One of our holiday traditions at Wild Horse Education is “the letter” written by our founder, Laura Leigh, “to Mom.” These letters began in 2010 with a video message. while fighting for access to roundups and holding, not just for herself, but for all of us. As a journalist she had been offered “red carpet access” to document a roundup in northern Nevada but had to go alone, leaving representatives from advocacy behind. She chose to fight for all, not for one. She had also filed the first case in history against inhumane conduct at roundups. She won. She filed again, and she won again, yet she had another active case. She was told not to discuss the cases, that it was not appropriate, but she could talk about what she was feeling. So she discussed what this journey “felt like” in that first video. WHE has come a long way since those first days (mini resume published, needs update) but the tradition of a “letter home” has been a part of our end of year wrap ever since.
Published January 10, 2018.
Leigh to Mom (2010)
Hi Mom, it’s me.
I have started this note, stopped, and started so many times. How do I begin to tell you about this last year? It has been a year of incredible obstinate obstacles built on a twisted framework. They say “the wheel turns,” and if it actually does, this year must represent the absolute low point. I certainly hope that integrity and intelligence begin to rise and the rest of this nonsense begins to be crushed by a wheel that turns.
Our year at WHE began on a really sad note. I can not write about 2018 and not remember Jean Hehn Bradley, our board member, I know you spoke with her. We lost her around this time last year, January 1. She had been a big part of WHE for so many years and her rapid decline and death stunned us all and began 2018 with heartbreak. But as all of that was happening we were litigating, working with media, going to roundups, it left little time to grieve. So I need to honor her in this note; we miss her as an advocate and a human being that helped hundreds of street dogs and cats and loved our wild horses.
We did dodge the moves to kill wild horses, but that bullet is more like a heat seeking missile. Horses are now considered livestock under law, snuck into the Farm Bill in the card game of politics. There are those in big advocacy that used that as a throw away card to get something easy they could crow about on their websites. Maybe that is why critical bills like the SAFE Act never got to the floor for a vote? Politics is ugly. But that change in terminology will have big ramifications and make “horse slaughter” a bit harder to fight in the word games of law.
There are so many memories of 2018 I could talk about; taking people to the range, roundups and the orphans, the horrors I have seen. I could talk about litigation, EAs and our work in Congress. But I’ll put all of that in the “year in review.” I know you want to hear about me.
I still do not understand completely why my personal story is so interesting, I find the work I do much more interesting. But if I talk about me, I get to talk about wild horses and our public land. This phenomenon has been a bit perplexing to me since 2012. People have called me “brave” for being so open. To me it’s just a way to keep talking “wild horses.” But I have received letters from victims of domestic abuse and women with breast cancer. Those letters come from all over the world. I guess if I am proof there is “life after” sharing the story has some value I do not truly understand.
The video in the New Yorker finally published in 2018 after being delayed and delayed, it was supposed to go live at the end of 2017. The short film was feature at Mountainfilm, an honor for a “wild horse” piece.
Stories that feature wild horses have been constantly shuffled in news cycles, bombarded by the insane stuff coming from DC and extraordinary natural disasters, fire and hurricanes. The wild horses themselves often used as “clickbait.” I am now officially “clickbait” as well.
A piece on BBC radio was supposed to air before midterm, the reason I agreed to it. Instead it got bumped, aired and, although grateful for the interest in wild horses, the purpose of our work was left trying to salvage the moment.
This year really has been busy with many journalists fueled by a rising interest in public lands. There are more of those stories coming in 2019; news, books, documentary and more. Finally we are gaining a comprehension that wild horses are part of public land and does not exist in a bubble, no matter how much bureaucratic bubblewrap the program is surrounded in. Adoption, sanctuary, holding is all after a failure of range management. I have taken so many on that journey this year.
I know these notes make you worry and are often sad, like the one from last year, but I did have some fun this year.
I did sell the last thing of value I own, my story. Yes, I used some of the money to take care of health issues and I did buy a new bra and some things for me. Yes, I also threw a lot of it back into the work. I love my work, you know that. When the screenwriter finishes his tasks, and hopefully it goes into production, I might have enough to get a vehicle that doesn’t break down. It is fun to dream.
The trip I took with the screenwriter was a personal highlight of the year, I actually had fun. Life is meant to be lived forward, not backwards, and there were some hard moments to talk about. But I was chauffeured around, stayed in hotels I could never afford, ate great food and stopped in many areas visited by tourists I usually just pass on by. Having intelligent, creative company that is not from “this world” was fun. I gave him the “good, bad and the ugly” of my life and then just “let go.” Even if it never makes production it was profound for me; to be a tour guide of your own life. I think I’m still digesting the experience.
But today my attention is drawn back to the litigation I need to write, the articles I need to get out and the documents I need to prepare to begin steps to push back against the rapid loss of the quality and quantity of public lands. Without the wild, there is no wild horse.
I tried not to just talk about the sad or scary stuff. I know you worry about me.
I end this letter not with a prediction, but a prayer. I pray that somewhere, somehow, integrity will win over greed. It’s the only hope for those that want to preserve the wild, not exploit this crisis.
I think of you always mom.
Until the end of the year we will continue to feature these traditional “Countdown pieces.” We hope you follow along as we head into what may be the most pivotal year in land management since the Civil War.
Categories: Wild Horse Education