Under Siege: Wild Horses and the Federal Lands They Live On (Op-Ed)
On a cold November day, I drove to the White Mountain Herd Management Area just north of Rock Springs, Wyoming. I was working on my film Spirit Riders, about the birth of an American Indian peace movement. Thinking some shots of wild horses would work well in showing how free and untamed the Wild West once was, I applied and paid for a permit to tape a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) "roundup."
The helicopter showed no mercy and pushed them harder and faster. Horses were whinnying with extreme stress in their voices. Their cries pieced my soul; it was like an arrow into my heart.
Little did I know I was walking into an absolute massacre of these beautiful and majestic creatures.
A man asked me where I would like to film, and seeing a high ridge about a quarter mile in front of the catch pens, I knew this would be a great location. He hesitated, saying, "Well you’re pretty close to the route in which we’ll be pushing them in, you’ll have to stay low to the ground so the horses don’t see you, and the helicopter will be buzzing low, it could get dangerous."
I told the officer I had experience filming helicopter skiing and much experience filming running horses. I promised him I would not freak out when the action went down. But I wasn’t ready for what was about to go down—I had never experienced anything like this in my life.
As the morning sun slowly began to illuminate the snowy high desert, we crouched low in the tall sagebrush. Suddenly, the sound of the helicopters severed the serenity, and emotions immediately turned from peace to terror; the wild horses were literally running for their lives, grasping for firm footing on an icy desert floor.
The helicopter showed no mercy and pushed them harder and faster. Horses were whinnying with extreme stress in their voices. Their cries pieced my soul; it was like an arrow into my heart. I immediately realized they were losing everything they had ever known, family and freedom. The horses smashed into the fencing and ran over each other. It was total chaos!
Any experienced horsemen will tell you to run horses into a round pen, so the animals can run off their excess energy in a circle, but I guess the BLM contractors neither knew nor cared. This continued for hours, and the violence I documented that day would forever change the course of my life. I began a 10-year journey into the making of several documentary films on the plight of America’s wild horses and our western public lands.
These were not dying desolate lands unsuitable to sustain healthy life. From where we sat the range looked in good condition; the sage brush and grasses were all a good height, and appeared robust. I noticed antelope, coyote, and mule deer, so the range seemed to be supporting wild life well, and there were no signs of any animals starving. In fact, these were some of the healthiest horses I had ever seen. All of them fit, muscular, able to run miles at a full gallop. Their raw beauty was incredible, but the situation so tragic. Where would these horses end up? Why were we taking away the land we had granted them for their protection?
Thanks to the BLM, over 45,000 wild horses are now in both long-term and short-term holding facilities (more then remain in the wild), costing the American taxpayers over $120,000 a day. Many of these sentient beings face the possibility of going to slaughter.
Wild Horses & Renegades depicts the ways in which our federal lands, where many of the wild horses roam, are currently under siege. The horses that live on these lands where the natural ecosystems are being systematically destroyed are battling, literally, for their very existence.
Through the filming of these animals in their majestic homes, as well as in their frantic plight, we hope to create a call to action for President Obama and Congress to stop ravaging these lands, and destroying our country's greatest symbol of freedom, the American wild horse.
Wild Horses & Renegades is a metaphor of what is occurring on so many levels in our society. Many of our rights and freedoms are being chipped away by socioeconomic issues and the all-consuming race for more fossil fuels at the expense of our environment.
As our country's greatest symbol of freedom, the American Wild Horse struggles for survival. It is a direct representation of the fact that our country is facing environmental and economic crisis at the hands of government land extractors. We must stand up for the horses, and for ourselves. As Michael Blake, author of Dances With Wolves, said about the movie: “This is not just a film about wild horses. This is a film about what is happening to America.”
The film will air on The Documentary Channel on December 7 at 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. EST.