The Worst Kind of Gods

Boy, has it been a month or what?  Such a month necessitates that I crawl out from the rock I was hiding under.  Don’t get me wrong, I realize that I’m not going to offer any monumental, mind-blowing commentary.  It’s more of an … itch.  Some folks in the wild horse realm are wrong, wrong, wrong and my skin is crawling to call them out on their garbage.  Better late than never?

So I’ll start this blog off by talking about the jerkiest thing of all to happen this month.  The BLM’s Advisory Board met and in the course of the yammering and complaining 8 out of 9 members voted to recommend the BLM euthanize the horses in Long Term Holding… aka they wanted the BLM to kill about 45,000 of them.

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Marty here was released in 2011 and now has a thriving band of his own, but he just as easily could have been one of the horses trapped in Long Term Holding right now.

Now at this point all of that is old news.  We have been there, done that, and already listened while the BLM reassured us that would never happen.  Never mind the BLM themselves were discussing ways to go about doing just that a couple years ago…

Either way it did confirm what I have suspected for some time:  The Advisory Board is pointless.  No, really.  They have no authority and even less credibility at this point.  How many ideas have the Advisory Board come up with all by themselves without any suggestions or advice from the BLM before the meeting?  And of the suggestions that the Advisory Board does make, how many of them are things that the BLM wasn’t already going to try anyway?

At the end of the day, they matter about as much as a “keyboard warrior” like I do.

… Did I get that right?  I’ll be honest, here.  I couldn’t be bothered to read Ben Master’s post trying to justify horse murder… kinda like how I couldn’t be bothered to finish watching the hot mess that was Unbranded. Ohhhh snap.

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That’s right, I said it.  Y’all know it’s true.  If you want a real documentary about Mustang training check out The Wild Horse Redemption instead.  There’s no comparison.

My understanding is that the whole poopshow of an idea was budget related.  The Advisory Board cares so much that they just absolutely must help the BLM to free up their budget – a budget which has doubled in the past decade.  Funny how removing 10,000+ horses for several years in a row didn’t work out so good for them in the long term.

Actually, it kind of makes me want to play chess with the BLM and/or the Advisory Board sometime.  I’m not a very good chess player, but playing against people who can’t so much as think two moves ahead?  I betcha I could make bank in side bets.  And bank is desperately needed right now so… (please someone hire me soon)

Let’s say their plan succeeded.  I know, it makes me vomit in my mouth a bit too.  But we will say that with snap of their fingers, 45,000 horses are gone and 50 million in their budget is freed up.  Now what?

No, really, what’s the plan?

Oh, yeah, that’s right.  There was no plan. There was no phase two; no way to “fix” what the BLM thinks to be “broken”.  It’s weird, but it’s almost having lots of money to play with does not instantly mean you know what you’re doing or that you can actually make good use of those funds.

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Insert lame joke about the presidential candidate of your choice here?  (Not Gary, though.  No making fun of Gary Johnson on my blog allowed!)

The reality is that they would only be killing those horses to make room so they could remove even more horses.  That 50 million would instantly go to more roundups – as many roundups as possible.  The horses would stockpile again and four years from now we would be hearing, “Oh, this situation is so much worse than we thought it would be so, ah, we’re just gonna kill all the horses again.  Oops?”

Great job, guys.  A regular bunch of Einsteins, this Advisory Board is.

It’s funny too, because that’s the accusation that pro-BLMers like to bring against advocates like me all the time. That we are overemotional women crying & screaming behind our computers about  the fate of the poor widdle horseys but are too dumb to come up with solutions to the “wild horse problem”.  Seriously, is it just me or do most pro-BLMers come off as really, really condescending?

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It’s crazy, but you can coo over an adorable wild foal AND have rational arguments against the epic fail that is the BLM.  No tea no shade.

My response to that kind of nonsense is pretty simple though:  I don’t need to come up with  solution.  We already have one.  Think about it.  The Advisory Board and the BLM think there are too many horses.  They killed off all the predators in these remote areas and are now wringing their hands that a prey species like the horse makes babies too quickly.  Well, wait a minute.  Don’t we have a way to slow down foaling rates? One that doesn’t require horrific and dangerous procedures like genital mutilation i.e. spaying?

Ohhh yeah.  We kinda do.  It’s called PZP.

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Lovelace was given an alternative, PZP-22, in 2011.  It’s not the best option, but she is docile enough it would be easy to give her regular PZP.

So let’s talk about PZP, shall we?  In June, The Cloud Foundation paid to send me up to Billings to take a PZP training class with The Science and Conservation Center aka the guys responsible for creating and implementing the stuff.   Thus I return a fountain of knowledge with a lot of feelings.

Let me tell you, Kim Franks gives one heck of a good class and it’s really quite affordable – 10/10 I would recommend taking it if you can!

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I know there’s a lot of confusion about PZP out there, so why not try to show what I learned be it good, bad, or ugly?  (Though fair warning, most of the ugly is waiting for a part two cuz boy is this getting long!)

In order to do this right we have to brush over the basics.

What is PZP?

A cute little acronym for porcine (pig) zona pellucida.  Moving on!

Okay, kidding.  PZP is a drug that blocks a mare from getting pregnant for a year; a drug which can be administered to mares in the wild.  For our purposes we will be talking about regular PZP and not the 2 year form, since that stuff it a hot mess.

How to Use PZP

With thoughtfulness, patience, and a gun.

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Obligatory shot of the author shooting a gun.

The PZP itself is a liquid. Said liquid is mixed with an adjuvant then immediately stuck in a dart which can be fired at a horse with a gun.  A dart gun is sort of like a real gun only, y’know, with darts.  There is, of course, a minor twist.  You don’t want to shoot a hole through the horses hip, so you need to control the force behind the shot.  Dart guns come in a wide range of forms including basic delivery methods like a blowgun.  The most practical types are either cartridge or  CO2 rifles.  The type of cartridge you insert or the amount of CO2 you add determine how powerful the shot is.

The goal is to use as little oomph as necessary – you want to just barely break the skin, not shoot the dart through one hip and out the other.  So you as the darter need to judge the distance the horse is via range finder and set the gun up with its parameters for how hard to fire.

That’s a very basic overview and each gun is different, but trust me when I say it’s not that hard. *cough* unless your Ben Masters and your aim is completely rubbish *cough*

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My thoughts exactly, Echo

I really should stop now.  I know there’s 7 other people I should be picking on too.  But they’re really old and boring, and Mr. Masters was actually in the class with me so I have a reference for these pot shots.  Wait, is it a pot shot if it’s true?  Anyway, picking on him is like shooting fish out of a barrel… actually, no.  I’m not sure he could pull that one off either.

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Left to Right:  Dan-Inject CO2 Rifle, Pneu-Dart X-Caliber CO2 Rifle, Pneu-Dart Cartridge Fired Rifle

 

The Science of PZP as Written By Someone Who Does Not Science Good and Wants to Do Other Things Good Too

Every mammal has this membrane around their eggs, a zona pellucida.  That bit is what decides whether or not to let a sperm have a go at fertilizing the egg.  So basically it helps ensure that horse and a tiger don’t have the ability to create some weird mutant baby together.  Though that would be a pretty sweet hybrid…  A hoiger?  Tigorse?

PZP works like a vaccine.  Proteins obtained from pig eggs are combined with an adjuvant and introduced into the horses bloodstream.  The horses immune system sees the pig gunk as bad and creates short-term antibodies to fight and get rid of the pig gunk.  The pig gunk, though, is relatively similar to the horses own gunk.  So those short-term antibodies also see the horses own zona pellucida as close enough to the pig gunk that the antibodies go after the horses egg too.  The sperm then cannot “get in” to the egg to fertilize it, since the antibodies are in the receptors where the sperm is supposed to be.

Now the key here is the “short term” part.  This is why PZP needs to be given annually.  Those little short-term cells will move on to fight other things if the vaccine isn’t re-upped.  Hence, over the course 11 months the effect will gradually wear off so a mare can become fertile once more.

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Pig ovaries.  The Center pays a slaughter house to take a worker off the line and to collect these bits for them.

BUT

And let me tell you Becky, this but is soooo big and it’s just round and out there:  if a mare is given enough doses, PZP will render her infertile permanently.  This is definitely a problem for those of us that want to ensure a herd will have longevity and continue to be there for our kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, etc.

You may have heard that PZP becomes irreversible after a mare is given the drug for 5 years in a row.  That’s… mostly true.

In reality, it is closer to5-7 years for true 100% permanency in every mare.  However, it becomes pretty darn permanent for quite a few mares after 4 years of doses.  The class taught that if you want a mare to foal again then you should leave them on PZP for no more than 3 years.  After those 3 years are up, you MUST NOT give that mare any PZP at all until they produce a foal.  That second part is critical to remember. For some mares it can take up to 8 years for the PZP to reverse.  Eight years!  So that mare who went 5 years off PZP without ever having a foal?  Yeah, it may not be her fault if she doesn’t foal.  It sure as heck isn’t nature taking its course.

If you are a Pryor fan you might be raising your eyebrow to the above.  You should be raising that eyebrow. A part two is coming to discuss PZP as it applies to the current Pryor herd EA.  Don’t worry, it’ll be way shorter than this part.

For non-Pryor fans… you’re crazy for not being a Pryor fan but I love you anyway.

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The Black.  She was rendered infertile by the adjuvant used with the PZP she was given as a youngster.  Nowadays a safer, modified adjuvant is used.

A Few More Important Things to Know

For all that it is effective, PZP is a finicky bugger.  The PZP itself has to be kept frozen right up until the time you plan to inject it into the horse, and the adjuvant has to be kept cool and separate from the PZP.  The person who is darting a horse with PZP has to defrost and thoroughly mix the PZP and the adjuvant right before they go out to dart the mare.   At most, you can make three batches at a time and you have to be careful to use them right away.  They can’t be stored for any length of time without the adjuvant separating and the stuff being useless.

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Tools of the trade.  It is easy to use all these parts and pieces on a table inside, but certainly would be more challenging when working out the back of a truck bed on the range.

On top of all that, making PZP is a long and involved process.  It takes a week to make a single batch and it all has to be done carefully and by hand.  If the PZP is not completely pure, then bad stuff can happen.  Even then, though, The Science and Conservation Center has years worth of the stuff waiting to be bought.  So stock is not an issue.  They also keep careful records of each batch they make and where it goes as a form of Quality Control.

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Spitfire

So absolutely nothing  I explained above is difficult. It might be a bit of a struggle to mix the PZP out in the field with the blowing wind and snows, but on the whole all of this is really, really easy.  So easy a person like me could be trusted to do it!

The tough part is the horses themselves.  You want to get as close as possible before firing the dart.  In addition to that, a good understanding of band dynamics is the difference between darting them all successfully and coughing on their metaphorical dust after a huffy lead mare leads the band away in annoyance.  The point being that horse sense is more important to the process than gun knowledge or an expert understanding of biology.

I suspect that is the part where the BLM balks.  Heck, I can practically hear them scoffing.  Sure it’s easy to dart a horse in a place like the Pryors or McCullough, but there’s no way you’ll get close enough to a wild horse in Nevada.  I know, I know.  It’s a weak excuse.  We have to remember that a lot of these folks only spend time on the range when they’re forced to, or when they want to find the worst possible cow and sheep ravaged riparian area in a hundred miles so they can take a quick photo and use it as their “proof” of overpopulation.

I could almost buy that excuse back when I was a newbie at this.  But I’ve seen what a couple years of consistent passive interaction can do to the most skittish of lead mares in White Mountain.  Horses in the Pryors and Sand Wash didn’t mellow to human presence instantly.  A few devoted horse lovers took the time go up there and to keep visiting until the horses began to adapt.  If the BLM would take a portion of their roundup funds to have boots on the ground, acclimating horses to people in the summer, fall, and winter then darting at the end of winter and in early spring would be completely possible.

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Hypatia

Because if I was the BLM, that’s how I would spend my money.  I would take part of the roundup budget and apply it to putting boots on the ground.  I’d pay local teens $10-15 an hour to go out on weekends and just quietly sit with the horses and operate bait traps around water sources, so the horses learn that gate panels and humans are a normal part of their lives.

Then I would go hire and train temps in the winter time. I’d get them certified to dart PZP and teach them how to work a bait trap.  They’d have their own quadrants for darting and a camera to document the horses they do dart.  I would take the photos from years previous to create a binder with photos and descriptions of horses they are not supposed to dart so the herd can stay genetically viable.  I’d give my employees a way to mark mares who were already darted – maybe fling some non-toxic paint across the fence onto their butts before releasing them or something similar (that part is a work in progress).

The Wild Horse Specialist can use his time to drive around and monitor his assistants instead of being stuck at yet another roundup, standing over a shoot deciding which horses get to remain free and which to doom.

Because that my friends, is a plan.  It’s taking the resources available and using them in a, relatively speaking, cost-effective way.  Is it a perfect plan?  Heck no!  It’s idealistic.  Implementation would be a bear, especially right at the beginning.  Some of my ideas would annoy the BLM and I know that there are advocates out there who would disagree with me too.  I can’t blame them – there are parts of it I don’t feel entirely okay with.

But you know what this isn’t?  It isn’t murdering horses.  It isn’t throwing them down in the dirt to spay them, then closing your eyes & covering your ears when those mares die from infection a week later.  It definitely isn’t a cockemamy scheme to kill horses by the tens of thousands because I was too much of a dumb ass to realize the market wouldn’t adopt out the 10,000 wild horses I was removing every year.

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Vimes’ Band

The fact is that the BLM is going to keep playing God with horses’ lives.  I can’t stop it.  I don’t think anyone can stop it.  Those kind of games are the federal governments bread and butter.

But if you’re gonna play God, then at least do it right.  Take the time to care about the lives you are tampering with.  See them as more than numbers, more than bugs to be squashed underfoot by unfeeling a-holes.  PZP gives more horses a shot at living a good life, free from the dirt pens of BLM holding and the constant obsessive roundups that remove adults and elderly horses just as much as they take yearlings and two year olds.  And from that perspective, it deserves a better shot than what the BLM is currently giving.

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Hawkeye with Verity’s colt.

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26 thoughts on “The Worst Kind of Gods

  1. dee21701 says:

    I like the way you think

  2. Margaret says:

    Rachel I had the exact thought on how to dart mares several years ago! So glad I’m not the only one with this idea! It’s brilliant.

  3. puller9 says:

    Bravo!!!

  4. Heather says:

    How do we get YOU in charge of the Bureau of Land Mismanagement? Brilliant!

  5. Terrah Swartz says:

    I like what you have to say and love the way you say it.
    Oh by the way was Madelyn Perkins stopped from saving mustangs on private property or was she clueless and not doing a good thing for mustang bands, families ? Curious what was/is going on with that whole thing?
    Terrah

    • Mary Young says:

      From what I read and you probably have too the answer is both. She has (donotknowexact#;s) 60K deeded and applied for 190K Allotment acres. She wanted to rescue the already in holding – geldings and let them roam free on all this land and have guests from around the world come and stay. (only rich people please). But, on her 190K BLM lands is already existing 3 wild herds which were to be first ZEROed out before her nonreproductive herd could take over. Well, the 60K acres were enough for her later but the state of Nevada and BLM both through roadblocks so she could not even do that. So Both is the answer.

    • I will be open and honest in saying that I haven’t really followed that whole situation. I know she does have a private “eco resort” you can pay an arm and leg to visit but that’s about it. Wild Love Preserve in Idaho is a better example of a sanctuary that as able to work with the BLM and utilize lands adjacent to the Challis herd. They’re a pretty cool group. I know they also are in charge of darting Challis mares with PZP, though I don’t know what their methods of operation are for it.

  6. Maggie Frazier says:

    Now Rachel – THINK about this! This whole plan is just too complicated (!) for the little old BLM! It makes sense, saves money (altho that’s not their priority) and it sure would allow a lot of horses to actually live out their lives – as wildlife! I hear what a lot of naysayers are saying is the truth – as far as they know it. Its pretty sad when people who started out as advocates now criticize anyone who attempts to find a way to really SAVE wild horses & burros & keep them from roundups. It must be VERY satisfying to BLM & livestock corporations (that’s what they are) to see this happening. But putting down people who have been working so hard to SAVE horses like Ginger & others – that is just wrong!

  7. Mustangsrunwild says:

    My fear is what is coming up in the appropriations bill of turning much of the WH&B management over to a Foundation. In looking into this foundation it seems like Rep. Sen. Bishop from Utah and Rep.Rep. Lummis WY coauthored the foundation in conjunction with Protect the Harvest. (Totally anti Wild anything) especially horses.)) Dir. Kontz stated BLM only has this one animal and it is not fair for them to have to manage an animal. (insomanywords). The no euthanasia or large sales so far has not been included in the 2017 appropriation Yet as it is with the 2016. Write your reps soon, Tell them include this language. Damn Wild Horses should not have to be subject to the ever changing Political circus. We have ideas from people like you Rachel. I know…. If they are hellbent on a Foundation than lets start a Reeves Foundation!!!.

  8. Alex says:

    Amen to that sister!!! I mean a plan like that is so simple and logical… But as we know laziness and short solutions that don’t enforce any thinking is the biggest issue with the BLM and so many other people.

  9. Maggie Frazier says:

    I went back & read your June post – wondered how Elaine (Reimanns band) & her colt are doing? AND hopefully you are once again gainfully employed & better for it?

  10. Ellen Burdick says:

    Great article. Gets to the meat of the problem. How to check the growth of the herds.
    Nicest part is the fact you did not reference any of the poor negative comments.

    Hope this can happen.
    Rancher in Nebraska

    • Plus it would also help us to more actively know how many horse are in each herd. They’re being seen every year, and it would be easy to track how many foals there are with this method. The BLM wouldn’t have to rely on inaccurate fly over, double count methods like they use now.

      Anyway, thanks for your comment! Go Big Red! (Why is the Northwestern game always so ugly anyway?)

    • Gail Smith says:

      Rancher in Nebraska – good to hear your consideration of the wild horses – please help keep seeking positive, humane and genetically conservative ways forward. Supporter, Scotland, UK

  11. Lily says:

    Thank you, Thank you. You have laid out a plan that I think would work. Thank you…Mr. Maters, is a jerk, I am sorry I even bought the movie. It was not what I thought it would be, just egos. Anyway, you have explained this very well. I sure hope Encore gets to be a Mamma, at least once in her life. Thank you again. Keep up the good work.Debi…

    • I think Encore will make a great mama some day! At the same time, I am glad that the PZP worked for her, since a foal would have been a lot with everything she has faced. Now that she is healthy and in a good place with Knight, she’ll be better prepared when the time comes.

      Lucky me, I did not buy Unbranded. I pulled it up on Netflix one day when I was home sick with the flu. It is… not a great movie when you already feel sick. I got so angry at multiple points and had to turn it off. Anyway that’s why I always recommend The Wild Horse Redemption to people who want a good film about wild horse gentling that won’t make you throw things at the TV. It’s about people putting away their egos to help horses who are just as imprisoned and trapped as they are. It also does a good job of not taking sides – it isn’t anti-BLM, but I wouldn’t describe it as BLM propaganda either. Plus it makes me cry.

  12. Gail Smith says:

    … and Thank You again for your post … my previous comment seems to have gone off on its own … but having re-read your post – I think BLM already regard the horses as more than bugs – these are ‘bugs’ they can make a profit out of… (they are deemed ‘are source’ after all) … profit is being made for some pockets by selling in whichever direction, and quite probably guaranteeing minimum numbers to kill buyers regardless of what they are saying out loud to the general population …
    It seems to me that significant re-direction of personal (spiritual?) and cultural attitude is urgently required for USA – AND THE REST OF THE WORLD – for us to really value our fellow creatures, stop exterminating species and manage to nurture and protect those that remain… but are humans intelligent enough to be able to achieve this … ? … for the sake of the horses … and the wolves … and cougars … and whales and dolphins … and ultimately for humankind … I hope we manage to use our intelligence wisely … and in time … x

  13. Elizabeth says:

    I am in total agreement .. and Ben The Betrayer got an earful from me and we had a bit of a back and forth . His movie was so discouraging for me.. I hated it and the only good part for me was when one of his companions quit early and left the bunch before reaching the find “GOAL” because we know the movie was all about “BEN THE BETRAYER” and not a pro mustang movie at all..THanks for leading me to the other movie.. You make such sense.. so glad there are others..

  14. This is an excellent post, Rachel. I am so sick of being labeled a “key board warrior” or a histrionic horse girl for daring to say that the horses in holding deserve better than mass slaughter (because who are they kidding by using the term ‘euthanasia.’) and the horses on the range should be managed in a humane manner that allows for longevity of the herds. Aside from the obviously questionable judgement of people who can condemn thousands of horses to death simply because the people in charge of their protection failed them, the language “cost-effective euthanasia” really made me physically ill….when you are simultaneously prioritizing cost and ‘humane’ in an effort to justify your highly disturbing plan….well let’s just say that their priorities weren’t in order. Not to mention, calling it euthanasia is such BS: 1. The horses are not sick or dying. 2. I don’t call mass shooting of horses “humane”.

    It is particularly twisted how they are promoting this ‘euthanasia’ as the humane option for the horses, when, as you stated, they consciously removed far more horses than could ever be adopted OR kept in a suitable holding facility. You make a good point in highlighting that there was no phase 2 of their plan….we were going to end up in the same place in several years. “Oh whoops guys, we are STILL removing more horses than we can care for. Let’s kill them all and start again!” This “plan” was simply a way of giving the BLM a blank slate. It was not formed in the horses’ best interests, and anyone who argues that it was is deluded.

    PZP may have its problems. But, if implemented thoughtfully, carefully and accurately, it is a far better alternative to constant removals and the ‘destruction’ of horses less suitable to adoption, simply because these horses were snatched from their natural environment as an older horse, or maybe they simply are not suited to domesticity. On the range management is the clear solution….I could go on and on but basically what I’m trying to say is “thank you!” Thank you for posting an educational and intelligent post with ideas that give the horses a chance.

    • Mustangsrunwild says:

      The sad thing about BLM use of pzp is the misuse and idea of it to make nonreproductive herds out of it. eg. South Steens roundup of (approx. 250 r-upped, 68 males released, 32 mares pzped released, 1 mare 2yr old nonpzped released, 150 up for adoption) and this is going on with many other herds. So now for 2 years anyway a sterile herd. Can you imagine the 68 males fighting over these mares going in and out of estress due to no pregnancies. Where are their brains?

  15. Thank you for this information!! I just returned from vacation so just reading my emails. I really appreciate all of the information about PZP!! I didn’t understand how it worked. A few weeks ago I was with a friend in Virginia City for the day. We were shopping and eating then took a drive down to the cemetery and were right by the high school. All of a sudden we were right on a corner and there was a band of 20 wild horses!!! We sat in my car for a minute taking photos then decided to get a closer look. They were just grazing behind some houses!! Then we met a woman who was photographing them. She said she lived a few miles away and has been following this band all around the area. We watched them for about 15 minutes and they slowly walked away!! There was one beautiful foal in the group and they were all protecting it. It was the thrill of a lifetime for my friend and I.. We are new horse advocate/ lovers and felt honored to see them up close!! We are now friends with the woman we met. She is planning on doing a book full of her photos. She said she had taken over 4000 over the last four years!! Anyway, this was just my story of a great experience that I never expected to happen. I really appreciate what people like you are doing to save this beautiful horses!! It is such a travesty that our government is trying to get rid of them!!! Keep up the good work!!! And God Bless you for doing this!!!

  16. Mustang Man says:

    Wow. I wonder who will trash on you worst. wild horse advocates or WH&B division fans ( remember people the BLM does not only have auth or horses they do great work in other areas) But anyway, your common sense approach makes sense, what a concept…

  17. […] about how PZP works, Rachel Reeves Photography wrote a great post on her blog that can be found here. As advocates began seeing the merit of PZP, they started pushing for more use, seemingly […]

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