Red Birds Story
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.
So, so, so sorry. Weeping.
Many tears here with this too familiar story. Clare also wanted to take PJ (Picasso Junior) from the Sand Wash Basin roundup and give him the best vet treatment for his cancerous eye. Again, BLM ignored placing him in a wonderful sanctuary and just killed him instead. My heart is with you and this tragic loss. Your Red Birds Trust name now carries even more depth of meaning with his powerful story. May it live forever. ❤️
I am sitting here crying. I just can’t understand it. What would it have mattered if someone adopted them instead? It just doesn’t make ANY sense! This is such a waste!🤦♀️
You are amazing. If you are very quiet, you can feel Red Bird’s presence. God bless and keep His creatures who live at the mercy of badly-behaved humans. Bless all creatures, but most of all the innocents.
I cried reading this. It’s beautifully written,despite your heartbreak. I also hope and pray for changes in policy to protect our wild horses that actually protect them,instead of destroying them. I will continue to help where I can. Redbirds would nod his head and approve of all you are doing and will continue to do for our wild horses. Hugs
Yes, you wrote a beautiful piece about this precious soul, even with a broken heart..you blessed all of us with such a beautifully written story about Red Bird. Wouldn’t it be something IF you wrote a children’s story about Red Bird🤔🐎 Just a thought, but he would live on in eternity (which he will anyway) in children’s & adults hearts forever. Thank you for sharing & it is heartbreaking what happens to these incredible souls…these majestic horses. 🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎
You my friend have blessed this earth with your kind giving soul! Red Bird watch’s over his land from which he was taken from far to soon to protect those that remain, including you!
His spirit will always remain. Take comfort in that!
Love and light to you and all the wild ones.
So sorry about Red bird. I truly don’t understand why the BLM does what it does. My heart breaks for our wild horses and burros. Sending prayers to you and all our horses & burros.
Thank you for sharing his story. I cant stop crying. Do you by chance have any of his photos for sale or was he in any of the auction photos?
I dont know how these people can leave with themselves. Thank you for giving the horses a voice. Praying this nightmare will end soon and the horses can run free.
Hi Tawnya – I have a ton of photos for him that I’ll put in a gallery on Red Birds Trust website and all prints sold the profits will go 100% to the nonprofit.
I am so so sorry that in this day and age we have people who would rather kill the horse instead of letting him go to sanctuary. As I was reading Red Birds story through tears I was also thinking of the way the BLM decided to kill Picasso Jr. How can this be and how do we change the BLM.
The BLM will not release Michelangelo and we are heartbroken