I spent my childhood around horses.
Having been born and raised in Arizona, they were always part of the landscape. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother riding me to kindergarten on horseback. Once the school day was over, my mom would be waiting by the school yard gently holding our horse Bucky’s bridle in her hand. Bucky would stand by her side, with the stance and patience of a sentinel, ready to be my personal chauffeur.
He was chestnut brown with a white streak that ran the length of his nose. He was strong but sweet, spirited but mellow. I would ride the front part of the saddle, grasping the horn as my mom wrapped me in her arms while gripping the reins. Bucky would guide us down the well-trodden dirt road toward home, a muffled “clip-clop” sounding from his hooves as he took each step.
I treasured those rides.
In the middle of my first grade year, we moved to the city. Our horses were entrusted in the care of a family friend, but my fascination with their majestic beauty continued to captivate me—their power, their strength and the sagacious wisdom that gleams in their eyes.
There’s a trust there, between the rider and the horse. My mom used to say Bucky would calm as soon as I was in the saddle with her. It was as if he knew there was precious cargo aboard. He would sense the addition of my meager 30-pound body and take greater care in each of his steps.
As a child I honored this connection and have always held a special place in my heart for these magnificent creatures.
To see these amazing animals in the wild, running with their herd, guiding their young, is a vision of freedom in action. Much of the landscape of the West has been centered around these wild horses—a symbol of independence and liberty.
I was disheartened when I heard about the possible mismanagement of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Wild Horse and Burro Program. While I do understand the need to protect ecological resources, the extent of the wild horse roundups and the practices used are upsetting. (Note: some of the images in the following video are disturbing).
In her interview with NBC News, Director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign Suzanne Roy stated, “We don’t have an overpopulation of wild horses. We have an overpopulation of livestock on our public lands.” A recent study by her group found that in 50 government-managed areas, just 17.5 percent of the designated grazing land was allocated to wild horses, while 82.5 percent was reserved for livestock.
The imbalance is due to cattle and livestock growers asserting their need for grazing areas. Without the cheap grazing land available on federal lands, livestock producers claim they would lose their businesses.
Bob Edwards, a retired BLM manager and natural resource specialist, told NBC News that, in most cases, there is enough land resources to sustain the wild horses and the way to solve to land overuse is “to reduce the livestock numbers” instead of continuing with wild horse roundups.
Currently, over 50,000 wild horses are housed in captivity at taxpayer expense with just 32,000 remaining free on the range.
I understand the need for some population control in order to prevent ecological devastation and the starvation of wild horses and livestock, but why is it the BLM has taken the approach of captor rather than steward? Isn’t their purpose to protect the wild horses and preserve their future?
With adoption efforts failing to find homes for the displaced horses and tens of thousands of wild horses living in captivity, it’s clear a new direction is necessary. Well-planned birth control efforts would help with population control while more equal allocation of land resources would help keep wild horses in their natural environment.
BLM describes themselves as “a small agency with a big mission: To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Wouldn’t that include sustaining the health of our majestic wild horses for our grandchildren to be inspired by?
I can’t help but think financially powerful cattleman and livestock lobbying groups have their hand in encouraging these BLM practices. It’s also clear that our hunger for beef has created an unnecessary battle for land. Our society’s incessant demand for meat has far-reaching effects, we can’t simply blame the government bureaucracy and cattle growers.
I hope we can one day reach a point where money doesn’t always have the first say. I hope our society can one day let go of its “I want what I want” attitude and choose to be change instead.
I hope that day comes soon, otherwise we risk losing an American treasure.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel