This summer three new volunteers joined the WHE teams. Our team members go through multiple onsite trainings and online classes prepared by our staff. Advocating for wild horses is complicated and has many, many layers. Our “WHE Next Generation” has just begun that journey. Welcome aboard!
Covering a roundup is one small part of the equation. It marks the end of on range management and begins the journey into holding, adoption or sale. At the roundup the work becomes hyper focused on the issues of humane handling and driving the policy (CAWP) brought about after relentless litigation by Wild Horse Education founder Laura Leigh. Roundup photos are a way we can inform you of all that happens. However, they form the basis for further engagement, litigation and to continue our data base. WHE has the largest documentation record in the world on roundups spanning more than a decade. Roundups are about much more than just taking photos. (You can see the roundup updates from our “WHE Next Gen” from Range Creek HERE)
Every volunteer at WHE is required to journal the journey. It gives them an opportunity to review how their own unique voice evolves over time. It is also a great way for all of you, and us, to share the journey with them.
Wild horses and burros are a public lands issue, not a domestic animal conversation. Any public lands discussion can evolve rapidly, and turn on a dime, with the shifting politics that rule the range. Yet, the core issue of “profit over preservation” has remained the same.
Some excerpts below from the journals of our newest volunteers.
Summer Brennan (Many of you already know Summer and her beautiful boy Amado who was captured in a roundup and range documented by WHE. Mutual love for that horse began our relationship with Summer years ago)
As a lifelong horse rescuer and advocate, it was only natural for me to have a fascination and respect for wild horses. Growing up on the east coast, wild horses were not as common even though I grew up on a horse rescue farm. While doing my senior thesis in college about horse slaughter, I found myself doing a lot of additional research about the plight of wild horses in this country. Like rescued horses, people believe a lot of untrue stories about wild horses and I wanted to set the record straight.
I have gentled and trained many wild horses since then, and worked to make the public aware of how incredible these animals are as individuals. In 2012, I even competed in the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Extreme Mustang Makeover competition. I kept a daily photographic diary of my experience with the horse (who I named Amado) from the day he arrived, totally wild, right up to the day of the competition 90 days later. I also won a $25,000 contest about my Amado story, and we were featured on the Dodo (our video has 60 Million views).
In order to be the best possible advocate for wild horses, I needed to see and learn about every aspect of this complicated issue for myself. I’ve gone to see mustangs living in the wild and I’ve toured the holding facilities where they languish for the rest of their lives (unless they get adopted or killed) with Wild Hose Education founder Laura Leigh in 2013.
Over the 4th of July, I began my official journey as a Wild Horse Education volunteer, I documented my first helicopter roundup.
I found it ironic that on the day we celebrate freedom, I was watching our symbols of freedom lose theirs. While some people may just see animals, I saw families running for their lives and being torn apart to satisfy greed and corruption. I saw a mother fearlessly battle a helicopter, and outsmart the pilot again and again as she tried to find her baby who was separated from the group in the chaos. I cheered as one herd leader, galloping full speed, noticed the trap at the last second and turned sharply, blasting through the jute and leading his family to safety. I watched stallions, separated from the families they are desperate to protect, get packed into small enclosures with other rival stallions and battle like gladiators, with no space to get away from each other.
As a lifelong horse person, I saw so many things that would make anyone with knowledge about horses cringe. (read the rest of Summers first journal entry HERE)
Stace Contompasis is an IT Specialist, Graphic Artist and Wildlife Advocate from Albany, NY.
After witnessing my first wild horse round up at Range Creek, I had a few thoughts, questions and suspicions.
This is federal land. It belongs to all of us, not just the cattle ranchers. It is vast. Many HMAs have tens of thousands of acres. I think they should be able to support more than just a few hundred horses. The AMLs seem completely arbitrary and dated. I am sure there are forces at play to prevent updating the numbers, in order to justify and perpetuate the helicopter round ups.
Do horses really do more damage to the land than the cows? It seems to me like the round up guys, the BLM and the ranchers are all in this together. It seems like another case of government bureaucracy. The round ups cost taxpayers millions of federal tax dollars every year to pay only a few qualified private contractors, while the cattlemen are heavily subsidized to graze their cows on our federal lands. It’s time for the horse people to step up and speak out against this issue. So far, I am not convinced that the horses need to be removed. I understand the argument that there is not enough water to support the horses.
When I took a trip with Wild Horse Education founder Laura Leigh out to an HMA, she showed us where mining and livestock seem to take the best of everything. Perhaps we need to start protecting some of our public lands before we lose many of our herds?
Does human intervention only lead to worse suffering for the horses? The excuses I heard from the ranchers and round up guys, who “love these horses” were laughable at best. You can’t tell me the helicopter gathers are helping the horses when the vast majority land in permanent holding, while others end up in being slaughtered somewhere on the other side of the border. Starting with a fair share on the range would be a better place to demonstrate “love the horses.”
I have learned that as much as I’d like it, we can’t just let the horse population run rampant. My lassiez-faire approach to wild horses might end in disaster. I like to think that mother nature would find a number where the horse population would plateau, but a few experts along the way have told me this is not feasible because the rest of the “natures balance” has been destroyed. The horses need to be managed as they have no natural predators (because they have been killed off) and the populations could get to a point where the land can’t support them any longer. It made me, only half jokingly think, since America has more tigers in captivity than there are Mountain Lions in the wild, maybe releasing some of Joe Exotic’s tigers out West would do the trick. I kid, wolves would be a better choice or just stop killing the native Mountain Lions.
I don’t have the answers yet, it is not a simple issue by any means. I just think that the helicopter round ups are barbaric and I am determined to help find a better way.
To be continued…
Kendall Palamountain is a junior at North Carolina State University. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and will graduate in 2022. After graduating, Kendall plans to earn her DVM with a focus in equine medicine. Kendall discovered her passion for improving the condition of wild horses in 2019 while interning at a horse rescue in New York. Since then, she has completed a certification in administration of PZP immunocontraception in wildlife. She plans to spend as much free time as possible learning how to plan and implement darting protocols and advocating for the wild horses.
Journal: I’ve always loved horses. I can recall staring longingly from car windows as I drove past local farms and stables in Waxhaw, North Carolina. I remember trips to Corolla in the summertime to try to get a look at the wild horses living there, and I still get newspaper clippings from my grandparents with updates on that herd. Before last summer, I had no idea how much danger wild horses were in. Now, I want to do everything I can to help.
After working with Summer Brennan for an entire summer in 2019, I’d learned a great deal about horses, particularly wild ones. I couldn’t stop thinking about PZP and what it meant for both the horses and the ecosystems they lived in. Most of my projects over the duration of the next school year were centered around PZP and its benefits. When Summer asked me to attend the class with her this year, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to learn even more, and I was eager to put what knowledge I had already gained to good use.
The class completely changed the way I saw PZP when I was introduced to new and interesting perspectives of wild horse management. PZP is a substance, not a method. It can be darted but is currently used as a part of a helicopter roundup.
What I had once believed to be a “cure-all” became only one of many tools vital to untangling the complexities of wildlife management and restoring balance to the ranges out west.
I am more excited about methods of fertility control, balanced range management, the framework and how to make change, now than ever before. I look forward to continuing to contribute my time and energy through both hands-on action and political advocacy.
Participating in this training marks the beginning of my role in a much larger fight for both the welfare of the horses and the rest of the animals on the range.
Join us in saying “Welcome” to Summer, Stace and Kendall to our WHE family as we engage to make the reality of our wild horses and burros safer and secure for generations to come!
Required reading for all WHE volunteers is a book by author Christopher Ketcham, This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West. You can read our review of the book HERE.
Categories: Wild Horse Education