Wild Horse Education

Context; Roundup Editorial #wildhorses #publiclands Nerd Notes

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This photo posted in an album has created more attention than we thought it would. Several people have contacted us asking how to adopt, wanting to know where this horse is and concerned. We did comment that this horse was “ok” after this incident occurred. We do not know the location of this horse, if it was released or sent to PVC (short term holding). From temporary holding to PVC is about 200 miles. We will check the facility when we can. We will ask BLM. However please be aware that we travel hours each day, work 14-18 hour days. We deal with trying to gain access to see anything that is meaningful, to provide you with information that is meaningful. We try as hard as we can. It’s not easy.

context [kon-tekst]

noun (from Dictionary.com)
1. the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.
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Owyhee Palomino arrives at the temporary holding facility after capture. The black stud has taken a dominant role in the stud pen keeping the others back. Yet he continues his role as band stallion, the leader, and checks on every single horse offloaded from the range. We watched him, the black,  engage in this behavior for days.

Short article on the deaths at Owyhee included at the end of this piece. Scroll down, or read down, to find the text in bold. 
Context, EDITORIAL, Laura Leigh
Over the last decade I have spent an extraordinary amount of time writing about wild horses and public lands; articles, blogs, field reports, litigation. The purpose of the vast majority of this writing is creation of a more effective advocacy. Writing will often convey a personal journey of research, discovery and action presented with the intention of allowing others to learn from that experience.
I spend a lot of time presenting context. 
One of the issues vacant in managing wild horses is the absence of context. EXAMPLE: “Wild horses have no food and must be removed,” with an added “there is no livestock grazing present in this area.”  Yet the context is set over decades by federal land managers allowing  “this place was trashed by having far too many cows on the range and it turned into a field of noxious weeds, cheat grass and nobody grazes livestock here anymore.”
Instead the area will be presented to forward a political agenda of “blame the horse.” The media eats it up because it sounds logical, presented by someone with a government insignia on a shirt. But in context, the wild horses are being blamed for decades of bad grazing practices, removed and then sit as a political agenda pushes to repeat the past instead of addressing the failed grazing program. Just shoot the wild horses or send the horses to slaughter; it’s a lot easier than fixing anything and can make political allies.
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As a gate is closed a horse gets frightened and backs up in the alley pushing the palomino back and up. Owyhee horses can be tall. The overheads do not allow the horse to simply slide back. The gates narrow, slightly, that section of the alley. With these larger horses that can create a bottleneck. This is not a horse panicking and trying to escape, this horse simply has no space, was just captured and is trying to “figure it out.” Maybe more attention needs to be made to make sure these larger horses at Owyhee go through these gates one at a time or widen the gate? This was a common spot for this type of “hang up.”

The example used above is common of a lack of context repeated incessantly. Places like the Dolly Varden area in the Antelope Complex do have issues, but they are presented out of context. Without context? We repeat the past, marvel that we are back in crisis. Just tell the truth, the whole truth.

Public land management is an historic mess ruled by politics, not facts.

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Out of space the horse continues to be pushed back by the horse in the alley as that horse responds to the pressure of the humans in front of it. His front legs get pushed against the railing, this is now getting dangerous.

But context works both ways if progress is to be made.

When I won cases against abusive practices at roundups I did not create a meme for social media that said “We stopped abuse.” I explained each case in painstaking detail. I told you we would need to litigate again to get policy change. I explained why.

When we litigated again and again and finally got that policy change I did not claim the events in those cases would never happen again, nor did I claim we would never have to litigate again.

Creating an enforcement protocol for a law that, as an example, enforces illegal car theft does not stop car theft.

In almost 50 years the BLM had no humane handling policy;  just assertion and intention. A policy exists today that can be engaged to make it stronger, but that requires vigilance in context.

Not a great fundraising campaign is it?

But it is progress. It is the context in which progress can continue. Without the context the ability to progress disappears.

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As the palomino continue to be crowded his legs slip through the rails. At this point you start to hold your breath and hope someone at the chute sees it. If the black stud gets “studdy” this could become a real tragedy fast.

At this juncture it is important to remember not only the context of federal land management and the politics that it caters to, but our own context as an advocacy.

Remember Velma, “Wild Horse Annie?” She fought her entire life to obtain federal jurisdiction for our wild horses on public lands. She lived a reality every single day that illustrated the devastating consequence of state or local jurisdictions controlled by the financial and political powerhouses of her day, the livestock industry. She saw waterholes poisoned to kill off herds. She saw the brutal practice of mustanging first hand.

Her mission is realized in the intention of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burros Act.

In the 70’s many environmental intentions were created that include the Environmental Protection Act (EPA). Those intentions were engaged and strengthened on the slow stairway of progress (today we face a political landslide aimed at destroying it all).

But the Wild Horse and Burros Act was not walked up the slow stairs of progress. In fact the changes to the Act went in the opposite direction. The deep and complicated frame of land management was not engaged by advocacy after Velma’s death, it was engaged by those that resented federal authority. Velma was angry when she died about the competitive business “advocacy” had become.

To learn more of the context of this section on Velma you can read an “Apology” editorial here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2016/03/09/velma-johnstonthoughts/

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Yet both horses stay incredibly calm. In reviewing the full line up of stills, and fast video clips, at one point the black almost appears to push his muzzle slightly on the shoulder of the big palomino. I begin to exhale a bit… and hope someone at the chute finally realizes what is happening.

Today there are so many layers of context that I could sit at a computer and simply type nonstop each day and not even be able to give you the full context of each experience; past, present, people, place, circumstance.

In a word fueled by social media content, context is often vacant. It appears to be something people do not seem to want. If you present context that counters the impression someone has because they saw a meme, often made by someone far from the reality of the experience, you risk outright attack.

More on context in media: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2016/03/14/todays-media-and-wild-horses-entertainment-or-information/

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Watching the two horses you can see the black move, people are moving in his direction. He moves off.

Recently at the Eagle roundup we released a video of a mare run as she aborted or gave birth. Those circumstances sit in context of the days preceding at that trap, the same horses run multiple times each day, contract staff, BLM staff, history. The context of that video is not just the one 40 minute run condensed. (click here: warning, disturbing content)

What happened there was wrong. It was wrong on more levels than I can type in a paragraph, or even twelve paragraphs.

But on social media the images were stolen, presented out of context, hijacked for fundraising by another org and attacked by those that simply want to play a team sport social circle and defend any action taken by BLM. Polarization of issues is more intense than ever.

It gets exhausting.

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Staff moved in very slowly, opened the gate so the other horse could move through. The palomino remained extremely calm.

I have done this for ten years. I have litigated the issues at roundups, the only person in history to do it. I was given status to testify on protocol, not just specifics, as I have attended more days than any living public observer, or government COR, in the last ten years. That status is usually reserved only for government personnel. That is my context. Like it or not, it’s just a fact. WHE is a specialized organization devoted to free roaming horses under federal jurisdiction. Part of that specialization is the work done to gain a humane handling policy.

At a roundup I am not debating justification for removal, that conversation ends the second the helicopter hits the air. In that moment the only thing, the only thing, that matters is the safety of those horses.

At a roundup litigation can involve underlying issues and current issues. It gets complicated and has a unique context. When litigating, that debate surrounds the context of law. It can address current actions in a broad or narrow scope dependent on the avenue the law allows.

At a roundup I do not want to hear inane memos repeated from personnel about the program, the area, the public relations nonsense often spoken by someone that has no clue what the name of the plant is they are standing on, the history of the area, past operations or even the wording of any court order. I do not want to hear “parroting.” I also do not want to hear the “team speak” of screaming for clicks on social media.

It gets tiresome. It does not create progress.

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“A horse will follow it’s head.” It’s worth a try. The paddle was used to move the horses head over the rail. It was done slowly, calmly, without fear or rushing.

I am publishing this series of pictures intentionally to illustrate context. In the past I have seen this type of circumstance devolve into chaos. This was not chaotic. There was calm everywhere, even at observation.

This series of photos, without the captions explaining the context in which this was observed, could be presented in multiple ways. For you to understand you need to read them. For you to understand anything you need to read.

But how do you react? You know my context and my history of fighting for a policy. But if I tell you this was handled well do you hate me? Do you appreciate that I know the distinction between an unforeseeable circumstance and preventable circumstance? Do you understand that in the case of an unforeseeable circumstance (accident), how it is addressed is conversation that becomes either “right or wrong?” Changing the circumstance becomes progress.

Do you understand that by pointing out these distinctions during capture it has absolutely nothing to do with any agreement on the justification used for the capture? Do you understand that there are many layers of advocacy?

Stopping a removal starts long before a chopper flies. It is a lot of work often involving deep stacks of paperwork and dry data. Those things do not make great memes.

At a roundup accurate and truthful context creates the basis for any advocacy that will be effective to make the reality the horse experiences safer.

Before a roundup working on data, land use planning and engaging can stop habitat loss, create water improvements, fill in gaps in information, etc to create equitable management that could potentially “stop a roundup.” WHE does that, too.

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The horse slowly put his head back over the rail and the wrangler could likely see the horse was caught up in the gate. He put the paddle down as the other stood near the horse, moving slowly. The big horse did not panic.

At Owyhee I have a history that begins with being threatened with arrest for trying to see horses at temporary holding. I held a court order in my hands that BLM was to do “everything possible to let me see.” I litigated again and again and… on many issues.

Progress has been made. BLM has gotten agreements prior to the start of operations with land owners in the areas that checkerboard parts of this Complex. If capture is on private land, Tuesdays and Thursdays, the public can be there. On other days if capture is on public land, observers can be present on those days.

Communicating clearly and simply is also not a BLM strong point and many of the available opportunities to observe were not prioritized (communicated) and missed. BLM needs to do better. But it is still progress that needs to be built on.

I hold more than one court order at Owyhee, and more in the districts involved in this operation. You do not hold a court order just because you asked for one. You hold them because you worked hard and proved your case in context.

At this operation in 2018 things are not perfect. But I do see progress. I have also presented some observations where improvement is possible. That conversation will move forward.

Recognizing progress at the operation itself in no way implies I agree with the context of the justification. I do not agree. I do not agree that this was planned in any way that represents addressing the flaws in the 2012 EA (pre NAS report of 2013) that were admitted, or equitable to all stakeholders. Making progress in those areas of process is difficult when you can not even get comprehension, in context, of events at a roundup operation.

(The “conversation” involving the mare at Eagle will also move forward. The context that resides in is distinct and will be addressed in all avenues until it comes to appropriate conclusion.)

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The horse is hung up at the gate. The tail appears to be grabbed and the horse can now step backward after it’s hind end is cleared of the obstruction.

Context and the deaths at Owyhee: questions worth asking.

22 wild horses have been euthanized to date at Owyhee. Full list at the bottom of the page. 

“Blue eyes” can be a death sentence. Blue eyes can be more light sensitive and it is hot and sunny at the roundups. If they crash into a panel it does not mean they are blind. Some individuals (humans),  when involved in an operation, can demonstrate a much higher rate of blue eyed, and/or light colored, horses being killed. WHE actually keeps statistics relevant to personnel, this is not conjecture.

There is no true Albino in the equid world. All so-called “albino” horses have pigmented eyes, generally brown or blue. True albinism in mammals means no pigment is present resulting in pinkish eyes. Referencing blue eyed white horses as “albino” is a “old timer” or regional reference.

Calling swollen joints a “defect” during this operation is also a major concern for us at WHE. These horses outran a fire that moved as fast as 35 miles an hour fueled by heavy grassloads. Are these injuries from that run? Is any effort being made to distinguish? In addition there are some environmental toxins present in these HMAs. Were any released during the fire causing some type of biological reaction similar to an immune response such as in Rheumatoid arthritis? Was blood drawn? Do we need to pay more attention to the number of horses with swollen joints instead of calling it a “defect?” (We actually had to make a request that BLM photo log, at minimum, these “defects” for reference.)

“Skin disease and scarring?” That sounds like a burn survivor.

When the fire is being used as justification for the roundup why is the fire not being mentioned at all when discussing any anomaly?

The reason the foal count is low is that foals could not keep up as families fled the Martin fire. We have received reports that discuss observations of wildlife, livestock deaths and hundreds of horses dying as a result of the fire. BLM makes no mention of it.

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The horse moved forward slowly. It was obviously shaken after capture, trailering and getting hung up. But it appeared not to limp from our vantage point across the street.

Owyhee has some deep and ugly politics that sit in the shadows. These political agendas are fueled by accepted mythology and assertion. Creating myths wont help the horses caught in this mess. Creating context for change will. 

We will write more as this operation continues.

WHE teams are working in an area today that will face devastating habitat loss in a really bizarre game being played right now by some BLM districts. More soon. We will need your help.

We are also going to try to get a catalogue up of some of the adoptable, amazing, survivors that are our Owyhee mustangs. These are spectacular horses.

REMEMBER “everything BLM” sits in the cradle of politics. Zinke’s DOI operates in a zero accountability zone unlike anything we have seen.

A must read for those of you looking for context:   https://wildhorseeducation.org/2018/09/09/zero-accountability-factor-department-of-interior-blm-doi-zinke-wildhorses-publiclands/


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Deaths at Owyhee as of 9/29, 22 wild horses.

7-year-old, bay, stud, BLM says “physical defect,” but does not describe what that was.

1- Foal, bay, BLM says “physical defect,” but does not describe what that was.

1- Foal, bay, BLM says “physical defect,” but does not describe what that was.

8-year-old, Sorel, mare, BLM euthanized for blindness.

10-year-old, Bay, stud, BLM euthanized for blindness

6-year old Stud, Bay, euthanized, hernia

6-year old Stud, Albino, blind, inherently dangerous

4-year old Stud, Albino,  euthanized, BLM said blind, inherently dangerous

7-year old Stud, Albino, euthanized BLM said blind, inherently dangerous

5-year old Stud, Albino, euthanized, BLM said blind, inherently dangerous

7-year old Mare, Albino,  euthanized, BLM said blind, inherently dangerous

Foal (Filly), Red Roan, euthanized, right front leg injury.

8-year-old, Bay, stud,  euthanized, fetlocks.

6-year-old, Sorel, stud, euthanized, hernia.

6-year-old, Bay, mare, euthanized, hernia.

12-year-old, Black, stud, fetlocks.

17-year-old, Buckskin, stud,  euthanized, inherently dangerous. (no explanation) But note this stud outran a fire, kept his family safe and then found himself in a trap.

3-year-old, Bay stud, euthanized, rear leg injury.

5-year-old, Mare, Sorel, euthanized, rear leg injury

20-year-old, Mare, Albino, BLM says blind, inherently dangerous

6-year-old, Mare, Albino, BLM says blind, inherently dangerous

8-year-old, Mare, euthanized “severe skin disease with open wounds and scarring greater than 30% of the body.”

At Owyhee there is over one million acres of the best grazing land in the state of NV. The underlying justifications for HMA boundaries, numbers of horses and cows, more fence lines for grazing than you can possibly imagine…. are all built on politics. 

We need to do better than this. 



Categories: Wild Horse Education