Wild Horse Education

Backstory: it’s all in there

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Pancake HMA

Editorial (or thinking on the keyboard just to stay in touch with our readers): Laura Leigh

This past year Wild Horse Education has had multiple visitors to the range including journalists, videographers, a screen writer and multiple members of the public.

The most important part of each journey is the “backstory.”

Definition of backstory (noun) a story that tells what led up to the main story or plot (as of a film). 

The “story” everyone is drawn to is the roundup.

Expectation: The journey into a wild place, a helicopter flies, wild horses flee through rough country, wranglers chase wild horses into pens. BLM puts out their “story” and advocates yell back “but the cows!” Wild horses may even fight for their freedom. A BLM employee and a competitor visiting the roundup from a rodeo might take to horseback and go out wth a contractor and rope a wild horse! A mare may be chased for almost an hour as she aborts! BLM says “nothing wrong” and you get escorted away by an armed BLM ranger.  Advocates argue for justice.

Yes, it is an exciting story. 

However the backstory is what creates every action in the story. We rarely see that backstory in print or onscreen.


Silver King HMA in the snow. When there is snow on the ground the horses stuck in all the criss crossed fencing with dry catchments because all the water gets piped into the fenced off trough area that is literally “cow nuked” eat the snow. All the horses had something to drink today.

See a bit of the backstory on the current Silver King roundup by clicking here, including information on a protest filed by WildLands Defense and Wild Horse Education against the pending plethora of grazing projects

If you check out the link above you can see how much lies in the backstory. The link above simply scratches the surface of the backstory of one HMA. The backstory also has a “behind the scenes” storyline.

Any real author understands that you need to weave these pieces into a narrative to portray any scene with depth of realism. If you don’t? You might as well just write more “clickbait.” The story will simply mirror one told a hundred times before and get the same reactions; like the remake of a blockbuster with guaranteed ticket sales.

The tale might reach a few more ears; make more people aware that don’t even know we have wild horses. Yet a remake wont truly explain anything or clear any of the “why?” out of the air with any sincerity.

A weird phenomenon began to happen to me around 2014; reporters wanted my backstory. What I was actually doing (the cases against abuse, First Amendment, lack of justification, the line of political fire I found myself in as tensions rose in the West, the cancer, the hard nonstop range run).

I began to agree, even though simple personal stories like one for “breast cancer month” written for a publication that primarily circulates among advocacy met with attacks; “she is faking cancer for money” wrote a supposed advocate to the editor (yes, there is a very foul odor to a lot of this work). But I began to agree because at that time news desks did not want the “wild horse v cowboy” story again and again.

The pieces allowed some simple truths. With each piece I asked for a sentence or two to be included. Things like “It’s not only the horses, but the land they stand on…” or “The wild horse is the only animal in our nation defined by the land it stands on, not what it is biologically. That land is public land…” became criteria for agreeing to take out a reporter or videographer and reveal parts of me.


Photo from 2010, Silver King. Two bands were left in an alley for hours while crews broke for lunch and the heat of the day. Fighting stallions trying to keep mares safe caused injuries as they were confined in a narrow alley about 18 ft long.

What most people expect is the “me” I was from 2009-2015. I lived out of my truck running roundup to courtroom and then from roundup, to courtroom to surgery table. I did that because there was no access policy for daily public observations and the doors of Broken Arrow (BLM facility) had closed. There was no humane handling policy in BLM roundup contracts.

The work WHE did changed that. Those changes are real. The “me” in those years might document a foal hotshot (electric shock) in the face, horses literally pushed into barbed wire fleeing a helicopter in the middle of a valley (not a trap escape), a foal run until it collapsed…. all in one day. Then document another half dozen infractions each day that might include horses hit with helicopters and not given water in 100 degree heat, over and over every single day. Day after day, mile after mile, sleep deprived legal declaration after declaration, nonstop.

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Mare run for nearly an hour as she aborts. Some circumstances are more likely to show actions that are clearly unnecessary, cruel and not taken seriously. These appear to have direct correlation to certain personnel.

Things still happen. Some circumstances are accidents and some absolutely avoidable. The avoidable ones are more prone to occur in specific districts where specific personnel are present (WHE keep those statistics as well). But those incidents are less frequent overall.

I have to explain that the roundup is not the experience of the past. The person that had those experiences has also changed.

The policy still has deficits that need to be addressed including temperature, distance, transparency. The BLM can tighten the policy or litigation can, once again, force the agency to actually be accountable to the most basic of all the premises of the law; humane actions.

If the policy proves inadequate WHE built a really easy frame to litigate it now. Litigation addresses any action, process, protocol or policy that is inadequate to create lawful action. (You can read a QnA about CAWP HERE)


Images reaching the public like this one (foal born at Broken Arrow found starved as BLM allowed other foals into foster care) caused a huge public relations issue for BLM. Instead of fixing issues at the facility, they closed the doors to the public.

Daily access is now afforded (although not always “good”). Broken Arrow is now open to tours and is also supposed to arrange them if used as intake from the range (as is the case at this roundup at Silver King. It is yet to be seen if that is actually going to require “bringing in the legal team” to facilitate).

When WHE use our limited funding on roundups today; myself, a volunteer trained in roundup documentation, or a combination of multiple volunteers and myself (like at Triple B in 2018 we ran a three person team for the 30 day operation) we go to add to our database (yes, we have a checklist we track), engage onsite if there are deficits to the items on that list or prepare to litigate if conversations are impeded in the protocol. (WHE obviously is not documenting to create fast video edit for social media; to address that question we often get. Our observers are not simply photographers, they are active participants in the refinement of the policy.)

At Sliver King a reporter told us she needed us to pick her up at the airport, drive ten hours and then get her back to the airport in 3 days. 36 hours before her arrival she needed that ride back to the airport. Only 30 minutes into the drive did she reveal that she did not need to go back, after we were obligated to return.

That story will have more to it as well…. more soon.

Todays backstory has deep roots. 

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Click HERE if you want to hear the recent BBC interview; that backstory

Horse slaughter (with a focus on selling wild horses) is right back in the language push for funding before the House hands over the reins of control to a blue speaker and blue chairman of each committee, something we have not had since 2012. The hand off of control will take place in January. (Roll Call has a good piece today citing “Cigars, guns and horses” at this last budget showdown before the power shift in the House https://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/final-spending-bill-delays)

Just like horse slaughter roundups have roots in mismanagement, politics and cover ups. The entire wild horse and burro act was put in place to stop wild horses from being sold to slaughter (mustanging). It stopped a “fast cash crop” and has been resented by those that resent any form of federal control on public land since the day it passed.

The backstory, the root causes of this decades old rerun of a bad black and white movie, is now the “backstory” we live in today. 

Those root causes of the charade of public relations tag lines of management for a “natural ecological balance” is clearly outlined in the 2013 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). That report came out before the “dance of the sage grouse grouse” began in politics.

The sage grouse dance is now nothing more than funding to help industry (the industry destroying sage grouse habitat). The NAS review so dusty it looks like an unopened ancient tome.

What that looks like, feels like, the wild places on the brink of destruction, is the backstory of the focus WHE is taking today.

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After seeing new life on a healthy landscape a sage grouse took flight as if on cue. “Can I walk around?” the reporter asked. “It’s your land.” I replied. I will never forget the look on her face….. and the look on her face when I explained all she was seeing ,and the ground her feet were standing on, would be gone in 5 years time. I think the “backstory” is understood, long before a chopper flies.

I have had a journalist on a fast run from one side of NV to the other. She came not understanding that having a strict time constraint might not leave an opening to get the roundup. It snowed as we headed to the meet zone. I had to slow down because I could not see the road in the pitch darkness as snow blew toward the windshield. We arrived at 6:01, the BLM had left. (might be good for the story?)

I have a legal brief due today and had rearranged my “normal” to be able to accommodate the rapid turn around to get back to the airport. Tommorrow I need to pick up the next visitor to “wild horse country.” This one, having read the book by that title by Dave Philipps, wants a range run into the backstory as well. (you can read review I wrote HERE)


photo taken on a cell phone in January 2010 of a colt suffering from hoof slough (feet falling off) at the newly built Broken Arrow facility BLM now calls “Indian Lakes.”

We built a humane handling policy as a promise to a foal that had it’s feet literally run off at the Calico roundup of 2009; the foal named Hope.

Now we need to make sure that the number of wild horses needing protection from callous minds that disregard their welfare decreases. We need to amp the fight up to keep them free and managed with some effort made to create more than the lie, “fair and balanced.”

The entire wild horse and burro program is built on a hamster wheel of politics, corruption, greed… the “family and friends club” needs to begin to understand what “science” means when it comes to wild horses. We need to break that hamster wheel.

The only way to do that is to pay attention to that backstory and back away from the “clickbait.”

The free press is the guardian of the public interest, and the independent judiciary is the guardian of the free press.” ~ Honorable Judge Milan Smith, Leigh V Salazar, Ninth Circuit published opinion 

I’ve been doing my very best to educate, illustrate and remind the free press that those of us that take to the keyboard have a deep responsibility to the public. If we claim to write nonfiction? Make it real, make it deep, make it strong enough to guard the public interest.

On my way to pick up another looking to the backstory for answers.


This journal style post was written, sleep deprived during a hectic travel schedule, to update our readers. 

We have had another journalist on a fast “backside.”

Me? Need to run, file a legal brief on deadline, pick up another journalist and race back out to the backstory.

Without the “wild” there is no wild horse. That story is a “code red.” We are doing our best to get that urgent truth understood. 




Categories: Wild Horse Education