Working With Such Vigor, All I See Is A Grave Digger

The White Mountain roundup has started and I have to be honest with you all, I’m a bit of a mess. Not being there to observe, to grieve with these horses that mean so much to me as they are losing everything just hurts. My heart aches, my gut churns, and my fingers turn to icicles as I wonder what is happening. Who is caught and who is still free. Who made it safely to the trap and who will not live to see another sunrise.

I’ve been going back and forth on if I should post and what I should post. I feel guilty for not writing earlier. I wonder if anything I come up with is too little, too late. I have my excuses, but surely I could have eked out some time during maternity leave to peck out a few words on this keyboard, to share thoughts and photos, and just be part of the collective grief we all face with each horse removed.

I am also paranoid. I’m afraid that if I let my emotions run too wild this week there is a slim chance someone with the BLM would see such things and it could cause damage to the horses. This fear has only been heightened by the knowledge that 2/3 of White Mountain’s captured horses may go to the inaccessible bottomless pit that Canon City has become.

So I shall endeavor to rein my emotions in.

As humans we so often determine somethings value by what it can give to us.

The Rock Springs Grazing Association finds value in their sheep and cattle, and so need to destroy anything that they deem as a threat to what they can profit. Between the subsidies to graze and the extra space for even more livestock, the most valuable wild horse is a dead one.

The BLM finds value in removing the horses. They’ll whine and cry and pretend like that’s not the case, but it’s all just an act. Roundups are an easy way to justify keeping their jobs and getting Congress to give them even more money. Roundups are much, much easier than actually coming up with innovative solutions to allow these horses to thrive and remain where they belong. Sure it’s broken, but that’s how it’s always been done. The BLM hems and haws and complains about not having enough room or money for the horses, yet gleefully announce they’re taking more, more, more year in and out. Every horse taken is another year of job security from the top down. Just look at how hard it is to adopt a horse in this post-pandemic world.

Adopters find value in getting to pick out a horse that meets the criteria they want. To them a horse is valuable if they’re the right color, the right build, the right brain. The horses value is as a tool to be ridden or driven. The horses killed over broken legs or having a defect don’t matter. They probably needed to be killed. The tens of thousands of horses who don’t meet that criteria are easily put out of sight and out of mind.

These are all things I have covered before.

I am guilty of letting my own thoughts and feelings govern the horses value as well. I value these horses because I know them. For over a decade they have brought me enjoyment. They’ve taught me lessons about their culture and life in general. This too is selfish. Sure, I’ve followed all the other roundups, my heart aching for those horses. It is knowing the White Mountain horses as individuals is what makes the hurt so much deeper now. Heck, I even have favorites amongst them! My brain loves to swing into that bargaining stage of grief where I pray to God that the horses will be spared but especially this select list of certain horses.

That’s disgusting. No horse deserves to spend the rest of their lives languishing in the feedlots the BLM passes off as holding facilities. A horses’ worthiness is not something I get to decide. I cannot blame anyone who might judge me for these words. It’s a reasonable reaction. I confess my sins publicly knowing they’re wrong but also knowing that someone may read these words and understand the similar wars going on in their own mind.

Right in the dead center of all these dark thoughts is a mare I never met.

On January 10, 2022 the BLM killed a 14 year old Little Colorado mare for being blind. She is one of 17 horses in Little Colorado who were killed in the roundup. Most of them were described as having “pre-existing” broken legs. It’s that blind mare I can’t stop thinking about, though.

I have no doubt that mares life was harder than that of her sighted brethren. She would have been unable to respond to social cues like pinned ears or snaking. She would have stumbled more often of holes in the earth, and been dependent on the rest of her band to help her avoid threats. However, I’m not remotely surprised that a blind horse would have survived in the wild.

One eye, two eyes, or no eyes, wild horse society is designed to support one another. Who knows how many years that mare lived not needing her eyes to survive. On her last day on this earth, she was able to cover miles of ground being chased down by a helicopter. Her band helped her through that.

Then she was killed. Blind horses are of no use. It would be too much of a hassle to deal with her in captivity, and too “complicated” to release her back with a familliar family member that she trusted.

That mare had a place she belonged, and a role she served. Her existence was completely independent of a human’s opinion on her condition.

Pearl lost her left eye when she was a few weeks old. Does one eye working warranty mercy where no working eyes did not?

Curly has spent years living with White Mountain knee. Every single day of those years has been spent surrounded by bachelors. Sometimes his own sons, but often youngsters with no relation to Curly.

No doubt the pain of a bad knee causes Curly to suffer. He’s inching towards his death, if he’s not dead already. Does that pain give humans the right to “put him out of his misery”?

What about Doc Holliday and Fisk? They’ve spent years trying to win a band. Their efforts cost them, and both were recovering from injuries the last time I saw them. Do they deserve death if they aren’t 100% sound the day they’re captured? When they’re already about to lose everything they worked so hard for?

Ponderosa is long in the tooth and gray in the face. She has not had foaled once in the past 12 years. Does she pose such a threat to justify forcing an IUD into her as a testing ground?

Trip is a major grump, but I’d be willing to bet that’s not the first thing most people notice about him. There are individuals salivating over their desire to adopt a curly horse. Should a horse that is ill suited for captivity be taken because a rare trait is in demand?

Comet is not the kind of horse the average person would jump to adopt. She’s middle aged, short, and built like a beach ball. Her coat bears more corn spots then some of the stallions her age. Will the BLM give her a break, assume her color and short stature means she’s more likely to maintain the genetic diversity in a herd of sorrels? Or will Comet be slated to spend the rest of her days in government holding?

What about those plain old sorrels? Achilles is another little shorting, having barely survived a severe injury as a foal. Being born to an excellent mother helped him make it through, but he still bears the scar. Does this 6 year old catch a break and avoid the helicopters or will he disappear into the unknown depths of the BLM system?

I want my daughter to grow up in a world where horses still run free. Where the coyotes that howl at the moon on my front lawn aren’t lured to their deaths by my neighbors. Where wolves and mountain lions are recognized for the good they do for the ecosystem. I don’t want our fights to drag out so long that they become her fights. I cannot promise her any of those things. I can’t promise her a better world, but I can do my part to strive for one.

Please pray for the White Mountain horses. That they would stay safe. That as many as possible can avoid capture. That those who are captured are sent places where they can be found and accounted for. That they go to loving and safe homes.

Please keep all the wonderful people who have been able to observe this ongoing roundup in your thoughts. Thank them for their efforts which help to keep the BLM accountable for the horses welfare but which also damage the spirit.


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.

28 thoughts on “Working With Such Vigor, All I See Is A Grave Digger

  1. First, Rachel, congrats on your little girl. How lucky she is to have such a talented & empathic mom!
    I dont “know” any of your loved ones from that herd or really from any of the herds that are being decimated right now by, frankly, our government! Because without authorization from the top, BLM & the Forest Service wouldnt be able to do this. Laura Leigh tells the current lineup of HMAs & shows videos – litigates whenever she can. But honestly, it sounds like the BLM has gone right back to the good old days. There is a video of a young colt with a broken leg that was being harassed by the helicopter – finally just quit. THATS a picture I see over & over. I hope your boys & girls are safe, but far too many arent and wont be. NOBODY IS LISTENING!
    Again, love & enjoy your little girl
    Maggie (changed my email)

    1. Thank you! She’s a great kid so I’m a pretty lucky mom. The BLM is past the good old days. They’re worse than that now. Every year they’re escalating a little more – more horses, more power and control. A decade ago they actually et the public actually view the roundups. It may not have been because they cared but at least they recognized they were required to honor some level of transparency. Today they have placed the observation miles away from the trap and across a paved highway. In what world does that make sense?!

  2. I agree totally with what you’re saying! I’ve not seen any wild horses but I have my favorites based on photos I’ve seen and their stories told by the wonderful photographers who go out there and document their lives. I feel so bad for the wild mustangs and that their legacies may be ending… it is truly sad …..

    1. It is so sad! Having favorites from a distance is totally legitimate. That’s part of why it is so important to share and help those who can’t visit learn more about the horses. It’s something I admittedly have not been doing the best job doing of late, but I’m glad you can enjoy them too. Anyway, living free lets everyone enjoy the horses even without visiting. It’s how it was meant to be under the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act and it’s horrifying how badly the BLM has twisted the intent of that piece of legislation. There were more horses ranging free before it passed then there are now.

  3. I have to tell you, I have owned 3 blind horses and often, if I didnt tell you. You wouldnt know. From watching them react normally in a herd, I’m convinced they feel the energy of the pineed ears, or “hey let’s groom” over actual visual cues. My horses live in a herd and like like horses and thrive. I have no doubt that mare did as well. 💔

    1. Thank you for this information! I’ve read about blind horses who are wonderful but never met one. A blind human is just as capable and worthwhile as a sighted human, so why should blind horses be considered any differently?

    1. Those are foals in Reiman’s band! The one on the left is a filly out of Fibonacci. She’s the spitting image of her momma and the first black foal that Fib has ever had. The one on the right is a colt out of Rosa. Rosa always has foals that look very different from one another, save two years when she back to back gave birth to two boys that I still can’t tell apart.

  4. Such a moving article. I grieve for all the horses and the terror they now face. It’s so wrong. They are beneficial to the earth and belong on the range. The cattle and sheep do not. The horses have survived for decades without man’s help. The cattle and sheep cannot. That right there should tell us who truly belongs. I cannot understand how this cruelty is allowed to continue. I am a taxpayer and work hard for my money. I do not want to fund these roundups. I wish there were a way to pull our own tax dollars away from the blm and spend them to benefit the horses rather than destroy them.

    1. I definitely agree with you. The wild horse situation is the modern version of taxation without representation. The President chooses the Secretary of the Interior who chooses the head of the BLM who chooses the head of the wild horse program. The American public only had control over the president – none of the other positions have to answer to us. So it makes it very easy for them to do whatever they want without consequence.

  5. Beautifully expressed. I can imagine your heartache and despair… if only I could do something to save them. There is no reason for us being unable to stop this, with the laws that were passed. How does our government justify the unequal application of our legal code?!! Murdering the beautiful blind mare and those they chased down to broken legs…. With all the noise we are making, it seems they are determined to “show them who’s boss” and spit on anyone who cares. Our own government, through the vicious Cattoors we taxpayers are paying to kill our loved ones.

  6. Please continue to post me – I love the photographs you take and the things you write. Once you introduced me to the waterholes of SandWash Basin, and I’ll never forget that day.
    PS: I do what I can – I try to help those organizations that try to save a few and return them to freedom. But its a drop in the bucket. If there is more to be done, keep me in the loop.

    1. I’ll do my best! I’ve never forgotten the fun we had in Sand Wash. It’s also been really fun to watch how big your granddaughter is getting on Facebook! So many people work so hard to help these horses, but it’s such an uphill battle when those with all the power are so determined to destroy instead of preserve.

  7. Speaking of Sand Wash Basin, Rachel, have you seen the pictures of the three young mares that were moved to Spring Creek (TJs HMA)? It appears they have settled in well, she just showed a picture of the three of them – they have been staying together. They are looking good. Thats the only HMA that I know of that is being truly cared for – and the BLM guys there have been great! Very small bunch of horses tho.

    1. Sadly I do not follow Spring Creek very closely. However, I do know that TJ does excellent work and I am grateful that her efforts are helping to preserve that herd. McCullough Peaks is a good example of a herd that well cared for thanks to the efforts of its BLM manager, Tricia Hatle. We already have the tools for more humane management strategies that is respectful to the horses while still limiting their population growth to appease the multiuse philosophy of the BLM.

  8. It’s too late in the day to get into a “discussion” about your derogatory remarks on BLM. You certainly know how to push all the sympathy, heartbreak, and poor wild horse buttons! You do know these “wild” horses are feral and many are born from feral mares. The BLM DOES NOT GET THEIR THRILLS FROM KILLING HORSES.. EVEN BLIND ONES. The plethora of bleeding heart groups just make me tired. So many of them are getting money from people that have more money than they know what to do with, but would not know a paint horse from an appy and don’t have any idea what a stud or a mare is. Just push those buttons and get the bucks TO SAVE THOSE POOR WILD HORSES .

    1. Rachel is one of the good guys! Do some actual research & investigation before you jump on this government agency bandwagon. Yes, there are organizations that have become more donation pushers, but there are many smaller ones that do their field work & are aware of the push to clear wild horses, wolves, and other WILD native animals out for more grazing, mining & drilling.

    2. It must have been very late in the evening indeed if you had neither the time to discern the purpose of my blog nor to take the five minutes it would take to peruse my blog and notice I have years worth of blog entries sharing stories about this particularly herd of horses. And yet apparently not late since you were still able to post and in five short sentences managed to engage in the strawman fallacy, an ad hominem attack against some vague illuminati-esque organizations, and oversimplification into a false dichotomy.

      With that noted, I do recognize that we live in a time where it is culturally acceptable and even encouraged to demean, insult, and otherwise deride anyone who holds a different position than your own at every opportunity. Thus, I appreciate you taking the time to go out of your way to make an attempt at kicking a complete stranger when they’re down. I do hope you found the opportunity to give yourself a hearty pat on the back for that ten minutes you spent ten years ago researching into the complexities of multiuse on public lands which now gives you the expertise required to “own the horse people”. Unfortunately I must graciously decline your invitation to further discuss this with you, as your initial post does make it clear it would be a colossal waste of my time.

  9. Another day, another crack in my heart. I wish I could give you a hug. Thank you for writing this. I know it hurt. Please, don’t give up.

  10. I am so appalled by the BLM’s actions of rounding up our Wild Horses and Burros, it just sickens me!! They are causing the deaths of our wild ones! The are paid to preserve and protect the land and care for these Wild Ones. They are not doing their job! They are catering to the Cattlemen. The BLM are sentencing our Wild Horses and Burros to death, killing our them during helicopter roundups, this is totally inhumane and cruel treatment of these iconic animals, and against the laws set forth for these animals to be protected.

  11. Hello Rachael, I have been reading some of your older blogs, and I have to note that back in 2016, there must have been an HMAP, that governed the herd. I belong to a group that has set a mission to try to coordinate efforts among advocates to save what is left of our wild equines in order to increase our impact. We also have hired a lobby firm to represent our wild equines. We are in the process of documenting and revealing HMAPs, and their implementation and outcomes for specific herds. This year’s round ups were horrific all over the west. Would you be so kind as to contact me, so that I can seek your guidance in documenting the HMAP details for this herd? Thank you

  12. Going back thru some of my “archived” posts & realized I hadnt gotten any recent ones of yours. I hope you & little one are ok & I bet she(?) is growing so fast. I know your health was an issue at one point – sorry I have been so lax with checking in.
    The Wild ones have had a really hard year & it appears no one is taking the time to understand that – why our supposed “representatives” cant remove their heads from wherever they have stuffed them – at least in this so important issue? Well, not only our wild horses, but wolves, mountain lions, bears, coyotes – all the wildlife. I really question exactly WHAT humans think will happen when we the “superior, dominant” species is all alone here on this earth. What a sad empty world. Not one I want to live in.
    Anyway— its almost deer season(gun) here – I have a little 4 acres next to some woods – posted! Havent seen many deer other than a doe with I believe this years doeling. They hang together sometimes, but I think Mom has deserted here now & then (finding love?) both are quite comfortable with axel & me – he gets “alert” but since they dont really panic & run – just saunter away – they arent all that exciting. Have seen a red fox a couple times over the years so they’re out there. And this time of year, usually get one of my feeders destroyed when a bear meanders thru. Taught me to bring them in (feeders not bears) at night. Love my little corner of country – know what I mean?
    So, hope you are doing well – in good health & enjoying being a mom.

    1. Hi Maggie! It’s good to hear from you. I love hearing about your visitors. I’m a sucker for deer myself. I currently have about 16 mule deer regulars. The white tail are a little less predictable but I typically see a few every week. My favorite is Scruffy. I’ve known her since she was a fawn and now she has a kiddo herself! I hope your duo makes it through hunting season. And that your efforts to keep the bears out of your feeders hold! Oof!

      Things are well here, if crazy. My daughter really embraced her toddlerhood but overall is very happy and fun child.

      The wild horse situation is very dire right now. The BLM has continued to escalate their plans to remove as many horses and zero out as many herds as possible. Congress is making token efforts as best but nothing is being done to actually prevent the destruction of the herds. Everything happening to US wildlife is bad. It’s a slow death by a thousand cuts and it’s frightening to think what it will look like 100 years from now.

      1. Yeah, just read an article by Chris Ketchum – mainly saying “fixing” climate change” alone without doing something(!) about humans continuous increased population numbers, obviously (to me) isnt going to “save” the planet as much as to save the so-called dominant human population. Exactly why would we want to be alone here?
        And yeah – whats being done to Wild Horses AND Burros by the BLM, FS, & government is so dam depressing. At the same time allowing the continuation of livestock & the hay/alfalfa to feed them.
        I’m glad you are surviving the toddler years – enjoy them – they grow up so fast.
        Take care

      2. Going back thru my emails getting ready to delete some! Hope you & yours are doing ok – we are getting some snow today – supposed to be a big storm
        My two deer “herd” has grown some – I think with this years buck fawns as my older doe doesnt seem to care much for them. Heard 2 loud & closer than I’d like, shots yesterday – hope everyone up back is ok. I realize its not good (in some peoples opinions) to get close to wild animals, but sadly, thats exactly what I’ve always done since we moved up here. Hurts when they get hit by cars or just disappear, but the time I have with them matters.
        Still missing horses – always will.
        I just hope somehow some way there will be a move forward in saving our Wild Horses. I’m not very optimistic about our Congressional “operatives” being interested enough.
        Sorry – intended this to be a bit more uplifting.
        Have a Merry Christmas & hopefully next year may be better for all of us

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