Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Heather
Heather Hellyer has joined the growing roster of Wild Horse Education (WHE) volunteers. Heather brings a wealth of professional experience to the team. Living in the western US for most of her life, she has a deep appreciation for the natural world. Like many of our volunteers, she is committed to creating policy change and “tool building” to achieve humane management practices. “I have joined WHE as a volunteer because I have faith that there must be a better way to manage our wild horses than what is being done today,” states Heather.
Keeping a journal of of your experience as an advocate is a requirement for all WHE volunteers. It helps you track your own progress as you advocate in an environment where progress is often hard won and measured in small steps. It also helps us at WHE, help each volunteer along the journey.
Heather has travelled to meet some of our herds this year. In her first journal entry we visit McCullough Peaks.
McCullough Peaks, by Heather Hellyer
I let myself through the makeshift barbwire fence gate and close it back up again. I start down the dusty roads eagerly searching for the horses, driving though a couple washes, up over the hill and back down again, keeping my eyes peeled in every direction. On a faraway hill to the West I see a large group of horses and I keep driving hoping to find a road that will take me closer to them. I come across a waterhole and as I start to drive past it I glance in my rear view mirror.
Behind me is a group of 9 horses is coming over the hill I just drove past and they are headed to the waterhole. I move out of their way, shut the truck off, grab my camera and get a few photos. The group splits up and 4 of them head West towards the larger group on the faraway hill. I get back in the truck and continue down the dusty road.
Still looking for a road to take me West, I glance over and see a horse pop its head up. I stop again, grab my camera and make my way carefully over the dry ground and past the low-growing cactus to get a closer look. A couple more heads pop up and I realize the horses are in a gully, having found some greener grass to munch on. I stop and wait to see what they will do with me there. One by one 11 horses come up out of the gully, a beautiful group of paints with one foal. I snap photo after photo as they walk away, and as I turn to head back to the truck, one more horse, a gorgeous brown and white paint stallion pops up out of the gully. He eyes me carefully then moves on with the group.
Back in the truck I head another half mile up the road and finally find a road going left that ends at another water hole. I park the truck hoping the group of 12 I had just seen were headed this way. I see some dust from the West and then my heart jumps a beat as the large herd I had seen from a distance start coming down a hill towards me. I look back and the group of 12 are headed this way too. In mostly single file, following the well-worn paths they had created long ago, the wild horses make their way to the water in groups, one band after the other. They take quick drinks and a few have a quick dip in the cool water. The stallion from the paint group wanders around greeting a couple other horses then walks back over to wait with his band for their turn to drink.
As fast as they all came, they were gone again. The group of 12 joined the large herd and they all headed back over the hill.
I drive West and back South watching the horses moving up over another hill and back down again. I park and sit on my tailgate enjoying the silence, watching the horses from a distance. Some of the horses would greet each other, do some much needed grooming, then stand quietly while a few of the younger stallions played. A few squirmishes broke out between a couple band leaders and a stallion who was trying to get a mare of his own. I waited and watched and photographed.
Then it happened. The entire herd began to make it’s way toward me. I sit quietly taking photographs then put the camera down. Taking a few bites of dry grass now and then, the herd surrounded my truck as they headed West. A gorgeous brown and white paint and a solid white mare stood near me and watched for a moment before moving on.
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Such a beautiful rare sight. Wild mustangs who have no reason to trust humans were willing to come near me, let me look them in the eyes, and quietly move on. Living together on land that is dry and filled with few grasses, these horses find a way to survive with nature in the wild. I make a promise right then and there to do what I can to protect them, to join the fight to protect our wild horses and burros, to find a way to let them live free on the lands they were born on.
In February of this year, my husband and I set out on a year long trip to visit National Parks. While we were in Cortez,CO I realized we were very near the Spring Creek HMA. I made the trip out there and saw wild horses for the very first time. I then visited Little Book Cliffs and Sand Wash Basin as we moved to Northern Colorado, and when we got to Cody, WY, I spent several days visiting the McCullough Peaks herd, sometimes going out in the morning and then again in the afternoon.
I love horses, I’ve always loved horses and it breaks my heart to think the beautiful wild horses I saw at each HMA might one day be chased by a helicopter until they collapse from exhaustion, separated from the only family they know, never to see each other again. Too many wild horse herds who are meant to be protected have already suffered that sad and heartbreaking fate. I am joining the fight to help our wild horses who are under attack by a faulty government management plan and to help others understand how unfairly our wild horses are being treated. These horses have become so important to me, that my husband and I have changed our plans are heading back. I feel a deep need to advocate; to help these amazing beings in any way I can.
Horses have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember. Their beauty and intelligence have always kept me in awe. I first became aware of wild horse issues in 2016 when I read that an advisory board to the BLM wanted to put down the 44,000+ horses being held in long term holding pens. I remember reading that and busting into tears, then told everyone I knew. None of them had heard about it or even knew anything about wild horses. That was when I started following wild horse pages and doing some research of my own to learn more about the serious issues facing the horses on our public lands.
My husband and I had the opportunity to travel full-time this year. After visiting and photographing my first wild horse herd in Southern CO, what started out as a trip to see our beautiful country quickly turned into me wanting to visit and photograph as many wild horse HMA’s as I could. The herd I’ve had the most time to spend with so far is the McCullough Peaks Herd and I fell in love. To see the harsh conditions all the herds were living in, to see the horses happy and at healthy body weights was in complete contrast to everything the BLM and cattle ranchers were trying to tell everyone. I knew then I had to help, I had to do my best to inform people that our wild horses are under attack.
I can’t remember when I first heard about WHE and Laura Leigh, but I do remember being so impressed by Laura’s passion for the wild horse herds. I felt a bit overwhelmed and helpless trying to make people aware of the wild horses plight on my own, but after speaking to Laura I knew there was a way I could participate in a group where I could really make a difference. And I hope to use my photographs, my words, and my experiences visiting the wild horses to do just that – make a difference in the way our wild horses are being managed and to help create a plan that allows them to remain wild and free.
I am proud to be the newest member of WHE. I am adding my voice to this team effort to speak for a better future for our wild places, that includes humane and fair management for our wild horses.
McCullough Peaks is a Wild Horse Herd Management Area (HMA) located about 20 miles east of Cody (70 miles east of Yellowstone National Park) and encompasses 109,814 acres of land, including the McCullough Peaks Wilderness Study Area. The AML is set at 70-140, in the small HMA of 25,000 acres. The HMA has been darted with fertility control since 2011, under the management plan and AML may be raised this year with triggers outlined in the plan.
More soon from the rest of the WHE teams in field, in legal battles and working had to educate lawmakers.
WHE has been offered a match to help us continue our fight! All contributions will be matched up to 3K until September 16th! You can double up the fuel for our fight and we will send you an advance copy of WHE Wild Words (our digital magazine) in both a link to view as a digital magazine and a printable/viewable pdf file as soon as it clears the edit process.
Categories: Wild Horse Education