This past year has been on crazy whirlwind of unexpected twists and turns. First trying to garner support to stop the helicopter roundup and removal of over 300 of our beloved wild Onaqui horses which unfortunately still took place in July of 2021. Then switching gears to spending months on end in the BLM corrals in an effort to identify what horses were held in captivity and find adopters willing to offer safe, long-term placement. Several sanctuaries stepped up as well as enough private adopters that all 303 horses were eventually adopted.
In the last blog segment I was so excited to finally be able to announce that I was reuniting South Onaqui yearling Dreamcatcher with his band brother Teton and they’d both be coming home with me to join my Swasey mustang mare Cheyenne Grace. (you can read more of that story here) It literally seemed like ages between the close of the internet auction on December 15th and my pickup date of January 4th where Dreamcatcher and Teton were loaded into a trailer and made the lengthy drive west to be introduced to Cheyenne Grace.
Cheyenne was estimated to be 2 years old at that time, Teton was a year and a half and Dreamcatcher 9 months. While I don’t know the exact date of birth for Teton, I found him as young as 10 days to 2 weeks old in 2020 and found Dreamcatcher when he was less than a week old so lucky them instead of having a birthday, they’ll celebrate a birth week every year! This week happens to be Dreamcatchers big 1 year birth week!
In the 3 months he’s been home he’s gotten spoiled rotten by Cheyenne who went from being very annoyed she was no longer the only princess in the palace getting mom’s attention to doting on the little one and keeping a close, watchful eye to make sure he’s okay. She loves to lay her chin over the top of his neck and will stand and groom him using only the gentlest of lips. Teton also takes very good care of his little band brother although he’s also of the belief the kid needs to be a little braver (I agree) so it helps tremendously with training having Teton around to guide when Dreamcatcher gets stuck.
So far he’s been wonderful about being haltered, leading both inside and outside of his pen, he loves spending time in multiple arenas and is getting acquainted with the round pen slowly. He’s very tolerant of having new things on his back like towels, tarps and a saddle although the other two seem very intent to help him out and pull whatever I put on his back promptly off. He thinks a spray bottle is kind of interesting but also very suspicious and when the rope drags around on the ground he feels the need to kill it immediately to save us all from danger.
Dreamcatcher has gotten to meet many dogs, both very big and very small, and finds them all interesting. He’s decided that he likes chasing chickens and peacocks are kind of like dragons and not to be trusted. Cats are somewhere inbetween and he would prefer if they please just leave him alone. Slow feeders are fun, but empty grain bags are maybe the best toy ever because he can stomp them AND shake them all over the place and annoy his sister. He’s learned that when mommy sits on the top of the pen panels she’s probably up to something and he needs to keep a close watch.
Dreamcatcher is very good about having the farrier come and make his feet pretty again and once he realized what that was all about he might have even liked it. He loves to come to the fence and greet anyone that walks by and most that meet him call him a puppy because he’s very content to stand and lean against the humans for endless amounts of time getting lots of pets and scratches.
When Dreamcatcher gets startled his back legs pump super fast like he’s riding a bicycle, but he doesn’t actually move much. I do something similar when I get scared so I can’t really blame him. Every day he’s getting better about having his own time to learn and play by himself without Teton or Cheyenne around and has figured out that he actually will survive. And it might even be fun.
Dreamcatcher gets to go say hi to lots of other horses on the property and so far he’s liked them all – the little mustang fillies he says are his favorite. His eyes get very wide and he holds very still so they can sniff him and squeak at him. He also likes the pretty little paint gelding his same age who begs him to play from inside his corral. He’s learned to step up onto, and walk over, a bridge. He can even back off it and turn around on it if he’s in a good mood! He is great about weaving through poles and will chase Teton as fast as possible in the big arenas bucking and kicking and standing up to play spar. That’s his favorite way to spend an afternoon. Cheyenne disagrees because she’d rather have her boys home even if they are annoying a lot of the time.
It’s a continuous work in progress to wrap my mind around the reality that these precious beings I watched grow and flourish with their wild horse families are now in a pen following me around like ducklings. Every last time if I had a choice I’d rather they be back wild and free in that desert with the rest of their friends that were left behind. Since that isn’t a reality unfortunately, every day the goal is to make it a great day for them. Teach them new things, give them as much love as they can tolerate and give them consistency. Teton in particular absolutely LOVES to learn and as Dreamcatcher ages and learns confidence from his role model of a brother he undoubtedly will too. Right now eating, playing and pets are his favorite ways to spend the day and not necessarily in that order.
It’s crazy to see how far they’ve come in such a very short time – both in what they’ve learned and how fast they’ve grown. There’s no telling what the next year will hold for this little guy, but at the very least I hope it’s another 365 good days as a little Onaqui mustang.
*** Many thanks to Karen Larsen Betten for taking the images of me with Dreamcatcher for his birthday week!
For months I tried to chronical stories from the range to tell of the horses that remained, the horses who were removed and the horses who sat in limbo somewhere in between. Then in September those stories about the aftermath abruptly stopped. At the time I didn’t see the correlation, but looking back at how things unfolded it’s more clear to me that sometimes in life there simply are no more words to share.
On September 9th I made my first of many long drives to the Delta short term holding facility where the Onaqu horses were being housed while waiting for the adoption event to commence. The first time seeing those beautiful souls who once roamed freely among the plains and through the hillsides of the West Desert behind bars in captivity was difficult to say the least. Regardless of the impressive cleanliness of the facility or the calm demeanor of the horses it’s still overwhelming to see spirits once so free and now know they likely will never been again. It’s just something I relate to in my core.
After several hours slowly walking aisle by aisle and greeting so many old friends I came across my dear Red Bird. I didn’t notice him right away, but I was filming on my phone talking to another love of a horse from down south and over to the side you can see little Red Bird peeking his head around to see me then he pushed his way right up to the bars to snuffle my hand and take some hay. His little almond shaped eyes wide and bright, his coat shinny and starting to prominently show more grey just like his dad Goliath and Mom Misty. He had a fat little tummy and we were all so excited to see that the tumor on his lip was no longer red and inflamed, but had healed over and the swelling had gone down since I last saw him in July the day before he was captured.
4 days later on Monday, September 13th without any warning Red Bird was euthanized by the BLM.
I showed up on the 15th and after several hours visiting with the horses we were getting ready to leave and I mentioned what a wonderful home Red Bird had waiting for him and it was at that point I was told he was no longer there.
He had been gelded, vaccinated and dewormed then killed. I had been assured he would have the chance to go through the adoption program with all of the other Onaqui. For months I’d been documenting his progress in the wild and taking close-up photos of his lip which I shared with several equine vets as well as the local BLM wild horse & burrow specialist. To her credit she always wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and didn’t look at it as a particularly concerning injury. Certainly not something that was life threatening.
All of the vets that I spoke with gave me the same diagnosis – Equine juvenile mandibular ossifying fibroma. It’s not good. You’d think after hearing it once, twice, maybe I’d accept it, but I just kept hoping for a miracle I guess. The good news is that it is curable if caught early on and removed. However with Red Bird, it first presented in mid-January 2021 so by the time he was captured the fibroma had grown to a size where it had entered his lower mandible. To remove it completely would mean to remove part of his jaw bone which I never felt good about. Keeping a wild animal alive, but removing part of its lower jaw didn’t seem like it was fair, or would allow him a quality life.
That said, he was an otherwise very happy, healthy, joyful little horse. Did he have a condition that was terminal? Yes. But none of us are granted a forever life, neither are horses. So as long as he was happy, healthy and comfortable I felt very strongly he should be given that life. Whether it was 10 months or 10 years there’s no way anyone could have known. The tumor would eventually grow to a point where it would impact his jaw alignment or teeth, but for now his teeth were perfect and jaw bone was straight. I hadn’t seen any indication of it growing since April so it might have stayed manageable for months or years – who knows. But now he’ll never get that chance.
That one little horse started a landslide of a movement to save the Onaqui and with it Red Birds Trust was formed. Red Birds “Trust” isn’t actually a “Trust” at all, it was named because it was all about earning his trust and saving him, one little fuzzy brown turning grey horse from the south desert. Son to beautiful Misty and to the famous Goliath. The only south horse to manage to escape the helicopters.
Just as the formation of the non-profit and efforts to save the Onaqui horses was far bigger than me, so became saving Red Bird himself. Knowing his medical prognosis prior to the roundup I was so torn. I knew I was going to be adopting horses myself, but did I have the mental and financial capacity to give him the best life options that he deserved? What would that even look like? I will forever be grateful for Clare Staples and Skydog for stepping up without hesitation to take in Red Bird and to give him the best life a little wild horse could ever ask for. Especially after what he’d already been through.
So Red Bird was happy, otherwise healthy and had a dream home waiting for him the second that the adoption event was over. But his little life was cut short out of the blue and we were all caught very off-guard and absolutely devastated.
It was then I stopped writing. I’ve struggled since that day trying to know when the “right” time would come to share what happened. How to share it. How to even process it. I’ve talked to local BLM staff at length many times to try to wrap my mind around how sometime like that can be allowed to happen for a horse who has such a perfect home waiting for him. Who was otherwise perfectly happy and healthy.
We are all in agreement that the prognosis at some point in time would end up being terminal. But when that time would have come is anyone’s guess. If the Onaqui were going through an in person auction the BLM handbook allows for an adopter to sign off on acknowledgement of a pre-existing condition and take responsibility for that horse and its future care. However since the auction is online, the way the policies are written do not allow for any horse to be put up for adoption which has a known medical condition like his. So with the decision for an online auction versus an in person auction Red Birds fate was sealed, it’s just that no one knew.
I’m so glad I got to see him one last time and that I inadvertently was shooting video on my phone. His bright little eyes and perky ears as he pushed his way up to the bars to greet me is just so very sweet. I thought it was such a wonderful hello, but had no idea it was a hello and goodbye wrapped into one.
I try not to watch it often because every time it makes me cry. It likely will for a very long time. I woke up having nightmares to the point I couldn’t breathe that sometime horrible happened to the horses the night he died, at the time I had no idea why in the world I’d be having dreams like that – usually the wild ones make me sleep so peacefully. Then I knew.
Now I just cautiously wait for the day the adoptions are over and horses are hopefully happy and transported safely to forever homes. It’s the bright light at the end of the very long tunnel.
What started out last March as a mission to save one special horse failed him in the end in the biggest way possible despite giving absolutely everything we had to give. But in the process of trying to protect one baby Onaqui, it turned out to be something much bigger.
My heart broke with the news, Clare’s heart broke, so many others that knew this bright light of a horse.
But Red Bird bless him brought me to Cheyenne Grace and I can’t even imagine not having her in my life – she’s an absolute perfect love of a filly and adds endless light and love to every day since I brought her home. Red Bird also opened my heart and mind to even the possibility of adopting “a” horse to begin with and now not only do I have Cheyenne, but I will take two other geldings in the upcoming adoption event and I have no doubt Red Bird would be nodding his head in approval.
His spirit will live on with every horse that Red Birds Trust is able to help in the coming months and coming years. As impossible as it is for me to wrap my head around a system that is so fundamentally flawed that it would rather an animal’s life be extinguished than let it live in comfort, peace and happiness at a qualified forever placement.
I try to focus on how grateful I am that this curious little foal and his wild horse friends let me into their wonderous lives and taught me so much in such a short amount of time. I have thought it over so many times, from so many angles, just trying to make some sort of sense of such a big loss of a little soul.
Hopefully some day policies can be re-written to allow for independent decision making when it comes to special needs animals and allow for them to have as much of a right to a good life as all the others.
A sincere thank you to all of Red Birds Trust supporters and donors for helping us to help as many of the Onaqui as we can. With every horse adopted, hauled, helped and every fence removed some of Red Birds memory can live on. And an eternal thank you to Clare Staples for opening her heart and soul to so many who would otherwise have nothing. Offering Red Bird a forever home would have simply been like heaven on earth for him. Although I would have cried to see him leave, I know that by offering him a home with you it was the best gift any animal could be given.
With much speculation and anticipation of new images to emerge of the beloved Onaqui Old Man Gandalf, I wanted to put out some documented facts that give details as to his whereabouts and life over the past year.
The good news is that there is zero evidence to prove that he is deceased. Although folks have explored during the winter, spring and summer months various areas of the range he has not been found. That includes no evidence of his passing.
The winter of 2020/2021 was extremely mild. There were very small patches of snow on Davis Mountain which allowed the horses to bunch closely together to eat the snow for moisture, but mostly they watered at well-fed holes that were turned on by the ranchers to water the cattle which graze through that area November 15th through May 15th. It never ceases to amaze me how the horses seem to know when a new trough has been turned on. Off they go, traveling miles from point A to point B to drink and socialize at holes which otherwise run dry in the summer months.
During the winter of 2021 I was on the range on average 4 to 5 days a week. Sometimes north, but a lot of times down south far, far out into the desert where I’d sit all day with the south herd before walking the mile or so back out to my car. Hence why the south horses will always hold such a special place in my heart whether on the range or now after the roundup in captivity.
In addition to very minimal snowfall in 2021, there was also no rain worth noting. This meant the streams and pools which exist in the Simpson Mountains, only accessible on horseback, were likely minimal to nonexistent all winter making the animals adjust and move their patterns accordingly.
During the winter of 2021 I spent time with and photographed Gandalf on the following days:
All of these days he was very high up on Davis Mountain, by himself, and was usually near a very small patch of snow where he had both access to food (grasses) and water (snow) with very little, if any, movement.
From March to June there were no sightings. Then he magically decided to reappear on June 28th, 2021 on the valley floor and again on July 2nd, 2021 he moved from the valley floor up high on Davis Mountain only to cross through a ravine and emerge on the other side.
On July 13th, 2021 only two days before the helicopters took to the skies to begin the roundup, he sat up on the ledges of the Simpson Mountains overlooking the valley, military base and Simpson Buttes. The wind was howling and the clouds were moving in rapidly from the south as a storm approached. I sat with him for the better part of 90 minutes up in the mountains just talking to him, shooting a cell phone video or two and taking his photo because he looked so very regal up on that hill with the wind whipping through his long mane and tail.
The helicopters came and subsequently over 400 Onaqui disappeared from the range. Gandalf along with his very old friends Buck and Amigo remained safe, but hidden. On August 9th 123 Onaqui were released on the most northern tip of the HMA known locally as “the burn area.” In the month prior to the release the desert experienced relentless rain and flooding which sent all of the plants far and wide into a massive time of growth and bloom. The entire north section of the range was almost an iridescent green. Sunflowers lined the roads and burst out in patches on Davis Mountain. Tall bushes with large purple flowers also flourished both in the north and south attracting a plethora of hummingbirds which feed on their nectar.
In addition to budding grasses, many natural watering holes also quickly filled to the brim and the horses were more than happy to use this opportunity to drink, play and roll.
Only 4 days after the August 9th release Gandalf once again reappeared. This time many miles from his last sighting high up on Simpson Mountain. He had come to greet his friends in the north who once again had found their freedom.
On August 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 28th and 30th of 2021 Gandalf called the Burn Area home. A couple of weeks after the main release one lone pinto mare named Aiyana was also released by herself into the burn area where the north herd waited. From accounts on scene at the time, she left the truck and ran through the main herd up to where Gandalf stood – she’d made her choice clear. Aiyana is a little old lady herself and there is no question that they have known each other before even if she has spent the last several years in the south HMA with band stallion Rambo.
Gandalf and Aiyana stayed together for several days until a fight occurred and he lost her to a younger, stronger bay stallion. During their time together there were four successful breedings witnessed between the two.
Even after losing Aiyana, Gandalf chose to remain with the herd, watering sometimes at a now full pond in the north, but more often simply from small puddles on the ground which required less travel. I watched him rolling gleefully on the ground on numerous occasions and he was spending time with Amigo per usual and also spent a couple days being looked after and guarded by bachelor stallion Rudy.
The last time I saw him in 2021 it was in mid-September and he was moving around slowly, but just fine. We all move slower as we age that’s for sure. His body condition looked much better than it did in 2020 and he had once again moved off by himself for some peace and quiet.
Then came the winter of 2021/2022. This winter we had considerably more snow and rain than the prior year. As late as April 13th, 2022 a snowstorm blew in that completely covered the range as far as the eye could see in a blanket of white. We have been getting consistent rain and now thunderstorms are the norm as the evenings approach. Because of all the snow and rainfall the bunch grass is abundant compared to the prior year – especially higher on the hills. This means that both food and water would be available with ease of access up in the mountains without a need to come out in the open to year-round water sources like in past years.
On Friday, March 25, 2022 I left town at 2:15pm for the range with a client. We reached the north HMA at around 3:15pm and headed south. As we neared a year-round watering source for the north horses known as the sheep trough I looked to my right and saw Buck and Amigo coming slowly down Davis mountain. They followed horse trails used so often it looks like carvings into the side of the hill itself. They crossed the road and followed along on their way to get a drink. Both are much older, Amigo moves very slowly due to leg and hoof injuries and both have been known associates with Gandalf for years. We sat on the ground watching them and my client took some photos. After several minutes I turned and looked back at Davis mountain where I saw up at the top, near the paths leading down to water a solid white horse standing there watching them. I didn’t have a camera on me, and had no pressing need to take a photo that far away as I assumed he would follow the same path as they did and come down to water. Instead he stayed high up on the hill and I watched for a few minutes as he lowered his head and grazed. Then very slowly he began moving south, toward the path down the hill and he wandered over the back of the slope where he was no longer in sight.
I backtracked when he didn’t emerge and took another two track which has a bit of a view of that general area. It is about 3/4 mile away if you walk and there are dips in the ground preventing a clear view of the entire side of the hill. Meaning you have to hike in to really see that area fully. Since time was limited until sunset we left and went south to find the south herd instead of hiking in and back out again. The rest of the north herd was back behind the mountain in an area inaccessible by vehicle where they like to feed especially during the spring months. Therefore, there wasn’t another solid white horse that would have been separated from the herd traveling with Buck and Amigo.
Fast forward to June 13, 2022. I was on a sunrise to sunset tour with a client. We had spent several hours in the south HMA with that herd as intermittent rain coated the desert. Then we decided to go back north for the afternoon. The rain had slowed considerably and there were very low hanging clouds over the Simpson Mountains backing for an epic backdrop. The north herd was all the way up a two track at the base of the mountain in the trees and sage. They were covered in dirt from rolling and were grazing contently.
We spent around 5 hours here with the north herd. Photographing, observing and telling their stories. The sky to west became so dark it almost looked like night. The horses started slowly moving higher towards the mountain as if that was possible. I had put my camera in the car previously and was just enjoying sitting and watching the herd. As the weather started to change I turned and looked behind us towards Ericksen’s Pass and saw a tiny pure white horse standing there. I borrowed my clients camera and zoomed in to verify – sure enough it was a solid white horse that had just come out of the mountain about a mile from the herd.
I told her not to take her eyes off that horse and I ran to the car to get my binoculars. To get to the car and back took about 15 minutes because we’d hiked a ways in. By the time I got back the horse had gone down a tad into a ravine that’s in that area. My client had watched the horse ever so slowly walking along passing in front and behind sage bushes before she too lost sight right as I got back. I started hiking over that way with my binoculars and camera and only got about 100 yards before the sky literally split open and rain was dumping in buckets. We had to run all the way back to the car and start our way down the hill before the roads became so muddy it was hazardous to get out. It ended up raining non-stop the rest of the evening so we headed back to town to recap and dry off.
For those unfamiliar with the wild horses, for a stallion to not be seen for a length of time is actually not uncommon. Norman disappeared for a couple years, One Ear disappeared for a couple years, Goliath disappeared for a couple years. Those horses know those mountains better than we ever will which quite frankly thrills me to no end. Amigo is alive and well and in his upper twenties for example and as much as I’m out there I usually only see him once or twice a year. But he’s there. Just being a wild horse and sticking to himself.
Gandalf looked far better going into the winter of 2022 than he did the winter of 2021. There was significantly more rain and snowfall and subsequently more forage to be found. He has shown that he can travel several miles from Davis Mountain to the Simpson Mountains and from the Simpson Mountains all the way to the burn area. So he is mobile, he just does it at his own pace.
When I last saw him up close in September he still looked good physically, his feet were in good shape, he showed no sign of injury to his joints and was able to lie down, roll and rise. I was even kind of surprised to see that.
Both in March and in June the entire north herd was accounted for. There were no other “white” horses that travel by themselves that are known to be in this area. Unless there is a solid “white” horse in the east no one has ever seen, which I suppose is possible, there’s no one else that would have been emerging out of the mountains in June as the storm set in.
Hopefully these details will help people to feel a bit better about the situation. Could he have passed? Of course. However, there has been zero evidence found to prove this despite hikes and explorations among the mountains. Does he know those mountains maybe better than most the horses out there? Yes. Does he like to spend long periods away from the herd? Yes. Has there been plenty of water and food to sustain a single horse for months on end? Yes.
I hope that everyone can continue to share memories and admiration for this amazing soul instead of counting him out before the game is over. I’m personally looking forward to the day he may decide to emerge from his hiding spot for more than a brief appearance to give everyone waiting so patiently another glimpse.
For the last few weeks I’ve gotten quite a lot of communication from lovely folks who have made the big commitment to adopt one of our Onaqui wild horses from the 2021 roundup. For some horses the transition from the range to captivity is remarkably easy and others are struggling which is to be expected.
In less than a year they were removed from their home. Separated from their families. Placed in numerous trailers and in most cases hauled around the country to a new BLM facility before being loaded again and taken to their new home. If that happened to a human we’d be put on medication. And be sent to a therapist. Probably for the long term.
So as a girl who’s never raised, trained or taken care of a horse in her life and who now has 3 wild horse babies I wanted to share some behind the scenes stories from my perspective. Because I’m not a trainer – not even close. I’m not a domestic horse expert. I’m not a long time horse owner. I’m just a girl who loved living the island life until covid, moved to the dry as all hell desert solely because I fell in love with the wild horses and then was put in a position where I couldn’t let them go and brought a couple home.
I did however spent a ridiculous amount of time watching them simply be a wild horse with their bands in their natural environment and trying to understand what their behavior looks like without humans dictating it and interfering. Those wild horses taught me more about horses than I think I’d have ever learned in a lifetime from domestics. Their communication is unfiltered and concise and regimented. It’s a beautiful thing.
I kind of feel like adopting Teton and his little brother Dreamcatcher is like cheating because I’ve known them both since they were only a couple weeks old. They’d see me sitting out there more days than not and then when they were taken and housed in the BLM corrals I made the 2 hour drive to Delta every week and often more than once to sit with them, pet them, feed them, let them eat my shoes and try to give them something consistent. 8 hours a day I’d be there when I went just sitting on the feeders letting the horses snuffle all over me and reaching through the bars to pet the ones who were curious enough to let me.
So by the time the boys got to their new home yes it was a different location, but they’d had me around their entire lives so atleast there was that.
Teton will be two the first week of July. I am amazed every single day at his growth both in body and mind since he was in the wild. I still have images of him nursing from his mom at sunset 2 days before the helicopters flew. He was just a baby. He was put in a pen with the stallions because of his size and there was never a day that his band stallion Stetson wasn’t glued to his side protecting him if there was a ruckus. Stetson was an absolutely beautiful roan inside and out. Calm, assured, curious and very protective of his family. He was fortunate enough to travel to Engler Canyon Ranch where he will live out his life in a wild setting with many others. He taught Teton in short order what being an adult looks like.
The first day I found Teton in the pens I was in tears as he immediately came to the front and put his face through the bars and I put my face to his and he took his lips and smelled deeply and rubbed them all over me. Even after all that he was happy to see a familiar face. He is one of those horses who’s spirit absolutely radiates for everyone that meets him.
Fast forward to bringing him home. Every day except the day I saw Red Cloud deceased I feel guilty he’s in a cage. I always still see him living with his family on the range. I don’t think that will ever leave my mind. But here we are and so we have to move forward together. I had Cheyenne Grace first so when the boys came I decided to put them in together immediately. I thought it out and decided that with all the changes I’d rather get them over at once instead of having to keep adding more and more. So in together they went.
I was expecting there to be issues with the two very dominant geldings on either side of my horses as Teton is a big boy. However I was shocked as they greeted each other amicably. Sniffed and rubbed noses in affection rather than competition. After a couple hours one of them tried to challenge Teton over the panel and quick as lightening Teton grabbed him by the neck and just stood there. Not fighting, not making a sound, just holding him solid to prove a point. Then he let go and it was over as quick as it began and has never happened again. A point was made.
Teton has been wonderful about the halter, lead, saddle and having his feet picked up basically since I got him home. He immediately took the role of band stallion. Cheyenne and he had a lot of disagreements about this but he never gave an inch and if she’s in a mood Teton is the first to position himself between her and the baby or the humans in a gentle but firm way of “leave them alone.”
I was scared to death the first time I took him out for a walk around the property to explore the arenas, roundpens and overall area. There is literally nothing I can do if he decided he wanted to take off. Before his first walk I practiced with him for probably two weeks bringing him through the gate then backing him up back inside. Over and over and over. Because he was initially terrified at leaving his “safe place.” So I’d bring him out to his shoulders then back him in (over and over and over). Then it was to his mid-section. Then it was to his hips. Then we would come all the way out, turn around and go right back in. Finally I just felt really good about it one day so I walked him across the street to the arena where he got to learn about another gate.
His manners are excellent in that if he is uncomfortable he’ll take a step back. If I tell him to back up he will take exactly one step for each time I tell him “back.” Now we’re at a point where I can back him up from the side so we’re walking backwards side by side. He will put his front feet in the trailer but not his back. He loves the squirt bottle, is completely in tune when we are trying to learn and will quietly go in the back and nap when I release him and he’s had enough.
Dreamcatcher turned 1 last month. He’s always been smart, but is getting old enough to start thinking things through meaning he’s finally getting nervous. He reminds me of Teton at that age. He has that baby stubbornness about him, but if I’m training Teton Dreamcatcher will get along side and try to mimic his brother’s movements. So it’s a two for one. When I take him out of the pen to the arena to work his attention is better and better and his stubborn streak less and less.
But it’s still been hard. Getting him to leave their pen and his family was a major project. I went through the same steps as Teton in that it was a win if I could get him out of the gate, give him a reward, then right back in he went. Then we tried going to the arena closest to him where he would call and call to his friends. The kid just didn’t have any confidence. Now we’ve gotten to where he’ll lead and trailer pretty well. Going into a trailer was impressive as he charged BLM several times and put them on the fence when they were trying to load him at the facility with flags. It was a good thing for me to know – push him too hard and instead of flight it’ll be fight.
Although he gets all the cuddles he can handle and little lessons I’ve been focused mostly on Teton because of his size, and Cheyenne because she’s difficult. The kid learns vicariously and he has small lessons instead of long sessions.
But now to Cheyenne. This is actually for everyone who is feeling frustrated and discouraged and thinks that maybe they’re not the best fit for their horse. From a girl who basically doesn’t know diddly about training horses. I see a ton from trainers which is SO helpful seeing how things should be done, I talk to a trainer and other horse folks to get their opinions all the time because quite frankly having baby horse triplets is just hard. It definitely doesn’t make me love them any less but damn some days it’s hard not to beat yourself up on where you are or where you should be or where they should be, etc.
I adopted Cheyenne late October of 2021. She is from the Swasey HMA and was rounded up best guess around 4 months of age in 2020. She was weaned in the BLM pens in June of 2020, adopted out in September and returned to the facility skinny and with atrocious feet unhandled in September of 2021. We’ll never know what she went through, but whatever it was it wasn’t good because she has some pretty strong reactions to say the least.
When I got her she couldn’t be touched. That’s fine. I didn’t care. We’d get there eventually. She was put in the pen with the Onaqui mares and when I found her they were going after her continuously. Chasing her, biting her, kicking her. She never fought back that I saw. Ever. She looked sad and defeated. Then the pens closed for a week and when I returned little Onaqui mare CreamPuff had taken up the role of protector. She kept herself between Chy and the other mares and if they’d come at her she’d chase them off. Cheyenne found a good friend in that little cremello from Evander’s band.
When I brought her home it was cold as all hell. So I had a little camp chair and a book and I’d sit in her leanto to stay out of the wind and I’d read a book. I put a slow feed bag of hay next to me and as the days went by I’d move it closer and closer. If I even had a picture in my mind of touching her she’d go flying back and away.
For 3 weeks I went every day for a couple hours and just sat and read and talked to her. Eventually she started sniffing my leg. Then she’d take hay from my hand but that’s it. She has always been food motivated so I began trying to walk with her at liberty just giving her little treats if she’d even take as much as a step with me.
She was terrified of everything new. Literally everything. So we started a game that I did with my mastiff. If she touched her nose on the new thing she got a treat then I immediately turned and walked away with it. I’d present it, tell her to “see it”, when she touched it there was an immediate reward and I turned and left. Then we’d do it again and again and again.
Finally a month in she let me touch her. I scratched her mane and she jumped to high heavens but I kept my hand on her and began slowly scratching and her whole body shook and her lip went nuts. For 20 minutes she stood there shaking like a leaf. God only knows how much that girl needed to release. Literally.
Then came the halter. She’d touch it, I’d give her a treat, then I’d turn my back. Over and over and over until she wasn’t scared at the sight.
I’d try to encourage her she was welcome to touch me too by turning my back and putting my hand on my shoulder with a treat so she could sniff my hair, shoulder, back and get a reward without being scared I was going to ask anything of her.
I put a tarp through the bars of the panels and left it there for weeks. Any noise or movement caused immediate panic. If the lead rope drug on the ground she was terrified so I got a second one and tied it to my belt loop and I’d just wander around with this thing behind me until she didn’t care.
She hated being touched while eating because it blocked her vision of you and began kicking when he was frustrated. I had someone very well-versed in horses sort out the kicking problem immediately and slowly we began working on touching her while she was eating. I’d pet her then leave, pet her then leave. Now I literally lay myself half on top of her while she eats and she couldn’t be happier.
The first time she saw a peacock she thought it was a dragon and must be slayed immediately.
She LOVES dogs. All I can figure is she must have had a dog friend in her previous life because she positively melts when she sees dogs.
She’s exposed to chickens, cats, tractors, pitchforks, wheelbarrows, other riders on horses every day. But still she is very alert and wary of new things. Her ears are on high alert, her eyes wide and neck bent. It took months before she was actually happy about another human touching her. She would tolerate it (sometimes) but wasn’t thrilled.
I tie her off, but she hates it. She paws and paws and paws. She calls to Dreamcatcher when they are separated for even a couple minutes. The two have bonded considerably even if he’s at the bottom of the horse totem pole.
She leads great and will load in the trailer with encouragement but is scared of narrow enclosed places like the barn. If anyone other than me (and my wonderful friend who helps me train them every month or so) tries to touch her back feet she literally comes unhinged. She will kick for upwards of an hour. She has no quit in her that girl and the farriers have literally tried everything under the sun. Yet I can sit underneath her and file her feet all I want and she is gentle as she could possibly be.
If you (by you I mean someone other than me) pushes her too hard she will strike, head throw and lunge and kick. The only thing she hasn’t done is rear thankfully. She will never be a horse that will respond well to pressure and release training I don’t think. You have to let her think everything out and reward her and she is a totally different horse.
I have taken new humans in with the horses as often as possible. I figure the more they socialize the better. The more they learn that humans are fun and bring scratches and rewards the better. However, Chy still can be leery more so than the boys.
There was an incident this spring where I brought Dreamcatcher back from working him in the arena and Chy was in a snit. She was running and calling and pissed that he had been removed. So I bring him in through the gate and before I can take his lead off and turn to shut it she gives me one hell of a stink eye and goes blowing out the gate. Down to the main road where she took a tour of the neighborhood while one of the geldings on the corner persistently called her back home.
I grabbed her lead, halter and a handful of flavorful treats she loves and started following after her. She’d come to me no problem, then jump and kick (not at me) and race off again. That girl LOVES to run. I mean really, really loves it. But there’s a time and a place. So around and around the property she ran saying hi to all her horse friends along the way who’d now come to the front of their pens to watch her tantrum. She spun broadies around the tack shed and finally as she started to think she was going to blaze by me again she caught a whiff of the treats and stopped in her tracks and walked over panting to eat one as I put on the halter and lead her back home.
I was shaking like a leaf. All I could see was her making it to the highway or getting lots in a neighborhood and it being game over. Needless to say now I have very different protocol for coming and going and she’s getting a lesson in giving me space when I bring the boys back.
While I’m telling stories I’ll leave it at one of Teton. My rock.
I wanted to take him to the round pen about 3 weeks ago but there were 3 farrier trucks parked between point A and point B. There were 4 horses tied to the hitching posts getting feet done and there were chickens everywhere (nothing new). So I decided he’d done it before, and we have to practice so out we went. Teton is great in that instead of reacting he will usually stop dead in his tracks and assess then move along.
Not this day.
This day it was all fine and dandy until someone started up a side by side behind us and sprayed rocks a bit and that big beautiful boy lost his ever loving mind. He bucked, lunged and kicked out as he sprinted forward with me floating behind him like a human kite. I actually thought this might be that one time I had no choice but to let go of the rope but I didn’t. I managed to “whoooaaaa” him midair and bless his heart he stopped. He was breathing heavy and obviously scared but he stopped and let me walk right up where he laid his head against my chest and I just kissed on him and told him it was okay. Mind you my shoulder and hip would disagree, but it could have been worse. A lot worse.
I walked him on to a far arena instead of the round so he could have the freedom to just walk it off and relax and we stayed there quite a while before I took him back to the others once the trucks had all cleared out and it was a wide, clean area to navigate. But still he was nervous which is totally understandable.
With social media being so prevalent it’s lovely to see people’s progress with their horses and all the bonds they’ve made. But it can also give a false narrative too that getting a wild horse to adjust to it’s new life is easy and fast. I love to post happy, fun videos of all my kids accomplishments but there are days it’s a total shit show and I half crab crawl to the hot tub to try to unwind my muscles from whatever quirky thing unfolded.
And with Cheyenne especially I think for years she’ll be a work in progress. That little lady loves me to the moon and I trust her with me completely but when she gets a bee in her bonnet she’s a force to be reckoned with. Teton is my saving grace keeping the others in line, and the baby I have zero doubt will start to go through his own issues as his mind starts to mature. Every single day it’s work. And a lot of work. I have to try to figure out how to outsmart them, introduce them to new things, desensitize them without scaring them, etc. It’s a LOT.
I just hope that for folks that are getting frustrated or doubting themselves or their newly adopted Onaqui will take the time to read this and realize it’s not just them. I personally think the wild ones love sooooo hard once you get through that barrier but it’s bound to take time – and for some more than others. Just because they aren’t allowing for touch or halter or whatever doesn’t mean they’re not fit for being around humans. They have been through more mentally than any of us can probably imagine and maybe to start with they just need for time to be allowed to have no expectations. Every one of them is different just like we’re all different.
Like I said, my boys are different because of the relationship we always had, but little Chy is a force. That little lady loves the socks off me but if I’d have gone at her in the beginning asking even one thing I don’t think we’d have ever broken through. And here we are 6 months later and aside from her neighborhood exploration and hatred of farriers she’s come so far she’s not even like the same horse as when I got her.
So hopefully for those of you reading this having a rough day with your horse you’ll know it’s definitely not just you. It’s just much easier to post and share all the good days, not the days when they may possibly be considering lighting the world on fire.
In Loving Memory of Raja
This is one of those stories that I would have never foreseen, and one that has taken longer than most to get to an emotional place where I could tell it without falling apart. It is a tribute to a short, but very special life out on the Onaqui range of a small black mustang affectionately known as Raja.
Raja was born late in the fall of 2020 to a beautiful black mare with delicate white facial markings which made her appear as though she had been painted with care. She also sported a pure white pastern on her back right leg, but otherwise she was pitch black like a starless night. This mare was shy, but watchful and had quite a rough go of it since giving birth to Raja.
She briefly was seen traveling with Silver Star’s band down south in the crisp winter months of 2021 side by side with young Raja who was still very young and an awkward, fuzzy little ball of black fuzzy mustang. They wintered with the rest of the Onaqui far out in the desert searching for banks of snow to drink as the moisture that winter was shockingly light. Slowly they moved north as the grounds dried out and began once again occupying the base of the Simpson Mountains which was speckled with juniper and sage.
Shortly after being seen traveling with Silver Stars band a change in dynamics occurred and Raja and his dam were won by a large bay stud. They vanished from human sight for about three months and during that time their leader and stallion was found deceased from what appeared to be natural causes.
Raja and his mom were now on their own.
Fast forward to early April of 2021 and insert handsome South bachelor stallion Tango. Tango is a short, but brawny buckskin with a perfect blaze and a spitfire personality. Not one to overreact, he also wasn’t one to back down if he felt his little family was facing a potential threat. Tango kept a very far distance between his new band and the main south herd and he cautiously guarded and guided now 8 month old Raja and his mom to and from a relatively unused water source at the base of the mountain.
From their clearing at the base of the hill they had unobstructed views of the valley below and also of any incoming Onaqui horses. The vantage point was perfect as was access to precious water.
As spring turned into early summer Tango began to calm down and loosen up a bit. He began routinely grooming Raja’s mom and was frequently seen play sparring with Raja, teaching him the ropes of what life looks like as a wild stallion. The amount of gentleness which he would take care of and play with little Raja was so endearing. For a young colt who was not his own, he treated Raja practically like he was a precious breakable thing and was one of the most gentle stallions on the range.
As summer temperatures stormed into the desert in earnest Tango started allowing his family to travel along the well worn paths with the rest of the south Onaqui herd. They watered and grazed together and Raja now finally had friends his own age to sow his oats with out on the plains. Around and around the desert they raced, clouds of dust swirling in their wake.
And then the helicopters took to the sky. Tango was strong and brave and didn’t allow his little family to follow the others into the trap the first time the south herd was targeted. I found them that afternoon with others like Maverick, Avalanche and Jasper. But then the helicopters returned. On the very last day not one south horse was spared aside from Goliath and Joker. Two lone bachelors who knew better than to spend time in the usual places. Little Raja, his mom and step-dad Tango were captured along with the rest. July 18th they lost their freedom.
There were 123 horses selected from the 436 captured to be released back onto the range on August 9th, 2021. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this little black horse with a tiny little star would be one of them, but Raja and Tango made the cut. Back to their home they went. And ran they did. Ran and ran and ran from the north to the south until they finally found familiarity.
Tango managed to acquire a gorgeous young sorrel mare who looked at him like he hung the moon. For a couple months they were inseparable, but along the way they split up and he is now with two new mares who are pretty as little Onaqui super models and spend all their time with the other bands controlled by Bernard/Eclipse/Grey, Cobra and 300z.
Raja went with another group of Onaqui who number approximately 20 and are rarely seen. They have hidden themselves very far out in the desert well outside their normal stomping grounds. His life from August 9th to February 23rd, 2022 is a bit of a mystery because of the remoteness of where he was living unfortunately. But on February 23rd lightening storms erupted and raged across the desert.
I remember the date well because I was flying back to Utah from a much needed trip back home to the Islands and the weather had once again turned cold, skies had darkened as they rumbled low and loud. The area where Raja and the other Onaqui now lived was low, flat and the trees there were sparse at best. Unfortunately while hunkering down with a very experienced black Onaqui mare they were hit with lightening. His little body found not long after laying side by side with hers. Their deaths are considered to be instant.
The loss was literally palatable.
He was a fuzzy little yearling that hardly anyone knew about, but I did. And I looked for him whenever I could. He was sweet as the day is long. Playful, loving, and well cared for by his horse elders. All of my guests that were fortunate enough to meet him immediately fell in love with his spirit. Despite so many drastic changes at such a young age he was resilient and curious. Never afraid of life or of making new friends.
It was so incredibly sad to learn his life ended so early. But I’m so grateful atleast it was instant. He was simply cuddled up with another mare who I have no doubt would have cared for him based on her previous role as a lead mare before the roundup.
It is a stark reminder that life in the wild is harsh as well. Every time I find myself down south I am inadvertently scouring the mountains looking for a glimpse of him. I hope that little Raja’s memory will live on and on and I hope he’s running free and fast as far as his little legs can carry him in the skies.
These last 9 months have been filled with so many emotions it’s simply impossible to start to try to recap them all. Since March 2nd when the roundup of over 400 Onaqui wild horses was announced it’s been all hands on deck trying first to stop the roundup and then trying to find appropriate homes for the 300 mustangs awaiting adoption at our local Delta short term holding facility.
Ever since the corrals opened to the public back in September I’ve been spending time every week with all the horses in the pens taking photos, documenting, hand feeding and petting those who learned to enjoy the attention. It’s been so hard to keep the horses a secret that I intended to personally adopt but there was zero question that it was the right decision all the way around. I’ll forever be grateful for the little team of wild horse angels who helped to keep them safe amid the swirling mess of social media platforms.
I’m guessing that many people reading this will remember the story of little Dreamcatcher who was inadvertently separated from his mother Marley and sister Little Star during the roundup process and they were returned to the range while he was sent to the pens at around 4 months old. I’ve had countless good samaritans reach out over the months asking for an update and wanting to make sure that the little colt was okay. My answers were always brief and vague and simply asked for patience while the story played out.
Finally the day has come when I can share that little Dreamcatcher will be coming home with me to live out the rest of his life with my pretty little Swasey mustang rescue Cheyenne Grace and he will once again be reunited with his band brother Teton who was best friends with Red Bird and Little Star – the Three Amigos who were never separated in the wild and who did everything possible to care for little Dreamcatcher from the time he was born to the day of the roundup.
Teton also has a forever home with me and taking him was never something I gave as much as a second thought.
The band was split up with the majority being returned to the wild, but Stetson, Ariat and Moon Dancer, the three remaining of the family in the pens have also all been adopted into wonderful forever homes that are very fitting for their individual needs. The relief is immense.
Below are short little stories about both Dreamcatcher and Teton to tell a little more of their background in the wild and I am overjoyed to be able to share updates about their lives moving forward for a long, long time to come.
For those who have become familiar with Red Birds Trust, you will know that our 501(c)(3) nonprofit is not a sanctuary and thus these horses are not “sanctuary” horses, but rather my personal horses which I was able to adopt using all the tip money I’d been saving from my wonderful clients who I took out for photo tours on the range. So for all of you with such generous hearts I want to say a sincerely THANK YOU, because every one of you has now helped in your own way to help me to finally bring these boys home.
Dreamcatcher was just that – an almost ethereal little curious, loving, patient and kind little colt that was absolutely loved and adored by the yearlings in his band. He was born at the end of March 2021. Red Bird took the role as Dreamcatcher’s lead care taker since his dam Marley had her hands full with now two babies – Little Star and Dreamcatcher. Red Bird would groom him, stand guard over him while he slept and so very gently teach him the beginning lessons of how to stand and play.
Even as a wee one, Dreamcatcher had such a kind, curious nature about him and a quiet confidence which allowed him to carefully expand his horizons further away from his mom than most to meet new horse friends and cautiously assess new humans that may show up. While careful, he was never unreasonable about his level of caution and took on new experiences with relative ease and calmness.
We’ll never know what must have gone through his mind during the July 2021 roundup where at only a little over 4 months of age he was chased by a helicopter with the rest of his band, loaded into a stock trailer and then inadvertently separated from his mom, sister and all the other horses he knew. How this precious little soul slipped through the cracks will never be known, but the second that the Onaqui release happened and Marley and Little Star appeared back on the range without Dreamcatcher alarm bells began sounding far and wide.
Although it was deemed unsafe by the BLM to return him to his mother and sister in the wild after 6 weeks separation in the holding pens, he has finally been reunited with one of the three amigos – Teton – who helped to guide him to being the wonderful little perfect horse he is today.
There was initially some confusion as to Dreamcatchers true identity as a north foal named Quinn looked nearly identical (which by a crazy twist of fate was also orphaned in the roundup and who I’d watched being born on the range earlier that spring). Fortunately I had documented several scars on him right before the roundup (one very noticeable on his left shoulder as well as a tiny one on his forehead) so once we were allowed into the pens the little fella took not time at all to push his way to the front of the other boys to make himself known.
For everyone who has been lucky enough to meet him in person, little Dreamcatcher brings nothing but joy to anyone who’s fortunate enough to be in his presence. He’s an absolute perfect little creation and I will always be grateful to be his caretaker.
Teton was born in the spring of 2020 into a band lead by the lovely grey band stallion known as Goliath. Teton, Red Bird and Little Star were the three yearling amigos of the Onaqui world and were never more than a few feet apart. Little Star was born to mare Marley a tad later that spring, and Red Bird was the last to be born in early fall to a striking grey mare called Misty.
The three amigos were always such a joy to be around! They were constantly trying to test boundaries with Little Star in the lead and Teton as her trusted backup. And never to be left behind came Red Bird bringing up the tail end of the trio trying to be as brave as his two besties. All three babies entered their gangly, fluffy teenage stage as winter began to envelop the west. As spring brought with it warming temperatures and melting snow the babies began to shed their thick winter coats.
Months quickly passed and spring turned to summer all the while the three amigos grew and grew. And as luck would have it Marley had become pregnant by a handsome, brawny roan stallion somewhere along the way and she gave birth to a little baby bay colt who would become known as Dreamcatcher far and wide. The three amigos doted and fawned over the newest addition and while Red Bird stood guard while Dreamcatcher lay soundly sleeping under the summer sun Teton began exploring further from home finding friends in nearby bands to practice his sparing, tussling and grooming.
Teton has turned into just that – a mountain sized gelding but despite his size he never lost his sweetness or gentle heart. There was absolutely zero question when the news of his capture and transfer to the Delta facility became known that he would be adopted and brought home to join Jen’s expanding fur family and stay safe in the West Utah desert where he’d been born and raised a short distance away. His calm, assured demeanor will be an absolutely perfect fit for Cheyenne Grace and her little side of spunk and he’ll be the best role model big brother Dreamcatcher could ask for.
Welcoming Home Cheyenne Grace
It’s seems like ages since I’ve sat down to write. The reasons behind that will be shared in time, but for now, I’m just enjoying the moment where finally there is some happiness to share after all these months of feeling like you’re digging endless trenches and not ever knowing fully if they’ll lead you in the right direction.
Meet Cheyenne Grace.
Cheyenne Grace is officially the first horse that little Red Bird helped to save. Her new life has begun today, October 20th, 2021. 11 months to the day after I uprooted my life in Maui and moved to Utah after falling in love with the wild ones. Once they work their way into your soul there just really isn’t any turning back.
Fast forward to the Onaqui roundup. Fast forward again to the horses being transported to the short term holding facility in Delta. Fast forward one last time to the doors opening to the public after what seemed like a lifetime. I’ve been going to the facility every week to not only try to ID horses, but to spend time with the lovelies that I intend to adopt and to send short videos and photos to other adopters patiently waiting to bring the Onaqui home to some peace, love and healing.
When the world blew up and the roundup was announced, I had only intended on taking one horse – Red Bird – to keep him safe due to his jaw injury. But how quickly plans changed, morphed, and changed again so that now instead of saving one I took a very deep breath and mentally committed to saving three.
My three were carefully chosen – the first two were a no brainer and I’d literally probably sell my soul for them – and the third was an emotional choice knowing how his life had been turned upside down in the roundup. The start of the online auction is now nearly 2 months away after another delay. An end to a culmination of so many hours of blood, sweat and tears to try to do right by the horses by so many.
The week after I returned from a quick getaway in the Tetons late last month a couple little Swasey mustangs were put out into the general population which had been returned by an owner who said they could no longer pay for hay. There was a pinto gelding and pinto filly returned together – both very cute – both very skinny. The gelding was a flashy black and white and scared out of his wits. The filly was a bay roan pinto and had these calm, gentle eyes that just immediately sucked you in.
Silly me, I took several iphone photos and a little video to put out on social media because it’s no secret that mares are very hard to get adopted, and especially mares who are unknown and in poor body condition. I made her “please adopt me” post and hoped for the best. Until I didn’t. Because it hit me smack square in the face that I needed to be her forever home. She would be the perfect fit that I hadn’t known existed for the boys I’ll be bringing home in a few more weeks.
I got up at oh dark thirty and began the trek over to Delta the second it opened on Monday morning to fill out paperwork and make everything final. I spent time outside her pen taking photos and talking to her so atleast she’d have some idea of who I was. There’s just been so many changes for her in such a short life. First a roundup, then to be separated from her family in short-term holding, then to be adopted and not cared for, then returned. It’s a miracle she’s managed to retain her calmness and loveliness through it all.
So right now she’s thin, her mane has been half chewed off, she has her thick winter coat making her look like a shaggy bedraggled little thing but I still think she’s positively beautiful and with time I can’t wait to see her become what she’s just waiting for a chance to grow into and for her to be the new best friend and band member to my boys as soon as they’re able to come home as well.
Who would have known after so many years on a little tiny island and being consciously grateful for every day I had there that it would all come to an abrupt end only for me to be shoved by the “universe” into the desert with a herd of wild horses only to then be in a place in life where I can try to offer them a wonderful forever life for both of us.
Truly grateful once again. Somehow life always has a way of working out.
It’s been absolutely astounding to see the level of international support pouring out to try to save America’s iconic wild mustangs. Here in the states, American’s have been trying everything possible to make our pleas heard and ask that this war against wildlife be stopped. Unfortunately our government has failed universally across party lines. Instead of ramping up efforts to preserve the environment and the wildlife which calls it home, it’s being taken away at a mind boggling pace. The war against wild horses has never been so prolific.
Horses have been proven to be in the America’s long before the settlers arrived and are part of our longstanding ecological history. A common argument for removing wild horses from public lands is always that they are simply “feral” animals that need to be controlled and/or eradicated. However paleontological evidence suggests otherwise.
The majority of American’s oppose roundups. That is true more today than ever. But our elected officials turn a blind eye their own people’s pleas.
THE WILD FREE-ROAMING HORSES AND BURROS ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-195)
§1331. Congressional findings and declaration of policy Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.
Further the Act goes on to state:
For the purpose of furthering knowledge of wild horse and burro population dynamics and their interrelationship with wildlife, forage and water resources, and assisting him in making his determination as to what constitutes excess animals, the Secretary shall contract for a research study of such animals with such individuals independent of Federal and State government as may be recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for having scientific expertise and special knowledge of wild horse and burro protection….
To read the full act click here
If you’re so inclined, you can read the complete 2013 National Academy of Sciences Review here that systematically details the Bureau of Land Management’s failures to properly manage America’s Wild Horses and Burros and makes detailed recommendations on how to correct each area of mismanagement from a sound, scientific perspective. To date none of the suggestions have been implemented.
The National Academy of Sciences review is particularly important as it is an independent review based on scientific fact based evidence and takes into account each section of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act. It truly is the best tool out there to cite if we want to see a change in this dysfunctional, disorganized and destructive way of “managing” our nation’s treasures.
Now to some ideas of how we can work together with our international friends to draw attention to the decimation of our wild horses and burros before it’s too late. Approximately 60,000 are set for removal of the next 3.5 years. That’s in addition to the 50,000 currently housed in government facilities across the US. Astounding numbers I know.
The following are a list of representatives in the United States who are friends of our horses (and other wildlife) along with their contact information:
- Cory Booker – Senator – New Jersey (202) 224-3224 Washington DC office
2. Steve Cohen – Congressman – Tennessee (Committee of Natural Resources) (901) 544-4131
Mailing Address: The Clifford Davis/Odell Horton Federal Building
167 North Main Street, Ste 369, Memphis TN 38103
3. Bob Menendez – Senator – New Jersey (202) 224-4744
4. Dina Titus – Congresswoman – Nevada (202) 225-5965
Mailing Address: 495 South Main Street, 3rd Floor, Las Vegas, NV 89101
5. Raul Grijalva – Representative – Arizona (Committee of Natural Resources) (202) 225-2435
6. Brian Fitzpatrick – Congressman – Pennsylvania (202) 225-4276
7. Lindsey Graham – Senator – South Carolina (202) 224-5972
8. Dianne Feinstein – Senator – California (202) 224-3841
For International Friends
To those of you in other countries, the best suggestion is to contact your Minister of Environment & Prime Minister urging them to contact their American counterparts to reduce or eliminate livestock grazing on America’s public lands in order to protect America’s wild horses and burros in an effort to reduce methane emissions and reduce climate change.
You can expand on the premise in your own words to say that other countries look to the US to be a world leader in many facets – including animal welfare and environmental protection.
You can reach out to international media outlets and request coverage for this very important issue.
Remind them of the facts and the atrocities being committed against these wild horses. Helicopter roundups where helicopters actually strike horses with their landing gear, they force horses to run into barbed wire fences, they cause spontaneous miscarriage of foals, injuries and illnesses and America’s protected wild horses are being sent to slaughter in Mexico and Canada as we speak.
There are several videos and records of these events to be found on Wild Horse Education website.
You can also send the same message to the American Embassy in your country and ask to get a message to the Ambassador. Be sure to say that you expect a response and ask what the embassy is going to do with your comments.
This is an opportunity for the US to step up and prove that they are still committed to bettering the environment and protecting our national heritage. The US has the perfect opportunity to show that with a change of leadership we are renewing our commitment to be a leader in climate change and protecting the well-being of its citizens, its environment and its heritage.
To that point:
If America wants to be an environmental leader it needs to look at the facts:
- The UN has reported that methane emissions must be cut to avert global temperature rise and the acceleration of climate change
- Reducing methane emissions could provide one quick way to fight against climate change
- Livestock are a major contributor to methane emissions worldwide – estimated at 32% of the methane emissions
- Cows produce 5 times more methane than domestic horses (horses produce 45.5 pounds/year vs cows producing 220 pounds/year)
- The American government to allow cows and sheep to graze on hundreds of millions of acres of public lands
- Millions of international followers visit the US and spend their tourist dollars on these iconic wild horses. They also follow their health, wellbeing and plight on social media America’s iconic Wild Horses & Burros. They are America’s living history and must be protected before it’s too late.
- Currently they are being removed at accelerated levels. The stated goal is to remove 20,000 per year for the next 3.5 year. These are the highest removal numbers in decades.
- This is being done while allowing intensive grazing by commercial livestock to continue in Wild Horse & Burro habitat. Intensive grazing, also known as “seasonal” grazing, puts thousands of head of livestock on public lands where the Bureau of Land Management claims there isn’t even enough forage to sustain less than 20% that amount of horses.
- The western US is facing a mega-drought for the last 10 years and livestock production uses enormous amounts of water which is yet another reason to reduce or eliminate livestock from public lands. Livestock is free to graze on private lands rather than decimate lands belonging to the American public.
- The Dept. of the Interior BLM regulation 43 CFR 4710.5 “allows the agency to temporarily or permanently close public lands to livestock grazing, if necessary to provide habitat for wild horses or burros” which should be implemented immediately to preserve our wildlife and our environment.
For other details you can browse through previous blogs I’ve written starting with this one https://wildhorsephotosafaris.wordpress.com/2021/07/24/saving-the-onaqui-pt-8/
I’m not even sure there is a right answer on what to say, who to contact, or how to make our leaders listen and take a stand. All I do know is that if we don’t do something and do it in short order the likelihood of our nation’s treasure being around for our children and grandchildren to enjoy is slim to none. We are watching a mass extermination of species take place before our eyes.
There has been such an outpouring of love, support and passion to help the Onaqui wild horses retain/regain their freedom, their families and their lives in the past few months it is absolutely beautiful to see.
I think it’s important to note before I get started on ways to coordinate and help that there are SO many other wild horse herds in the US that face the same fate. I am so blessed to be able to share stories of our Onaqui and allow people who maybe never met them to get a glimpse into their social bonds and personalities. Just because there isn’t someone doing the same thing at the other less known HMA’s doesn’t mean that those horses are any less special, social or bonded with eachother.
At the very end of this blog I’ve included links to the past 7 blogs which offer not only statistics and facts, but links to back them up, ways to help and people to contact.
Here are some very basic ways that we can all unite together right now and moving forward to hopefully enable change to happen and help our wild horses continue to live wild and free as the national treasures that they are.
Know the Facts
Probably the most important element of all of this is that we know the facts and are able to speak clearly, concisely, calmly and truthfully before we start reaching out to government officials, NGOs, Sanctuaries, etc. to hear our plea.
Emotions run so high when it comes to saving the lives of those we love, but careening off topic and making threats, rants, unrealistic demands only hurts the cause it doesn’t help it.
(see the link to previous blogs at the end of this article & specific Onaqui HMA info)
Convince Congress and the Senators
Do the research to find out who your states Senator and Congressperson is and make contact. Ask to speak directly to their (1) Legislative Aid
then to their (2) Legislative Director
and finally to (3) the State Representative themselves.
Below are some specific topics to address:
Message #1. The National Academy of Sciences confirmed there is no science supporting the basis (AML) for the BLM’s overpopulation myth.
– This arbitrary system is called AML = Appropriate Management Level which sets the number of WHB allowed to live on a Herd Area.
– The BLM created a biased system where wild horses are only allowed 20% forage on their own lands while 80% is given to livestock; any horse above the 20% use is considered overpopulation.
– What is happening to our local Onaqui herd is happening to wild horses and burros throughout the West.
– Polls show the vast majority of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, oppose roundups and want their American wild horses and burros managed with humane PZP fertility control on the range.
Message #2. We are calling on Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer and President Biden to require the majority of the budget be dedicated to humane, on-range management and stop the roundups.
– The government plans to round up and add 100,000 wild horses and burros to the more than 50,000 who are already warehoused in government holding facilities.
– The National Academy of Sciences said that roundups are not sustainable … adding more wild horses and burros to government holding facilities doesn’t make any sense; NAS said humane, on-range management is the answer. (NAS Report: https://www.nap.edu/resource/13511/wild-horses-report-brief-final.pdf)
Message #3. This broken system must be replaced with a fair and humane program that America can be proud of! A program that gives wild horses and burros their fair share; keeps them out of government holding facilities and wild and free on our public lands. This is what the majority of Americans want!
– Wild horses and burros are only allowed to live on 11% of our public lands;
– Even on this small area the BLM only allows them less than 20% of the forage (food) and gives 80% to commercial livestock.
– WHB deserve their FAIR SHARE of our public lands and on-range management with humane birth control should be used to manage population growth while preserving natural, wild behaviors which are so important to these magnificent animals.
– We support win-win solutions that work for ranchers AND wild horses (e.g. voluntary retirement of livestock grazing permits, compensation for non-use of livestock grazing permits, compensation to work with advocates on humane birth control, etc.)
Spread the Word
So many of us are new to this fight. Please don’t think that just because you’re just finding out about roundups you can’t make a difference! Our mustangs and American Heritage needs every last voice that they can get right now and moving forward.
For every person that is sharing the facts and the tragedies and the misspending of our tax dollars to take these horses from their homes on OUR public lands, just think of how many people in turn you can be introducing that have no news of the war that’s currently raging on for our Wild Horses & Burros. Now encourage these people to help to inform others and so on.
Every. Last. Voice. Is. Needed.
There are so many ways to stay informed of accurate and up to date information. Below are links to just some of the sources you may want to start following:
Once you have had an opportunity to gather numbers and facts begin reaching out to both local and national media outlets. And keep reaching out. This issue isn’t going away any time soon so it’s imperative that American’s make their voices heard even to the top tiers of our government offices that we want our tax dollars to go towards 1) Humane On the Range Management 2) Towards protecting this National Treasure as dictated by the 1971 Wild Horse & Burro Act and 3) that they be given their fair share of the forage and water supply on our public lands instead of 80% or more being allocated to livestock grazing. Quote the National Academy of Science report procured by our Government in 2013 – this document is available online at: https://wildhorseeducation.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/13511.pdf and is a wealthy of knowledge and power!
It’s so important to at the very least show up in support of our Wild Horses & Burros when there is an organized rally in your area. There’s no need to be yelling or causing a fuss, but there is power in numbers and the more people that show up in support, the more chance there is of news media showing up for coverage and from there the words continues to spread gaining momentum along the way.
Previous links to Blogs Offering Facts, Figures and links on how to Save the Onaqui
FACT SHEET – ONAQUI – UTAH WILD HORSE ISSUE: AT-A-GLANCE
- BLM-MANAGED PUBLIC LAND USE IN UTAH
Livestock is given 10x more BLM-managed public lands than wild horses/burros in UT.
Livestock is given more than 80-90% of the forage in Onaqui (based on high and low AML for wild horses which is 121 to 210 horses).
Livestock is given 98% of forage allocations on federal public lands; wild horses/burros is given just 2%.
Following are the statistics for UTAH wild horses, burros (WHB) and livestock grazing on Bureau of Land Management-managed public lands:
1,956 WHB allowed on 2.15 million acres (current estimated population 5,746 WHB)
while the equivalent of
108,333 cows* (1.3 million AUMs) are allowed on 22 million acres in the state.[i]
* Cow grazing is used because cows and wild horses are allocated the same amount of forage; there are actually far greater numbers of sheep due to size (5 sheep = 1 cow).
The current estimated population of 5,316 wild horses and 430 burros in Utah comprises just 5% of the permitted livestock grazing on BLM-managed lands in the state.
BLM wants to remove 2/3 of all of Utah’s wild horses/burros.
- 1/3 OF ORIGINAL HABITAT HAS BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM WILD HORSES & BURROS IN UTAH
Wild horses and burros have been zeroed-out or eliminated from ONE-THIRD of the original BLM-managed public lands in Utah that were designated for their use.
ORIGINAL (1971) CONGRESS-DESIGNATED
PUBLIC LANDS FOR WILD HORSE/BURROIN UTAH: 3,224,891 acres
REMAINING PUBLIC LANDS FOR
WILD HORSE/BURRO IN UTAH: 2,154,458 acres
Private, commercial livestock continues to graze on these zero-out wild horse/burro zeroed-out lands.
The federal grazing fee for 2021 remains the same at $1.35 per animal unit month.[ii]
allows more than any of Utah’s BLM grazing allotments are “common” allotments where more than one permittee is authorized to use the allotment. Grazing on these allotments is authorized through the issuance of 1,462 grazing permits and provide for just over 1.3 million animal unit months (AUMs) of livestock use.
ONAQUI HERD MANAGEMENT AREA GRAZING
Established by an Act of Congress, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology
10th Circuit Court of Appeals
“While action is mandatory if necessary to acheive a ”thriving natural ecological balance on public lands, the BLM is left with a great deal of discretion in deciding how to achieve that Congressional objective.”
The BLM’s claims of overpopulation are unsubstantiated and based on the unscientific population limits (Appropriate Management Levels – AMLs) imposed by the agency itself. The National Academy of Sciences found “no science-based rationale” for these population limits, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2016 that AMLs are not written into the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the BLM is under no obligation to remove horses just because their populations exceed the agency-created AMLs.
With only 25 days left until the roundup of 400 of our 475 Onaqui Wild Horses the battle to preserve their freedom rages on.
Pleas made far and wide to the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior and even President Biden have fallen on deaf ears. Even more unfathomable, President Biden released his fiscal year proposed budget for 2022 which calls for increases the wild horse and burro management by $35 million dollars. This increase is not targeted to help manage on-range herds humanely with the use of equine contraception such as PZP, but instead is directed towards even more mass removals of the wild horses and burros from public lands. The report goes on to blame wild horses and burros for climate change, yet mentions nothing about decreasing livestock grazing in these same areas. An excerpt is included below:
“The 2022 budget includes a $35.0 million increase in the Wild Horse and Burro Program to support the health and resilience of rangelands. Excess wild horse and burro populations undermine the health of public rangelands and supported species, making them less resilient to stressors from climate-driven changes. These degraded landscapes can also contribute to climate change, as they are more susceptible to wildfire occurrence, which exacerbates excess carbon. To help mitigate that problem, the request supports continued efforts to constrain the growth of animals on the range and to cover rising holding costs. BLM will also continue to emphasize non-lethal population management tools; transfers to other Federal, State, and local entities; and private placements.”
The absurdity of this stance by our new administration was met with shock and heartbreak through the Wild Horse Advocacy community. Using the Onaqui HMA as one example, grazing permits have been granted by the Bureau of Land Management allowing thousands of head of cattle and sheep (15,000 AUM) to consume the forage at the same time it’s being argued there is not enough food or water to support a mere 475 wild horses. 475 wild horses equates only to use of only 15% of the HMA resources as compared to 85% use by sheep and cattle.
The Wild Horse and Burro Act calls for these public lands to be managed for multiple uses, however the focus should be on creating a fair system that allows for equal rights to land use by all – not the current methods which are completely void of scientific backing and heavily skewed in favor of the livestock industries. The National Academy of Sciences has outlined an extensive plan for the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program overhaul in their 2013 Report report, yet 7 years later the changes still have not been implemented.
No one is arguing that ranges across the United States are facing dangerous drought conditions for wild horses among other wildlife. And no one is arguing that an outcome for the horses is sought which will be in their best interests. But do those interests involve spending the rest of their lives in an overcrowded government holding facility or worse?
In 2019 the BLM rounded up 243 Onaqui horses killing 2 in the process. Of those 241 surviving horses approximately 50 were adopted. Fifty. So when Gus Warr, Manager of the Wild Horse and Burro program in Utah, assures people in his public announcements that the Onaqui are very adoptable horses you have to wonder then what happens to all the others if the Onaqui are touted to have such a high rate of adoptability yet only 20% actually had the fortune of finding homes.
This has been a long standing problem nationwide as well as in Utah. There are much more humane methods of wild horse and burro capture such as bait traps, yet helicopter roundups remain the primary method used despite the trauma to horses, separation of family bands, indiscriminate captures and exorbitant cost to taxpayers. Mr. Warr was quoted in the Salt Lake City Tribune as saying ““In my 20 years with the program I found it the best way to gather the horses. As long as you have a good pilot, they don’t have to be roped or choked down.”
What he doesn’t mention in this article is the broken necks and broken legs he speaks of to attendees at the last Onaqui roundup (Documentary Unbroken Spirit @ 8:46). Not only is was this 2021 roundup scheduled without having a new Environment Assessment or public commentary, but it is scheduled for July where temperatures regularly soar over 100 degrees. Mares are still heavily pregnant and foals are being born as recently as four days ago to the Southern Onaqui herd. Those little foals hooves haven’t even hardened yet, and being run for miles across a hot desert at this young age literally causes them to grind their hooves completely off. I’m guessing the foals would disagree this is “the best way to gather horses.”
Friends of Animals filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction on June 14, 2021 in the federal courts to stop this scheduled roundup. Their 39 page document cites multiple reasons for their motion including irreparable harm to genetic diversity. “The most recent genetic report for the Onaqui Mountain HMA comes from samples that the geneticist received in 2005 and showed that the “herd has genetic variability that is at a critically low level.” Onaqui25939. The analysis indicated that the loss of variation was fairly recent and likely due to a bottleneck in population size. Id. Despite these alarming reports, there is no indication that the Onaqui population was monitored and there was no follow-up analysis to determine the genetic variation or variability in this population before BLM issued the 2018 Decision. Nonetheless, BLM removed 241 wild horses, nearly half of the estimated population, in 2019.10”
Imagine gathering over 80% of the existing herd only to handpick 52 mares and 52 stallions to return to the range a couple weeks later based on the age of stallions and how easy the mares are to dart with PZP in the field. There have been no plans communicated on what will happen to the 2021 foals – will they be separated from moms and kept in holding pens, will they be returned to the range before being properly weaned, or do they face a worse fate? This massive removal also lacks consideration for the fact that the Onaqui live in two distinct herds – one in the northern section of the range and one in the southern. These herds do not intermix and if genetic viability was already identified as a problem in the past imagine now with one herd likely being eliminated altogether.
On July 2, 2021 a rally to preserve the freedom of the Onaqui Wild horses is scheduled to take place at 8:30am at the south steps of the Salt Lake City State Capital. Actress Kathryn Heigl, Animal Wellness Action, Center for a Humane Economy , The Cloud Foundation, Jason Debus Heigl Foundation and Red Birds Trust have come together to garner awareness to the atrocities unfolding across the west to all wild horses and burros as well as to advocate for the preservation of freedom of our own local Onaqui herd.
With so few days remaining for our beloved horses to roam free on the range emotions run high, but it’s lovely to see so many advocacy groups, photographers and horse lovers unite. Every day I spend with the wild ones, which is now as many as possible, it helps to hit the reset button on all the human mayhem unfolding and serve as a reminder of why we’re all doing what we’re doing. Although the horses have a very strong voice and beautiful way of communicating not everyone can or will take the time to listen so it’s left up to us, the ones who know them and love them to be their voice.
So please mark your calendars and come join the
Rally for Freedom of the Onaqui
Friday, July 2nd at 8:30am at the
Salt Lake City State Capital building.
You can click this link for more information, parking directions and to RSVP.
It’s with high hopes I look forward to an amazing turnout of likeminded passionate people advocating for the protection of our beloved wild horses and burros.
More information can be found from the following sources among others: