2013 has been quite a year for me. In January, it began in the usual way. I woke up each day at 3:30am for my job as a morning show radio announcer, a job that I enjoyed immensely for over 20 years.
Then one day my job ended. I scooped up all the really important stuff I had in my drawers, like my Bruce Springsteen Christmas ornaments, Saturday Night Live DVD's and my Ottawa Senators bobble-head collection.
Then, for about five minutes, I wondered what to do next.
Maybe it was foreshadowing, or just plain coincidence, but a week 'before' I lost my job, someone sent me this video narrated by Alan Watts.
I watched it over and over again.
And that is how I found myself, six months later, standing on a mountain-top in central California, with a herd of wild horses thundering past.
I soon learned that the wild horse is in trouble. Through my photographs, and the ability to talk non-stop about something I really care about, over the past few months I have told the story about the plight of the wild horse at art shows, craft shows, parties, neighbours, friends on boats, complete strangers at the grocery store.
I wrote this blog just in case I missed someone.
'Look back at our struggle for freedom: trace our present day's strength to its source; and you'll find that man's pathway to glory, is strewn with the bones of the horse' – anonymous
In the late 1800's, there were an estimated 2 million wild horses roaming free across the western states
Tight-knit family bands of wild horses evolved to withstand anything that Mother Nature could deliver; from extreme heat to bone-chilling cold
From the backs of horses..... wars were fought and won, trails were paved, fields were plowed, and covered wagons were pulled across the plains, carrying families towards their dreams of a better life. And through it all, the horse became one of mankind's most trusted companions
The spirit of the free-roaming, hardy wild horse became the symbol of a wild and free nation.
'If we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers of the guilt' – Anna Sewell, author of 'Black Beauty'
As livestock production began to skyrocket and public lands became home to over 40 million grazing cattle, wild horse numbers began to plummet.
Eventually, wild horses were poisoned, hunted from airplanes and entire family bands were chased into holding pens, often run for miles to the point of exhaustion and death.
This abuse led U.S Congress to create the 'Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act' in 1971, a promise to protect wild horses from harrassment and capture.
Yet somehow, since 1971, 270,000 horses have been removed from public lands. Today, the cruel round-ups still exist. So what happened?
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees the land on which the wild horses live: public land owned by the citizens of the USA. But the land is also leased by cattle ranchers and the powerful oil industry.
Wild horses are viewed as competition by the livestock and oil industry giants. Wild horses do not generate revenue, nor do they have a voice in Washington.
With BLM round-ups continuing, today there are twice as many wild horses being stockpiled in 'holding facilities' than there are running free. Fewer than 35,000 wild horses remain on public land. 50,000 captured wild horses have been stripped of their freedom and now live in government holding facilities and government subsidized ranches all at great expense to the tax payer. Complete family bands torn apart. Once-proud stallions, who defended their herds against all danger, but are no match for man's helicopters... now separated from their families forever. Foals, exhausted and frail, pulled from their mothers.
More than half of all wild American mustangs in North America are found in Nevada.
The official silver quarter for the state of Nevada depicts a trio of wild mustangs running against a backdrop of mountains.
But even this honour was not enough to save the horses.
In 2010, in the name of 'land management', the BLM rounded up almost 2000 wild horses in Nevada's Calico Mountains. 145 horses were killed as a result of the round-up.
In fiscal year 2012 alone, 10,350 wild horses and burros were rounded up from all public lands, resulting in the deaths of 80 animals. They were either killed by the round-up process or euthanized because of acute injuries.
72 percent of Americans support the protection of wild horses. And yet the round-ups continue, forced by income-generating outside interests.
Once captured, the wild horses are branded with a 'freeze-mark'. Horses are given three chances for adoption. If they are over ten years old or deemed 'unadoptable', they are branded with a 'U', which means 'unwanted'. Older horses are sold for as little as $1.00.
The removal of wild horses from western public lands is inhumane, unsustainable and unscientific.
The BLM is being asked to STOP removing horses from the wild, and to start a more humane program using fertility control to manage natural herds.
What does the future hold for the wild horse?
'There is no force more powerful for creating change than the voice of the general public'. - (Velma Johnston, aka 'Wild Horse Annie', who was instrumental in bringing the protection of wild mustangs to Washington in the 50's)
There is hope.
Located in central California, 'Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary' was founded by Neda de Mayo in 1998. Return To Freedom was created as a model to explore non-invasive and minimally invasive wild horse management alternatives. Today, Return to Freedom is home to hundreds of wild horses, original family bands rescued from government roundups and holding facilities.
It is here that Neda de Mayo invites the public to 'nature's classroom' to observe natural herd behaviour, stallions raising their young and the matriarchs shaping the character of the foals from the minute they are born. Return to Freedom exists as a model proving that with the use of immunal contraception, wild herds can be managed in a natural, peaceful manner, on their rightful ranges. There is no stronger argument to end the cruel practice of helicopter-driven round-ups of the noble wild horses who gave so much to mankind for hundreds of years.
In 2004, Neda De Mayo founded 'The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and Coalition' to advocate for the protection of America's wild horses and burros.
Your help is needed.
Get involved. The wild horse is disappearing WITH the help of the American government.
Help Return To Freedom create the first of it's kind National Wild Horse Preserve
Please go to www.returntofreedom.org
Thank you to the 'Ya-Ya's http://www.facebook.com/theyayas for recording the Jagger/Richards song 'Wild Horses', and making it available on I-Tunes for just 99 cents- all proceeds to Return to Freedom!
Link here to purchase the song for just 99 cents:
And thank you to the Ya-Ya's, Rob Bennett, and photographic contributions by Lisa Dearing, Nadine deLange (and yours truly) for the production of this 'Wild Horses' video in support of Return to Freedom. Please share!
With your help, the nation's ultimate symbol of freedom will continue to run free for generations to come.
They are America's misfits, and all they need is a place to be' – Neda de Mayo
Merry Christmas, and all the best for 2014! 'Long May They Run'