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Mustang Chronicles 004: Divide Basin Gather-Adobe Town Lovers

Divide Basin Gather-Adobe Town Lovers

9-16-14 Woke at 4:30 in order to be at BLM at 6:15. It’s a solid ten minutes to get to the hard road and then another 25 to BLM. After being late yesterday as well as very disorganized about getting all my stuff into Norbert’s car, I’m trying to adhere to the adage, “If you’re on time, you’re late.” I organized the night before, so I was happy to be the second arrival and introduced myself to Jennifer, all the way from Culver City, a citizen observer! Another citizen observer would join us, Brian, a retired gentleman from Ogden, UT who does volunteer work with BLM there, observing horses. He has been following this a long time and is quite knowledgeable. Also with us were the New York Times, Carol, Ginger, Linda and Norbert who I would ride with again. It’s wonderful conversing with Norbert and getting his view on things like eating horsemeat. He told me only one place in Germany serves it as a sauerbraten in Cologne. However it is eaten all over Europe, especially France and Italy. He has the same conflicted feelings as I about how and why one species is considered so differently than another depending on culture. In many cultures dogs and cats are food. I woman I know told me as a child she ate dog tacos in Tijuana and they were very good. She didn’t know until the vendor was arrested for it and she saw him on TV. Ew.

In cultures where dogs are a surplus, they eat dog. Here, horses are in surplus. There are many thousands of wild horses in holding pens around the U.S. (as well as abandoned domestic horses in animal shelters). The numbers differ, but I have read that holding costs are as much as $46M a year. Gathered horses more than ten years old, or who have been passed over three times for adoption go to permanent long term holding. Because the numbers are increasing due to the gathers, I have heard some talk of euthanizing them but BLM denies this. Technically BLM cannot, since they are mandated to protect them, but laws can be changed. Once a horse or burro is adopted from the BLM the new owner cannot sell it for at least a year. But they can and have sold at least a hundred to buyers who state one intended use, pack horses for instance, keep them in holding for a year and then sell them to slaughter. While the horses are in the buyer’s “care,” many have died from neglect. Just this year some forty horses that were collected that ended up crossing the border to Canada for slaughter before the required announcement of availability for adoption and waiting period. It is my understanding that the mandate to protect is for horses on BLM land. Horses collected off Indian Reservations or private land can be sold to slaughter. Since horse slaughter is currently illegal in the U.S., these horses go to Canada or worse, Mexico, where the regulations regarding humane slaughter are not anything like what they are in the U.S. And we still have a long way to go in that department. However tracking a captured wild horse or burro for life is beyond the means of the BLM program. Additionally 1,200 horses have recently been returned to BLM from a prison program at Gunnison, CO do to a corruption issue and one of the largest long term holding facilities has recently closed because the price of beef is up and it is more profitable for the owner to hold cattle. That, along with the every increasing numbers in the herds means there are thousands more horses for which there are neither homes nor holding facilities.

I have to say once again, that the BLM people I have spoken to on the ground care very much about the animals in their care, but they are not the ones making the decisions. The gathering contractor, as much as I could witness seems to be adhering absolutely to the humane guidelines established by BLM and posted on their website and can also be seen here. What happens on the bureaucratic end desperately needs improvement.

Perhaps a well-administered PZP contraceptive program to hold the existing populations in check would do it, but there are problems with the program I will get into in another post. I’m told that in the Prior Mountain herd it is working well and the herd is stable. There they are also using citizen volunteers, something I think could be used to greater benefit, to dart the mares with the contraceptive. It’s said that the mountain terrain allows for easier access to the horses, however yesterday I was shooting (with a camera) horses in Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town that came within twenty five feet of me on open rangeland.

Yesterday’s gather of some of the Divide Basin horses was a total bust. This time we were several miles from the trap site and it was not visible. Troy Cattoor visited us on his 6-year-old palomino, looking for all the world like TV cowboy. He has been called a sadist. To me he seemed arrogant. In subsequent days I would change my opinion. About 1pm many of us were tired of baking in the sun. The Times guys and Norbert decided to wait it out. Late in the day they would finally get their shots, which I was to miss as I hitched a ride with Jennifer who wanted to go down into Salt Wells and look for horses. It was a good choice. We went deep into that HMA, all the way to Adobe Town, where I had not wanted to take the van on Saturday.

After about thirty miles, we spotted a herd of maybe fifteen horses. We got out to shoot, she walking directly to them. I went up into the wind and came down from the west into drainage and was able to sit there while she pushed the horses to me. Once I was spotted I sat still and let them come to me, which they did. Unfortunately there were stallions on either end of the herd, which kept me pinned down for a good long while. When they finally settled I came toward them a few steps at a time. Jennifer had advised me, quite rightly to clear all the settings on my camera and it was behaving SO much better, the bracketed shots coming off much quicker and I FINALLY found the spot focus adjustment. Now, finally, after losing so many great shots to fuzz, I could focus on their eyes!

The horses played around and did their “curiosity” thing, their “trying to scare” me thing and then settled again. There was the oddest little foal, a dappled palomino and cream pinto. He was funny looking until he got close and you could see what the coloring actually was. I have never seen anything like it.

IMG_7215-2B-2BVersion-2B3Eventually the herd moved off, but one older, dark chestnut stallion with a big, thick neck stayed with his under age girlfriend. A little yearling filly, cream colored with a narrow muzzle and huge, soft doe eyes. Jennifer called her a faun. They nuzzled and posed for the camera for a good five minutes before he walked away and she followed. They are so love drunk they walked to within 25 feet of me.
I’m always a little nervous about getting between horses or splitting a herd, but I wasn’t frightened of these guys. They were calm. They walked around me to join the disap-pearing herd and I called it a day, went back to Jennifer and the car and we continued back to the hard road.

IMG_7260-2B-2BVersion-2B2The country here is breathtaking. Living in a city or place with short sight lines, you can’t comprehend the sense of space. Our eyes physiologically adapt to the perspective of our environment. In a famous example forest people in Africa were shown an elephant in the far, far distance. They refused to believe it was a large animal, insisting that it was a little, tiny animal not that far away because in their forest one could not see more than a few paces. They had never encountered that kind of distance. The late afternoon light came sideways under huge, white clouds and lit Kinney Rim’s red stripes. There were showers all around with blue-grey rain lines not quite reaching the ground.

They are actually smiling.

They are actually smiling.

IMG_7269-2B-2BVersion-2B5No stops on the way home. Exhaustion. It was a stunning sunset. I think I got the best photo ever of the butte across the way. The light here just doesn’t stop!!! They are moving the trap tomorrow and I am glad of the rest.



  1. VisibleAccessMedia
    September 26, 2014

    Love the love horses. .

  2. jill Stanley
    September 29, 2014

    oh yes! great photos!


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