Wild Horse Education

War Horse

Veterans Day is an official United States public holiday, observed annually on November 11, that honors military veterans; that is, persons who served in the United States Armed Forces. It coincides with other holidays, including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, celebrated in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I; major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect.

Human, canine, avian and equine have all served in war side-by-side. We honor all of them this weekend. 


One of the last of our Sheldon “war horses” to be removed from the range. He was one of the lucky ones that will end his days in sanctuary; much of the herds went to slaughter.

“This one isn’t just any old horse. There’s a nobility in his eye, a regal serenity about him. Does he not personify all that men try to be and never can be? I tell you, my friend, there’s divinity in a horse, and specially in a horse like this. God got it right the day he created them. And to find a horse like this in the middle of this filthy abomination of a war, is for me like finding a butterfly on a dung heap. We don’t belong in the same universe as a creature like this.” ― Michael Morpurgo, War Horse

During the Civil War years the concept of breeding horses specifically for the United States Cavalry began to develop as the necessity became evident after an estimated 1.5 million horses died in the conflict, including wild horses.

After the Civil War westward migrations sparked the Plains Indian Wars.  Native tribes that engaged these conflicts rode horses commonly known as “Mustangs.”

“Mustangs” developed from the Spanish and European horses that had gone wild during the colonial period (that possibly bred with indigenous stock, current research still questions if horses went extinct on the North American continent).  These horses evolved into sure footed fast “ponies” which the plains Indians learned to maneuver very efficiently to fight on horseback.  Their speed and agility, proved to be a most valuable asset against the U.S. Army.

Horses with lineage back to the Civil War, and the United States breeding program, would be bred and serve into the twentieth century up to World War II.

The movie War Horse, Directed by Steven Spielberg, brought movie audiences to tears. The bond between a boy and his horse, and the lengths they were both driven to, brought the life of a “war horse” during World War I to the big screen. Yet this movie never touched on the big picture. The vast majority of horses in the European conflict were not European, they were American.

The war quickly used up the supply of European horses. US contracts were made to supply American and Allied forces. The horses in the area now known as the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was one of the most well documented areas where “war horses” were taken from to serve in the conflict.

In 1916 the Idaho Daily Statesmen declared about the Mustang: “The little western pony may not be up to cavalry standards, but he is a good little Ford, and will get you there and be up and about the next morning, and if cactus is the only food, he will take it and smile, leaving the regulation Packard waiting for the oats to catch up.”

During World War I, and into World War II, military cavalry contractor Harry Wilson (sometimes referenced as ‘Winton’) would roundup horses from the area now known as Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. The horses would then be loaded onto railroad cars and shipped to the East Cost. From there the horses would make a trip across the Atlantic ocean by ship. Horses that survived the journey had a bit placed in their mouths and began to pull artillery or serve as a cavalry mount.

It is estimated that a shipment of 500 American horses left to supply American and allied troops during World War I every 1.5 days (archive stat). It is estimated that nearly eight million horses died in World War I alone.

Their historic value to our nation was not enough to save them. Not only were those herds destroyed they became ground zero for experimentation that included hysterectomies through the rectum. The structure of intricate herd behavior and normal use of our wild place was inconsequential in light of the desire of hunters to create a utopia to exercise a right to kill. Our American war horses were routinely sent to known kill-buyers while government personnel denied the truth. (We did what we could to stop the slaughter.)

The Sheldon herds were not managed under the 1971 Act to protect wild horses. Only the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (USFS) were held to the mandate. USFWS wiggling out of the requirements in twisted arguments, so did the National Parks Service.

Wild horses are the only animal in our nation whose legal identity is literally tied to the land they stand.

This allowed horrific experimentation on these herds before they were eradicated. What we are seeing for all of our wild horses today? Much of it is based on what happened at Sheldon. (We will have an extensive article later this week.)

Today we honor our American war horses. We apologize for the brutal and callous system of greed that used you, lied about you, betrayed you. We carry your memory and continue the fight. 

On veterans day we remember all human, avian, canine and equines whose personal stories mirror the betrayal of the Sheldon this veterans day. We thank you and honor you.


A personal essay “In Loving Memory…” by our founder Laura Leigh. Learn more about the Sheldon herd and take a peek at all that is coming for the rest of our wild ones. HERE. 

We will never forget. Broken promises and broken lives liter the tale. Some of the most amazing horses ever to run free on the range are no more. We will never forget.

Update 2019. Rosie and Kid are in training, under halter and will never be forgotten.

The Twin Peaks herds is on the verge of taking the first steps of becoming the disaster that was Sheldon HERE. 

You can help! Please make this call! HERE. 



Categories: Wild Horse Education