A Time to Give Thanks?

Thanksgiving is finally here. It’s always been my favorite holiday. I love spending time with my family thinking on how blessed I am.

But as a wild horse advocate, it feels like there is little to be thankful for this year.The Cloud Foundation lost their lawsuit to tear down that eyesore of a Forest Service fence. The Park Service removed over one hundred horses from Teddy Roosevelt National Park. We discovered that Secretary Jewel is proving to be entirely disinterested in protecting our wild horse herds. It’s just been one terrible thing after another lately.

And then there is the Salt Wells roundup.

The Salt Wells roundup has been a particularly painful blow. It always hurts to watch horses that I know and care about rounded up and taken away. Even so, this roundup is different. In most roundups, there is a shred of hope that at least some of the horses will be released and allowed to return to the range. This time around, every single horse who hit the trap was removed, regardless of age, sex, or color. 

third group 12

A roundup is a terrible thing to witness. Horses crest a hill and are driven by a helicopter down towards a trap. Experienced horses will sometimes recognize what is happening and try to turn back, but by then it is too late.  Panicked wild horses crash into gate panels and each other, crying out frantically to one another in fear. Stallions suddenly forced into close proximity will fight, adding to the chaos of all the bodies crushed together in a small space. Within moments stallions are separated from mares, and mares from their foals. Within minutes the horses are pushed into a trailer with waving flags and hauled away from their home.

They will never see their families again.

first group 13

2013.11.25 panicking stallions

2013-11-25 frightened stud

As I type this, the BLM is removing every single horse they capture in the checkerboard area of the Salt Wells horse herd. The checkerboard is a an area of public and private land that runs 20 miles to the north and south of the original Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming.  Facing pressure from the local ranching conglomerate, the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA), the BLM caved like a house of cards and agreed to zero out two herds, zero out another herd by making them “non-reproducing”, and drastically reduce the population of still another herd.

They began with Salt Wells.

fourth group 19
A family bands last moments together

I arrived on the second day of the roundup. It was bitterly cold. The helicopters began to draw the first group of horses to the trap around 9 a.m. By that time it was a ‘balmy’ 12° F, but the 14 mph winds brought it down so the “feels like” temperature was reported to be -2° F. Dr. Temple Grandin recommends that horses should not be removed when the temperature is at or below 20° F. On a day like this, the horses would normally be staying still and focusing on eating and conserving body heat.  Yet this was considered an acceptable temperature to run horses in by the BLM, and the roundup only stopped when the wind grew too strong for the helicopters.

The BLM employees were polite, answering all my questions and providing a surprisingly good observation point. Four other public observers joined me. The atmosphere at the trap was jovial, as if they were watching a grand show. I could only bite my lip against my anger and wonder if I was watching the same thing as everyone else. Was there a way I could change the channel and see the fun and exciting program the others were watching?

What I saw was horses rounding a corner and ending the only life they had ever known.  I couldn’t find any beauty in the galloping horses – their eyes were too wide and their necks were too high to fool any horseman into thinking these horses were comfortable with the proceedings. They were terrified and running with all their might trying to escape a fate that humans were forcing on them.

fourth group 06
A pair of sweaty bachelors enter the trap. They were galloping especially fast, trying to outrun the helicopter

The contractors were efficient and handled the horses with experience that comes from decades of practice.  I am grateful that there were no major injuries on this day. However, another observer pointed out that the top bars in the alleyway where horses were being processed were not padded. The Wild Horse and Burro Specialist informed that they were not required to pad these particular bars. I watched as several frightened horses hit their heads against the top bars as they tried to find a way to escape. Adding such padding would be a simple, inexpensive way to spare the horses from head trauma.

This stallion was one of several horses to rear and hit their heads against the top bars in the alleyway
This stallion was one of several horses to rear and hit their heads against the top bars in the alleyway

The foals were the hardest to watch. One foal, a beautiful paint, was separated in a side pen while his mother, father, and other family members were immediately loaded into a trailer and hauled to another site. The foal remained alone at the trap site for ten minutes, panicking and trying to escape.

second group 12
This paint foal tried several times to leap the fence to reach its mother, but the fence was too high for the young foal

This paint foal tried several times to leap the fence to reach its mother, but the fence was too high for the young foal.

Foals are separated from the adult horses for transport. This is meant to avoid the risk of the foals being trampled or otherwise injured on the trailer ride. The youngest foals are reunited with their mothers. But even this relief is a temporary one. This paint foal is considered old enough to be weaned. Once he is processed and branded in Rock Springs, he will be taken from his mother and separated forever.

Another foal faced problems of his own. It took two passes for the helicopter to get the foal’s band into the trap. The dark foal was particularly young and by the time they reached the trap, he was worn out. He gradually fell farther and farther behind the rest of the band. His gray mother tried to slow down to stay with her foal, but the helicopter forced her to continue forward, flying over the foal in pursuit of the band. By the time the foal reached the first gate, the rest of his band was closed off several sections ahead. The confused foal tried to leave, but was finally corralled.

fourth group 17 - sue cattoor would probably say this makes her a bad mother

fourth group 21

Later this same foal was tripped while trying to get out of the trailer, hitting his head against the gate panels as he fell.  Another observer teased me when I expressed concern over the foal, but what else could I do?  I hope with all my might that this foal and his mother can find a loving home that can ease the harm he experienced. But the reality takes over in my brain and reminds me that less than 10% of the horses rounded up by the BLM are adopted.  What hope does a small, plain colored foal have of escaping the BLM holding pens and going to a new home?  Was the forage this foal and his mother took from the mouths of sheep and cattle so great; was the “damage” he caused when drinking at the water holes and springs so terrible that he deserves a life in holding, unloved and forgotten? What does he have to be thankful for?

The gray foal with the blaze stumbled, which led the little dark foal to trip
The gray foal with the blaze stumbled, which led the dark foal to trip
The gray goes down completely and the dark foal lands on top. You can see the colt's legs flying up in the air to the right
The gray goes down completely and the dark foal lands on top. You can see the colt’s legs flying up in the air to the right
The dark foal finally lands with his head hitting the lower bars of the gate panel and his hindquarters underneath the trailer
The dark foal finally lands with his head hitting the lower bars of the gate panel and his hindquarters underneath the trailer
foals fall out of trailer 9
Thankfully he got right back up and looked to be okay, if a little shaken

And thus my the question remains. What can I possibly be thankful for as I sit and watch this roundup, knowing there is nothing I can do to stop it?

I am thankful that I am not alone. I watched these terrible proceedings knowing that thousands of people were with me in spirit, and that together we are bearing witness and fighting to save these horses. Wild horses face an uncertain future. That is especially true of the horses in southwestern Wyoming, where RSGA ranchers are doing everything they can to eliminate the remaining wild horse herds in the area. It is a frustrating, uphill battle that never seems to end.

But it’s not over. Not yet.

To the contrary, the fight to save the four wild horse herds on the checkerboard lands has only just begun. We couldn’t stop this roundup, but we can still save the Salt Wells herd.  Please call and email your Senators and Representatives, and ask them to the stop the abuse of power that is happening on your public lands at the hands of the BLM and the directive of the RSGA.

Please also consider donating to The Cloud Foundation’s legal fund. Your donation will go to support the funding of ongoing litigation over the 2013 Consent Decree. The BLM’s plan to zero out the herds in the checkerboard must be stopped. It won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap, but I have faith that we can save these herds.

08-24-2013 - A young Salt Wells filly and her curious band inch closer to investigate their human observers
08-24-2013 – A young Salt Wells filly and her curious band inch closer to investigate their human observers
11-25-2013 – The same filly now frantically paces in a temporary corral, separated from her family forever
11-25-2013 – The same filly now frantically paces in a temporary corral, separated from her family forever

Published by Rachel Reeves

I am a photographer who currently lives in the great state of Colorado. I love going out and photographing wild horses in their natural habitat, and look forward to being able to share a glimpse their world with you.

83 thoughts on “A Time to Give Thanks?

    1. They will not listen until we figure out a way to MAKE them listen. Nothing we’ve done or said so far has worked, it is time to do something different otherwise our actions meet the definition of “insanity” (keep doing the same thing and expect different results). No amount of indignation will help, that much is clear.

    2. Just the other day i heard had been declared ‘the day of the horse’. i wish i had the land. i would adopt hem all

  1. Makes me cry to think of these families ripped apart forever. One would think that federal veterinarians would have some say as to the horrid weather conditions.

    1. It’s really mindboggeling. According to Earthjustice, the BLM is sacrificing Wyoming’s Red Desert to the energy industry without any care for leaving footprints or any scars on the land which would take eons to heal. The Red Desert will supply enough natural gas for the next 30 – 40 years, and they have customers who will gladly pay for it. It’s to sell overseas. So why do they roundup these beautiful wild horses only to discard them? The industry doesn’t want anyone to see them dying from lack of water they have to waste, toxic chemicals or other poisons. This is heartbreaking for our horses and the beautiful land that will be gone. This is also a national problem not only a Wyoming problem. Any other state would designate the Red Desert a Wilderness study area or a national park, but not Wyoming. I heard this from very realiable sources. If anyone has another idea, I’d love to read it.

      1. Chris, I have worked in this oil industry. This is my HOME. I love this land like no other, and it is where I was born and raised. I will say this, having worked here and still living here- just like the horses, we pay a price. I honestly wish this pristine ecosystem would become a national park. I visit these horses weekly- photograph them and spend much time with them. I love them. I am not radical, I am simple. I HATE the energy industry and I wish we could stop that madness. Thank you for your post here, and it is so much bigger than just these horses- which are my main focus other than the land itself.

      1. he’s waited long enough to get involved. I believe he was asked a couple years ago to help with no anser. Darryl Hannah lost her career for helping wild horses. She get very little recognition and doesn’t expect it either.

    1. Darryl Hannah has been helping for years. She just doesn’t advertise it. Helping the horses has done a lot of damage to her career. She is virtually unemployable in Hollywood now.

      1. So then you’re claiming that Hollywood is aware and behind some of the torture of these horse bands?

  2. I just couldn’t read the whole thing. It’s too painful and depressing. It saddens me and a whole sea of people from coast to coast to know there’s such horrible treatment inflicted on our beautiful mustangs. A tsunami of action and revolt against such evil is imperative! This is what was done to indigenous people and slaves! Now the horses! Who’s next?

  3. Make those greedy ranchers pay out of their own pockets for every wild equine that is injured due to their greed for their stupid cattle. I HATE BEEF and will NEVER EVER eat it due to these greedy ranchers.

    1. Keep in mind that it is the RSGA who sued to remove these herds, and not ranchers as a whole. Only 2% of U.S. beef ever utilizes public land. Most beef cattle are raised on private land in the Midwest. My family had cattle for a time, and there are a number of ranchers who are also wild horse advocates or at least pro-horse.

      1. Rachel, thank you for saying this. I have seen ranchers who have improved things and made it possible for the horses to have year-round access to water in an environment where they would not have this otherwise. OR have improved wells so the horses would choose to drink there than other areas that would be critical to the environment as a whole. But I do see ranchers who are ignorant and misguided on their perceptions of these animals. This is a difficult situation, and the more dangerous faction would be the energy industry. Seriously….

      2. I think that the dangers posed by the energy industry are looming on the horizon, especially with the declarations allowing for a massive increase in drilling on public lands. Most of the animosity you will see in this blog post from myself and others is directed at the Rock Springs Grazing Association purely because they are the ones who brought the lawsuit. It was livestock ranchers who demanded all the horses be removed and had their demands yet. Oil and natural gas companies have not demanded that yet.

        And while it’s anecdotal evidence, I will say that employees who work for oil and natural gas tend to be pretty horse friendly. They like seeing them along their routes. That does not mean that their employers are not destryong the land from overdrilling and fracking.

  4. here in australia we have our own wild herds which we are conserving it brakes my heart to see this happening in thr world i have read all the books on these beauiful horses

      1. Yes Kathy you are absolutely correct. Here in the state of Western Australia up in the Kimberleys, a wilderness area, 7,016 wild Brumbies were shot from helicopters to reduce numbers.
        The shooters admitted that many were not killed by the shot & died slow & painful deaths.
        Quite a disgusting way to deal with these poor horses whose only crime was to be born.

  5. This is a disgrace to the human race. These people should be ashamed of themselves. They think they are doing good by doing this. This is not what mother earth intended. These are gods creatures and deserve to live free and unharmed.

    1. AMEN We agree the disgrace and here is what I have learned: The sherif has the power to stop the Federal Government. The coroner has the power to fire the sherif. If both in that area agree they can say “stop the roundup” legally. This constitutional law.
      Also article 5 on how to reign in Congress.
      This cruelty right under our noses is symbolic of the lack of morals in the human race employed unchecked. Since the 1100’s people have died for the liberties we currently have had. There is evil and there is good.
      This is boots on the ground work we must do non stop.
      Simple calls saying “What you are doing is cruel and I demand you stop it.”
      And firing the sherif who does not comply to the moral demands of the people.
      When I had my 3 minutes with the BLM advisory board I shared the truth with them: what they are doing with the horses and burros is what Hitler did with the Jews-concept, to programing, to roundups, separations of families, holdings, experimentation, …
      We all need to unite in each state, know each other, and demand the right things. We are the people. They work for us.

      1. Thank you!!! So few people know that the power lies in the local government more than the federal!! I live in Wyoming and invite any others that live here as well to email me and lets show a united front! My email is laneytay@msn.com I welcome any ideas and anything that might help us to help the horses.

  6. Another heartwrenching story but it needs to be read…..thank you for all the pictures. Yes, they are hard to look at, but we need to be witnesses to what is going on. I am thankful today for people like you who are keeping everyone informed of these atrocities!!!! I emailed my Congressman in California, but who knows if it gets read…our government and it’s representatives should be ashamed for not standing up for these beautiful animals…..

  7. I absolutely hate reading things like this. Man is so cruel to these beautiful creatures. They should be allowed on earth to live out their life but its all about money and the ranchers wanting them out.

    1. Its about the huge cattle conglomerates (sp) and even more than that the energy companies…and it seems they are drilling for energy here and sending it to other countries?! WTH???

      1. There are a number of ads and informercials on NBC that I’ve seen. Horses are depicted as passe, while cowboys fencing off drilling rigs are the things of now. One says there is more oil in the U.S. than Saudi Arabia; I have a job now says another. All this is opposite to out of control women screaming to ban fracking now. ExxonMobil’s name appears, but there are many including Koch Industries, BP (who sold all their renewable energy equipment) an so forth. Yes, DOI with Sec. Jewell at the helm is interested in developing our fossil fuel resources instead of developing “green” energy. There are many opposing pipelines that are always leaking, bursting and causing tremendous damage along with environmental destruction. Interestingly, Europe has banned fracking because of horrendous effects like tremors, quakes and water waste/contamination. These are effects not talked much about here. About two years ago my chair swayed while I was at the computer; the tremor started in Virginia. Ohio had earthquakes that were results of fracking. People forget these things. But So far I’ve seen only one or two petitions to stop wild horse roundups which is my primary concern from Rachel’s clear pictures. This is what we should concentrate on maybe on FB.

  8. I’m crying for these free spirits and the treatment they received. I live near the ND border and have followed the sale of the mustangs from Theodore Roosevelt Park. They were treated fairly and all advertisements for the sale and also Humane groups made sure no meat buyers would be at the park. There is a website that is hearing from those that bought the horses. They are training beautifully with patience. Also many of the stallions and mares were returned as family groups in the park. I think these herds are maintained by the park and not BLM.

  9. I am not much of a believer in Hell , but I am making a special exception for those who harm animals and children and women. I am so sorry our country’s leaders shame themselves by these actions.

  10. One thing we are overlooking. BLM Wyoming, in their Gather Report Doc., on Adobe Town anD Salt Wells Fall Gather; has a link to “Get Involved,” Hit it and you will see “Advisory Councils Committees.” hit it and see Resource Advisory Council. Hit and see “BLM SEEKS NOMINATIONS TO RESOURCE ADVISORY COUNCIL.” The Deadline is Dec. 13,2013. TWO WEEKS! Must be WY Resident.

    1. I think that is an EXCELLENT IDEA!!! Keep pushing it and maybe we’ll have more and more eventually on the board…hope before it’s too late!!!

    2. I live in Cheyenne, WY and I’m more than willing to help with this in any way that I can, just let me know how….

      1. I live in Denver and motmot1013 what a great idea!
        Elaine call The Cloud Foundation in Colorado Springs

  11. every time I see this it just breaks my heart, I wish I could do more than just share the stores with others. But the truth is I cannot even pay my own bills. How can I donate, How can we make the government leave theses beautiful horses alone. If the ranches want better grazing land than they should invest in irrigation system and grass seed that will be better for the cows that the grass that is for the horses, and not on government land, But their OWN Land.

  12. This makes me sick and angry out of my mind. I cannot keep seeing the horrible outcome of my treasured wild horses. It is all about money….. freakin money, Too hell with nature, Lets just fill our pockets @ whatever cost!II I hope karma takes care of the swindlers, Every dog has his day, I pray so./Linda/Nassau

  13. Oh man, Rachel. I don’t know how on earth you could stand it.
    Those images make my blood boil. I know I would have acted out and done some damage to those two smirking BLM (?) workers next to that hysterical horse.
    I’ve said it before. WY has the most beautiful land and wildlife, but the men don’t match the scenery. This state I live in has only one thing on their minds. Drilling and Fracking and removal of all wild things. And the small minded, uneducated, selfish & greedy growers association out there in Rock Springs rule that land.
    What a joke to ask senator Barasso of WY, to have a heart!
    That dark foal. I hope more than anything that someone will rescue him.
    I think his story hit me the hardest. I zoomed in to see his confused face, his struggling little legs about ready to collapse. Grey mama slowing down for him to catch up.
    It’s all so heartless and heartbreaking.
    I’m agonizing over this, but I’m glad you were there, Rachel.
    Do you have access to finding out how these horses are doing at the LTH prison? Can you find out if some loving person is planning on adopting that dark foal or any of the others?
    How much does an adoption cost? I’d help that little guy out if I had pasture!
    Thanks for everything you do. You are a hero to many of us.

    1. I did call Sen Barrasso’s office to ask that the roundups be suspended pending a scientific count of wild horses in WY. The aide listened but was in a rush to get me off the phone. Sen. Barrasso is an embarassment as he is a surgeon originally from Reading, PA. While it is true, they are trained not to let any feelings interfere with their patients’ wellbeing so they can operate on them, he seems truly inanimate when confronted with the well-being of wildl animals and environment. His unfortunate “grazing bill” has advanced in the Senate. As we know, this bill allows permits for 20 years instead of 10. The BLM and Forest Service can issue them despite any pending environmental analysis. Sen. Enzi is a co-sponsor. It is obvious Wyoming’s leadership intend to enrich the pockets of their base without any care for the land and animals on it. Very sad, and it is a national problem not only a state one.

      1. I have called and sent many emails and I have been given the bum’s rush as well. These two senators truly care NOTHING for the welfare of the horses…or for that matter any animal. It is a common attitude here in Wyoming, but there ARE those of us who do care. (I’m originally from Colorado)
        Barrasso and Enzi are all about big money….if you’ve got it they’ll listen and if you don’t they won’t. Very sad. Hopefully they’ll be voted out.

      1. Elaine are you on Facebook? Ask to join Wyoming Against Horse Slaughter and Wild Horses in Wyoming Need Help to keep up with what is happening and what you can do to help.

    2. I personally find it easy to disconnect and focus on documenting when I am there. Focusing the camera helps keep me focused. It’s after they’re done for the day that it really hits me. And if the horses have to go through it, the least I can do is watch and try to get their story out.

      The two smirking individuals are Sue Cattoor and one of her assistants. I too hope that we can find a home for the foal. My services are available to anyone who would like help getting the ID number of a particular horse and getting them transported to a good home. Adoption is $125 for a horse. Normally it is a little more for a mare/foal pair, but I believe in Rock Springs they are offering mare/foal pairs at the same rate as an “incentive”.

  14. We all have work to do. Take this link and email to all your Senators, and Representatives. Yes, in most cases you will have to use a form but send it anyway. And next week or whenever they get back to work get on the phone and start calling. Ask them how they can justify this use of taxpayer dollars to finance animal abuse.

    Rachel, your piece is so moving – you were so courageous to go out there and bear witness to these beautiful souls who have become your friends. There is one thing that I am thankful for and that is that there are young people like you willing to continue this fight for what is right.
    Hope you have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

      1. The Cloud Foundation periodically posts links to contact information for Senators, Representatives, Dept. of Interior, and the President. Go to our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/TheCloudFoundation,
        and check the Dec. 12 post on there for these links. Thank you Rachel for your inciteful report and your ability to tell the story with your camera.

  15. How do we track these horses? That roan filly’s sweet face is speaking to me for help. Praying our government stops this insanity.

    1. The mares are being kept in the holding facility in Rock Springs and the stallions are going to the facility in Gunnison, Utah. Some of the younger horses will go to Mantle Ranch. Each is given a brand that also serves as their ID number. As time goes on they will be dispersed to Long Term Holding or other facilities which will make it more difficult, if not impossible, to locate them. If you or someone you know is intersted in the filly, I can track down her information for you.

      1. So is this their life forever in holding pens until the blm sells them to kill buyers and then sent to Mexico or Canada.

      2. Well… at this point most captured horses are staying in holding pens until they die. The BLM claims they have no plans to send wild horses to slaughter or euthanize them. However, with holding pens at maximum capacity, I fear it is just a matter of time.

  16. Rachel,
    Any word on whether that filly that everyone fell in love with got adopted? Can she still be identified if someone was to go out to Rocksprings to rescue her?

  17. This article was posted on facebook and it breaks my heart to see! Please let me know what individuals can do to fight this injustice!!

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