Video above from 2011, wild horses were repeatedly electric shocked (including foals, in the face), kicked in the head, no water repeatedly in troughs in pens that were overcrowded, a helicopter hit a wild horse. We took it to court.
Triple B, a personal journal entry: Laura Leigh
I am just returning from the Triple B (2019) roundup of wild horses. I have not even gotten all of our documentation, including legal engagement on CAWP, logged yet. Every time I go to a range the past and present meld and mix. Each valley, dusty road, clank of pens, and whir of the helicopter blades, bring memory after memory.
In the last 11 years I have been to more days of roundup operations than any observer, government or public. To this day I am the only person in history to litigate abusive conduct at roundups, case after case, and each one won. I was told the cases “were impossible” by all the very expensive lawyers. They were wrong.
In August of 2011, almost exactly 8 years ago, I worked hard day after day documenting, researching and crafting a case. I struggled to find funding, patching it together, taking a loan, and finally found it. I walked into court in a borrowed jacket and the cleanest t-shirt I had.
In the courtroom BLM denied any wrong doing. They denied everything I had documented. Sitting at the opposing table were 4 well paid government attorneys representing government employees. To say I was nervous is an understatement. But I was literally sick about the abuse I had witnessed and the intimidation tactics being used against me. That anger kept me vocal.
After reviewing the evidence and listening to the arguments the judge ruled, on the gavel, in our favor. Most court cases in federal court do not end like you see in the movies, you have to wait days (sometimes longer) for the judge to pour through all the briefs and oral arguments and then write his decision. On Triple B, 2011, the judge stopped the roundup and ruled in our favor saying “I can see with my own eyes what happened,” admonished BLM for simply denying it happened instead of presenting what they were doing to stop it, and the gavel came down. Justice was served. (The first court order in history against abuse at roundups.)
Many of you know my personal story; it has been in magazines and newspapers. I have had a rough road, was homeless and knew abuse when I saw it. That day? I felt, for the first time in a long time, that my voice had value and that Justice could be found in this world.
At Triple B 2019, after winning multiple court orders in many areas, I now had a policy to utilize to engage, in the moment, to create some small changes to stop some of the conduct I saw happening. I had a tool to use, a framework I had built, to create a path for further litigation to make the policy stronger (WHE is still working hard on that policy; enforcement and parameters. But back in 2011? it did not even exist.)
I was not sitting with that same “helpless” feeling I had in 2011. Since 2011 I have trained our team how to document, what to look for, and how to use it. I was “not alone” and we were armed. (I know there are orgs telling you things about CAWP that are not true. As an example a million dollar org told the public last year that CAWP can not be litigated and this year they are raising more money off making excuses. Their observers are not trained in CAWP and are not engaging CAWP. CAWP can be engaged onsite and in court. Our observers, myself included, did make changes during the 2019 operation, in the moment. There is a lot of work to make sure abuse is stopped before it happens. But in specific instances we can stop it, in the moment, from repeating that day, week, and each horse matters. With funding? it can be litigated. That is progress from before the ruling in 2011… “the fastest way to stop progress is a failure to recognize it when it happens.”)
Is it more important to some to take a photo of events like a wild horse being hit by a helicopter, or to stop events like a wild horse from being hit by the chopper? Sometimes I wonder.
My heart aches that “all the tools” are not used, but our tiny org continues that search for justice. A short question and answer on CAWP HERE.
Yet, sometimes the universe gives you a sign you never expect.
As I sat at the Triple B roundup in 2019 the Portrait Society of Reno was hanging an exhibit to honor those that Chronicle the history of Nevada and fight to protect our heritage. Not only did I just return from the Triple B roundup where we had used a tool begun with that court ruling in 2011 (and ruling after ruling that followed until a policy was created that can be engaged, and litigated) and we made some strides to make that tool stronger. The connection between that day in August 2011 was carried by forces I have yet to understand, those things we can not see.
The showcase featured many individuals that, over the decades, have documented and fought for the heritage of the state of Nevada (note: NV has more wild horses than all other states combined. NV is wild horse central). Two walls featured colorful images of news media, writers, photographers, tribal heritage, and novelists.
One wall was more subdued. One wall featured judges, magistrates and the history of the portrait society. It was on that wall they hung my portrait and an homage to our wild horses and our work to protect them. My portrait was hung beneath the likeness of the Honorable Howard J McKibben, the judge whose courtroom I sat in 8 years ago.
The honor left a lump in my throat… particularly coming from the intensity of the roundup and how that tool, begun that day, lays the foundation for the next steps against abuse. The placement of the portrait was a real reminder; the word impossible is never an absolute.
This is not the first time our work was honored by the Portrait Society. In 2016 a portrait was hung at the Nevada Historical Society. The last time a wild horse advocate was featured at the Historic Society was Velma Johnston, “Wild Horse Annie.”
I was not going to go to the show, we have so much work to complete. It is particularly critical right now to gain an understanding that our wild horses are not domestics; they are part of the system of public lands and our heritage in the West. (personal note: and the last time I talked about the portrait there was a backlash from several “in advocacy” that I still do not understand. ) However, I was informed of the other individuals in the show, the placement of the new portrait, and I broke down into tears. I had to make it back from the Triple B in 2019, to honor the past, the judge and our wild heritage.
This honor is deeply personal, relevant, and a perhaps a sign that justice is still possible? In the thread of history justice for our wild ones is alive. It is our job to keep it alive.
More on our fight for the wild ones coming soon.
You can catch the last week of the exhibit, done in conjunction with Artown HERE.
You can read more about the work of Laura Leigh, the founder of Wild Horse Education, in the following profile pieces:
A few quotes from authors:
“She has a detailed understanding of the law and a passionate desire to see wild horses treated humanely, and, because of this, she has dedicated her life to making sure the spirit of the Wild Horse Annie Law is carried out.” ~ Dave Philipps, Pulitzer prize winning author, writing about Laura Leigh in his book Wild Horse Country (2017).
“It’s her fourth pickup truck in seven years — the cost of a controversial 100,000-mile annual journey across six western states and a nomadic lifestyle that often means sleeping inside her truck cab or in cheap motels, guzzling reheated gas-station coffee and downing peanut-butter sandwiches behind the wheel. She’s always red-eyed, always on the road.” ~ John Glionna, career journalist for the LA Times, Scientific America, The Guardian, writing about Leigh for the Reno Gazette Journal (2016).
“Before these rulings the public and press were blatantly blocked from seeing and knowing what was happening to America’s wild horses and burros. From planning, to the range information, through the roundups and all the way to the animals end destinations much has been hidden. Laura Leigh’s Wild Horse Education opened the doors…” ~ Joe Camp, author of the Benji books, of the movie series fame, in Born Wild – The Soul of a Horse.
“Her quick mind probably had something to do with her success in court. Since founding Wild Horse Education in 2011, she had filed more than a dozen successful lawsuits against the Department of the Interior and the state of Nevada over wild horse policies, including a landmark First Amendment case that forced the federal government to open wild horse round-ups to press access. A federal judge in 2013 declared her “the most knowledgeable journalist on wild horses in the world.” In a single year, she logged 112,000 miles on her truck crisscrossing western states to document round-ups. The Nevada Historical Society was so impressed they asked to paint her portrait, which was hung in 2016 in the society’s museum in Reno.” ~ Christopher Ketcham, journalist for Rolling Stone, Penthouse, Harper’s, writing for the Daily Beast (2017).
Categories: Wild Horse Education