read the daily reports posted by Wild Horse Education (WHE) at the time of the operation by CLICKING HERE.

WHE is the only organization to ever litigate against inhumane treatment at roundups. After multiple court rulings we now have a humane handling policy that is under revision. We observe to create reports to engage revisions to the policy and to report directly to the public each and every day of operations. 

We have a rigid checklist for our volunteers. Only twice in the last decade have we sent a volunteer to a roundup without our founder. In order to appropriately engage, for the best interest of the horse, you need to understand the physical terrain, the history and politics as well as the internal psychological journey of yourself. If you do not understand each piece engagement, “for the horse,” could be impaired.

Our founder had to be in conference on legislative issues and volunteer Marie Milliman had traveled to a roundup last February. The demands were not unfamiliar to her. Last winter she documented  a roundup and watched our founder craft reports, send legal documents to gain access, file reports for the public, edit photos, engage a member of the media and juggle legal threats from the BLM contractor; Marie knew this was not just “taking pictures.”

Marie made the commitment to go to Fox Lake and Range and send a report daily. She made the commitment to be the eyes and ears of the public until the last horse was transported from the range.

One of the requirements we have for our volunteers is to journal each day. It helps us to help them navigate the obstacles to becoming an effective advocate, in the moment, when you are faced with politics, physical hardship and your own internal voice. WHE is building an effective and educated team to engage the multiple aspects of range management. 

Below is Marie’s journal entry from the entire trip. You can read the daily reports here. Marie is now being coached on how to craft her “after operation review” for submission to BLM. Marie has also become a regular contributor to Natural Horse Magazine on behalf of our wild horses and burros.

This is a glimpse into Marie’s personal journey. At WHE there is a running joke about “haunted CD players.” At every operation our CD players in the vehicles refuse to play certain songs but will play the same couple of tunes over and over. Marie played on that with “Stairway to Heaven,” click the text to listen and read to see how her mind interpreted the text. Join Marie on her first “solo flight.”

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All That Glitters is NOT Gold, Stairway to Captivity

by Marie Milliman

For three days the green ramp to the semi -truck would not vanish from my eyes, to me it symbolized their very last steps of freedom.   As I started the engine to leave on the last day of the operation, the last four words of a song played on the radio; ”the stairway to heaven”.

Heaven is not what the wild horses green stairway leads to, it is eternal captivity. My frustrations of the four days of operations were now defined by my sleep deprived drive off the range on the final day of capture and the four words that played on the radio.

This journey began with just five days notice; Laura Leigh, Wild Horse Education’s “range rat” and founder, had just been notified she needed to be in conference on legislation issues going on in DC. She needed to be in conference and there might not be service at the trap. “There’s a feeling I get, When I look to the west, And my spirit is crying for leaving”.

Laura said I should get some rest, as I need to be her to document and observe the handling and capture of the heartbeats of the west. 

I had written in my journal, Am I enough?  I could not possibly be her. ”There’s a sign on the wall, But she wants to be sure”, can I represent our wilds effectively? The weight of responsibility is daunting, but I am empowered to have her by my side, in spirit, and just as importantly, remotely for advice and guidance.

“All you need to do is text or call and I can guide you,” Laura told me in the parking lot of a coffee shop. She gave me field equipment, recording devices and a run down on what to watch for. I can take the burden off your shoulders of editing photos and writing a report, I just need to be at these meetings”.


Day one

Observation, day one; “In a tree by the brook, There’s a songbird who sings, Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving”. The misgiving is confirmed, as we are approximately a mile and a half from the trap, and can not see “processing” of wild horses. With media members present there are six public observers on the first day. I have been to a roundup once before with Laura and know that as the days go by and the TV cameras leave, I will be the sole observer at the end of operations.

Discussions are overheard throughout the day; “ ‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings”.  With ominous weather, 96 wilds were loaded into standard stock trailers and shuttled to Semi-Trucks somewhere over the rainbow (out of sight). 

I am optimistic for a more realistic observation area to more effectively document the Humane Handling of them tomorrow. I know Laura is already writing to BLM State and National, I texted her, with WHE’s strong litigation record on First Amendment sitting with me on the range and we are a team, engaged.

The body score and condition of the horses at the time of capture remains obscure. We were granted an opportunity to view the trap once the last of the wilds were hauled away.  Padding remains on just one of three of the overhead bars; “Ooh, it makes me wonder, Ooh, it makes me wonder”.

Padding on the overheads was one of the things on our checklist. WHE is the only organization to litigate against inappropriate conduct at roundup operations. After 5 years of relentless pursuit through litigation, we now have a humane handling policy. The policy is still in a revision phase and one of the main functions of observation at the trap is to work toward more effective ways to minimize injury and monitor adherence to current protocols. I know this is my main purpose at this roundup, not to just take a photo.


Day One

Observation, day two; A new trap site has been chosen and I have been clearly warned last night, and this morning, that operations are questionable due to winds and rain for today’s operation. I was told we could drive all the way out, sit for a few hours and then have operations called off.

I am the sole voice for the “Wilds” today, the sole observer, the media cameras are gone. “In my thoughts I have seen, Rings of smoke through the trees, And the voices of those who stand looking”. Discussions ensue about the inability to observe the wild horses at the time of capture from yesterday. Included in this discussion is the absence of a short term holding/processing area to assess the Wilds and the BLM’s choice to directly transport the horses to a private off range corral, closed to the public.

Meanwhile back at WHE headquarters, Laura is once again firmly communicating with appropriate contacts on how this can be resolved. Hence the hashtag title penned on WHE’s website of that day #FirstAmendment has no expiration date. It appears those conversations made some progress. The horses captured will be viewed in holding and we will work on a more appropriate observation area at the trap. However observation of trapped wild horses wont happen for weeks “to accommodate those from out of state.”  https://wildhorseeducation.org/2017/11/17/blm-to-announce-facility-tour-the-first-amendment-has-no-expiration-date/  “When she gets there she knows, If the stores are all closed, With a word she can get what she came for”.

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Observation, day three; I have been awake as of 3:30 AM, the task of gaining a surveillance point to better view the wild ones at the time of capture will be an ongoing discussion point this morning.  I’m apprehensive and can not stay asleep.

My sense of providing a vague sort of protection and responsibility to the wild horses, and the public waiting for a daily glimpse of the capture of the horses they love, is overpowering. The previously approved observation area has been discussed with her (Laura) and I have notes on my phone for reference, I feel like a strange version of Cyrano. “And it’s whispered that soon, If we all call the tune, Then the piper will lead us to reason”. The BLM Wild Horse and Burro Specialist agrees to accommodate our (Laura and I) request and we hike a short distance to an area that provides an improved view of the trap and wings and approximately a quarter mile away from it. I am, once again, the only public observer. I stand alone, but not alone.

The contractor is utilizing two helicopters today, and I am noting the times of the seizure of each group, and at what time they are coerced into the Semi-truck trailers. Keeping the time log for the data base compiled by WHE is part of my checklist. I surmise due to the long distance of travel that is required to drive the wild horses to the trap, the progress is slow. I note that the last group was detained at 12:33 and the truck is loaded at 12:47.

No time is given to the wild horses to settle down after the run. Something that needs to be addressed in the WHE report. I noted; truck out, lots of noise from the trailer; “Ooh, it makes me wonder, Ooh, it really makes me wonder,” (what is happening to the agitated horses and are there any injuries?).

The next two groups are larger and by 2:32 the remaining horses for the day are pushed into the trap. My escorts are prepared to leave when the gate is secured.However they do oblige to my request to stay for loading; we don’t leave until the last horse does. “And a new day will dawn, For those who stand long”.

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The contractor immediately attempts to load this last group.The stallions are crowded in the chute leading to the green ramp, they hectically oppose. Two of the magnificent stallions valiantly try to leap over the side panels of the chute; “if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, Don’t be alarmed now”. By 2:49, all of the Wilds have walked the green ramp; “Your stairway lies on the whispering wind” and the operation is complete for the day. I note; Why don’t they let them settle? I need to remember to ask how to put that in our operation review.

On the drive back to town I am gifted with the site of two free bachelor stallions and on the opposite side of the road, three wild burros. I think there will never be a day, in fact I pray there will never be a day that I will not revel in the sight of a wild horse, or burro; “And the forests will echo with laughter”.

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I send off my photos to Laura who will edit and get them out to the public while I find food and a hot shower and get to bed. I wonder how Laura has done this for so many years; get up at 4, document the roundup, fight to observe, edit photos and video, get a report out to the public every single day, and find any time to eat or sleep.

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Observation, day 4; I have once again been unable to sleep past 3:30 AM; “Your head is humming and it won’t go, In case you don’t know”. It is really hard to relax and I feel the weight of a sensation of being inadequate to this task.

My photos are not focused from yesterday, and I am on the balcony of my hotel taking pictures at 4:00. Laura walked me through some camera tips last night. With determined roots of love for the wild horses, I strive to bring them justice, and to not fail them. This is not easy.

By 8:32 an initial group of wild horses are now entrapped. This morning dawned frigidly, with the clearer weather and the steam emanating from their majestic bodies is both piteous and enraging. I left the temperature and wind gauge in the motel room. I do not know what the ambient temperature is, but it is so cold that the exertion of the run causes steam in the morning air. Once again I am the only observer at the trap.

Charles Portis from the movie True Grit wrote;  “You must pay for everything in this world, one way or another. There is nothing free except the grace of God”.  Our wild horses pay the price for so many things. By 10:41 the last of this group is impounded, and they begin loading at 10:56; “It’s just a spring clean for the May queen”.

By 11:07 a fully loaded Semi-truck and trailer is forsaking their freedom, and another noisy trailer is disappearing from sight. WHY DON’T THEY LET THEM SETTLE? I’m pretty certain at this juncture you can guess this will be a prominent point in a report to be submitted by WHE for after action review.  WHE chooses the path of change; “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, But in the long run, There’s still time to change the road you’re on”.

I can only presume that the number of horses is sparse by this time, as it requires an additional two hours of two helicopters in the air to “produce” a final seven horses. I inquired what the range of distance was and was informed it was seven miles. That explains the time lapses and steamy horses in the morning. Hiking back to the vehicles, I am emotionally exhausted and feeling so “empty” for not having inspected the horses any closer than a quarter of a mile.“And it makes me wonder”.

Once again, I am gifted with a more intimate site of the Wilds. But, this time it is the contractor that has the last seven horses in a stock trailer, as the total number of horses did not warrant the hulking size of a Semi-truck and trailer. I was fortunate to intercept them prior to reaching the freeway. I rejoiced to be within a reasonable distance to distinguish their faces. Note of safety; * Do not attempt to photograph horses in a moving trailer while driving with a zoom lens on your camera, objects are further away than they appear, and the sensation of being up close is alarming*. I prayed that he would stop for gas before he entered the freeway, and fortuitously he did. I took photos of the horses in the parking lot, and experienced the joy and relief to see the Wilds up close.

I discovered in my frantic efforts to photograph them, a one eared baby in the back of the trailer. At Laura’s suggestion I awarded this special baby with a name, a name that is borne from The Battle Hymn just as my “girls” are; Glory, Hallelujah and Grace. 

I proudly present Hero to you in hopes that he/she, or any of the tens of thousands in holding facilities will be adopted and find love with a devoted guardian. Hero was transported to the Indian Lakes/Broken Arrow Facility on 11/18/17 from the Fox and Lake Round Up: contact 775-475-2222 and ask for John Neill as suggested by Jeremy Wilhelm from Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Center. Hero should be easy to identify with only his/her one ear. Or, you can search here: https://www.blm.gov/adoptahorse/

I dedicate these words and experience to the founder of Wild Horse Education, Laura Leigh. In closing I also present to you the last words of this iconic song, on behalf of our iconic horses with some minor amendments in bold;

“The piper’s calling you to join him, Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, And did you know, Your stairway lies on the whispering wind, And as we wind down the road, Our shadows taller than our soul, There walks a lady we all know, Who shines white light and wants to show, How everything can still turn to gold, And if you listen very hard, The tune will come to you at last, When all are one and one is all, To be a rock and not to roll, And she’s advocating for their stairway to freedom”.

I am grateful to be a part of the journey of this organization.


Main website: http://WildHorseEducation.org

Without support WHE can not keep teams in the field, at roundups and engaged in litigation and legislation. Thank you for being a part of this journey.


Categories: Wild Horse Education