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Salt Wells Creek Mustang Shiloh Comes Home!

Salt Wells Creek mustang Shiloh comes home to me a year after our wild dance. It’s a romantic story with many twists and turns along the way. I’ll tell it mostly in pictures, since that’s where it all began. I know many of you don’t know the whole story. Even this is extremely abbreviated, but it’s a big part…

I found Lieutenant’s band deep in the Salt Wells Creek/Adobe Town complex September 13, 2014, two days before the heavily disputed Checkerboard gathers were started in Wyoming.


Where I spent September 2014. Dark yellow is BLM. 40 mile swath along I 80 is Checkerboard.


After giving up for the day and starting home, as often happens… I spotted them.

Wyoming Checkerboard Wild Horses

You can read about my extraordinary experience playing with these two mixed bands with little human contact, here: http://kerryobrien.org/2014/09/


Wyoming checkerboard mustangs - Photography by Kerry O'Brien .

The yet un-named red Appaloosa figured prominently in the band of the grey stud.


WY Wild Horses, Checkerboard, BLM, WH&B

You can see the older white mare’s legs in the background and the grey mare’s nose to the left in the photo above. They play prominently in the story.


Wyoming Checkerboard Wild Horses

The red mare and the grey mare (not shown) with black points that looked exactly like this grey stud, were both clearly pregnant.


Wyoming Checkerboard Wild Horses

We played together for several hours until I lost the light, when they lined up on the ridge to watch me go. Magic does not describe it.


Salt Wells Creek wild horses, BLM, Canon City, CO

After the gathers were completed I contacted Lona, the adoption coordinator in Canon City, and she confirmed that they had the red mare and the grey stud.


BLM Mustangs, Wyoming Checkerboard Wild horse - Photography by Kerry O'Brien

I dreamed about them day and night and held them briefly. I wanted a saddle and pack horse team to disappear me into the Rocky Mountains. (Little did I know Ben Masters had beaten me to the punch! DO NOT MISS the film, Unbranded. You can see the trailer here: www.unbrandedthefilm.com.) I had only just started on my journey and was living out of a 16′ Casita trailer. I had no home, no rig, no way to swing it. Dreaming too big again, I relinquished my hold and within hours both the red mare and the grey stud were snatched up.


Wild Mustang Mares, Checkerboard, BLM, Canon City

I quickly became friends with Tammy Morgan in N.C. who adopted both the red mare and her grey band sister. They were inseparable in the Canon City pens, even protecting the older white mare when she was injured. These three mares were together, maintaining their family structure, in nearly all the photographs from Canon City. Thank you Amanda Wilder for your dedication!


Sadly, the grey mare “Sister,” was too heavily pregnant to ship on the January shipment. The next day her full term foal was found dead in the pens. Sister and the white mare called Ghost are still in Canon City as far as I know but have not been able to confirm. (Addendum: I visited the two mares in April 2016. They are still there.)


As fate would have it, I was in Florida that January when the load of Canon City mustangs was shipped to N.C. I wouldn’t miss it for the world and made the trip to Asheville to meet Tammy and her sister Michelle, also adopting.


BLM Mustang, Wyoming Checkerboard Wild horse - Photography by Kerry O'Brien

The driver said it was a good looking load of horses. It was very cold and we were very excited. You can read about the arrival day here: http://kerryobrien.org/2015/01/meet-the-mustangs/


BLM Mustang Filly, Wyoming Checkerboard Wild horse - Photography by Kerry O'Brien

Tammy, bless her heart, also adopted Paisley, a filly who’s adopter bailed on in the eleventh hour. Shiloh took her under her wing and they penned together until Shiloh’s foal arrived in April.


Shiloh, pregnant mustang mare - photograph by Kerry O'Brien

She just got bigger, and bigger and bigger….


Wild mustang Shiloh delivers healthy foal

And in April dropped a ginormous filly foal. This beast is newborn! Just a few hours old!


All was well in N.C. through the summer. Then I got the call. Tammy and I had made a deal that if push ever came to shove for her and Shiloh, she would call me first. Because of some personal issues, she needed to re-home some of her adult horses. The baby, Denali was old enough to wean.

I was caught. I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t afford it. I’m traveling. I don’t have a home. But… this was the third time this horse had come to me. How could I say no?

There was scrambling, praying, exercises of faith. Friends, friends of friends and the amazing community of mustangers I have come to know, all contributed to making this happen.


Shiloh TrailerAshley Rose, who I had met at a BLM adoption event in Florida (read about it here: http://kerryobrien.org/2015/02/mustang-adoption-event/) was coming west for the Kiger Adoptions in Oregon and tag driving with her mom. Tammy and Michelle met her in Chattanooga and Ashley and her mom drove the rest of the way, delivering the smutty nosed mare to Colorado Springs on Monday.







She took a good look around, scenting the other horses and they her.




Salt Wells Creek Mustang comes home- Kerry O'BrienShe took her time taking it in, then decided to trust me, stepped off and calmly went to the round pen where she will be making her home for at least the next month. Thank you to Annie Noonan for hooking me up with Gib Franciscotti and to Gib for his gallant generosity and open heartedness.










BLM Mustang Shiloh gets new home in Colorado


Day One: Shiloh was very, very thin. The beasty foal had pulled her down severely. The twenty plus hour trip exhausted her. She was hurting, not feeling well, confused and sad. Very, very sad.


Shiloh Skinny

Day Two: More of the same. I was very concerned. Not eating. Not drinking. Getting very gaunt. I’m lucky some over zealous advocates were not reporting me to BLM. On the other hand, maybe they’d be offering to bring hay and water like they did in Fish Creek. Certainly she looks worse than the horses there that everyone was so hysterical about. Oh, didn’t catch that drama? You can read about it here: Fish Creek Debacle.

Oddly (or not), I too felt extremely, extreeeeeemly tired, unfocused, lethargic and without appetite. I should have been over the moon excited, but I was not. It sounds crazy, but my bond with this horse is such, that I was feeling what she was feeling. And I was worried. She was listless, dehydrated and probably on the verge of colic. I expected to have to call in an emergency vet first thing in the morning. Not getting off on the good foot.


Shiloh Eating

I’m sorry, this video takes forever to load. If you are on Facebook, you can see it more easily here: facebook.com/Mustang-Chronicles

I woke an hour before dawn. I felt good and went up to check on her. She was up and eating! She ate and drank all morning long. Peed and pooped good poo! She had turned the corner! YAY!!!

She felt good enough to give me a little attitude so we had a short Come To Jesus about presenting her butt to me. It took very little to convince her that wasn’t a good idea. Crows and coyotes made a racket in the rosy dawn. I think we’re out of the woods.


Shiloh I Spy


From the rear window of my Casita I can keep an eye on her. When I left to write this post, she was keeping an eye on me. A good start.

It takes a damn village: I’d like to thank all the mustang people, too numerous to mention, for their support making this happen, and support and advice during these tough couple of days. Oh, yes. And for railroading me into adopting a mustang. Love to you all.


Public Comment to WH&B Advisory Committee Meeting 9/3/15

WH&B Advisory Committee Meeting, September 3, 2015

blm, wh&b Photography by Kerry O'Brien

I made my Public Comment to WH&B Advisory Committee Meeting 9/3/15, yesterday. The will of the people was spoken! I am honored to represent a large group of people who don’t feel represented by donate button activists on either extremity of the issues, often those who scream loudest.

Public speaking does not usually scare me, but I was extremely nervous addressing the board as I have become so emotionally vested. Additionally, when I made copies of my statement, a talking points outline and a propaganda letter from Protect the Harvest had been left in the hotel printer. Eeek!

Because we only had three minutes to speak, (and I had SO much to say) I was up until 3 am the night before timing an abbreviated, bullet point statement to be spoken, but made sure Board Members each got copies of the full written statement which follows.

I hope to break down the resolutions as time allows during the next few days, as I’m not sure when the minutes will be published. You can find some of the presentation materials here: http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/whbprogram/Advisory_Board/advisory_board_minutes.html


WH&B Advisory Committee Meeting, September 3, 2015

Kerry O’Brien – Public Comment

The WFH&B Act was of its era and by today’s standards, badly designed. It was, and still is an emotional response based on poor science. It is my opinion that it would be in the best interest of wild horses and burros if we dispensed with ideas about wild horses being “our heritage,” “national identity” and other overly romanticized Hollywood sentimentality, and the same for certain ranchers claiming an ephemeral “right” to a lifestyle from a century or two ago. The National Academy of Sciences has given us good current, modern guidelines and its time to bring our thinking and actions into the current millennium.


Yesterday Dr. Cope expressed forward thinking ideas about building coalition among stakeholders. There was discussion about training volunteers in various capacities and there are specific categories for BLM volunteers on the website, such as compliance, adoptions, etc. yet by and large this is not happening. The pool of people who would be willing to volunteer, especially in those labor intensive positions of data collection, game photo screening, compliance checking, is an enormous resource seemingly overlooked by BLM. People typically cannot get a phone call returned and there seems to be little to no will to use this resource. This complaint was made to me repeatedly as I’ve traveled the country. Which is not to negate states such as Colorado, Oregon and Montana that have built effective coalitions with local advocates and horse associations cataloging horses and darting with PZP. However, they are not being used to do citizen science, which has proven to sometimes be more accurate and effective than academic science because of time and proximity.

Scott Fluer yesterday stated the difficulty of collecting data except June through August. Citizen science can fill that gap. With all due respect, there are people out on the HMAs who know more about the horses and the resource on the HMA than the Specialists assigned to them. Which is understandable due to the sheer man-hours involved. I believe the Ft. Lewis Field Office for example, has one WH&B Specialist who overseas twenty- eight (28) HMAs.

Adoption and Promotion

Yesterday I was impressed by and commend Holle’ Hooks’ work promoting and educating about wild horses. The efforts being extended in Oklahoma could and should be happening nation wide. Again, volunteers could be used to fill in the man-hours BLM claims not to have the staff or budget for.

To that end:

The adoption program web presence needs a major overhaul and a uniform database. Navigation on the current multiple web pages is archaic and ridiculously difficult. All the horses in BLM’s care are documented and in an existing database. Use that.

  • Get each facility inventory detail on line and updated every two to four weeks so folks can see what the facilities have.
  • Photos can be added, along with approximate height, weight and personality information by volunteers. (The large numbers of horses that were adopted when advocates photographed the Checkerboard horses last year proves the effectiveness of the additional information in getting horses adopted.)
  • Ramp up adoption program with volunteers and lower grade positions to help facilities promote and deal with public inquiries.
  • Use multi platform, multi media outlets. The Oklahoma work can be used as a model.
  • With increased adoption, the need for compliance volunteers is increased as well.It is my understanding that the southeastern states have one compliance officer and I have personal knowledge of compliance issues that have had to go un-investigated for lack of manpower, when there are volunteers at the ready. If a horse can’t be handled, is still wearing its tag and hasn’t had its feet trimmed in a year and is due to be titled, I’d say that’s a compliance issue.(I hope to create a mechanism to support adopters with health, behavior and training issues of their new mustangs, improve the quality of life for the horses and their new owners and hopefully to reduce neglect, abuse and recidivism. There is no donate button on my web page, but for this I may need a small grant and some advertisers.)I italicized “volunteers” to emphasize how many places volunteers could be painlessly integrated, providing thousands of man-hours and eliminating the “we don’t have the budget or the manpower” excuse. What I have heard on the ground is that those volunteers are ready and waiting if it wasn’t so hard to get a response on the district level.The Elephant in the Room

    The elephant in the room of course is the numbers issue. This is not my suggestion, but distilled from many hours of discussion with people on all sides, who have much more experience than I.

    To expedite getting numbers to AML, whenever there is a gather we suggest:

  • Remove and put up for adoption all horses under age 4 (except nursing foals of course).
  • Return mares over 4 treated with PZP
  • (Possibly spay or ligate mares over 10 and return.)
  • FOLLOW THROUGH with PZP treatmentThis will not zero the herd, but will allow for some genetic contribution after numbers are stabilized.

The point was made yesterday that while grants for more permanent solutions are fine, these are the tools in the toolbox NOW. USE THEM. DON’T WAIT! The most important element is FOLLOW THROUGH. If there is no follow through with PZP, the past will just repeat itself. I support the above actions with the understanding that healthy genetics shall be maintained.

Restoring Trust

What I realized during my “tour” of the Fish Creek HMA with the Eureka County Natural Resources Advisory Committee is how deeply trust has been broken trust with the locals. Straight, “top down” administration is a remnant of the past. In order for contraception programs to work, it needs the support of the local community. Who better to tally observation of wild horses than the ranchers and miners who work the land every day, when the field office may be 150 miles away? Nevada and Wyoming pose particularly difficult challenges in both distance and sheer numbers of horses. Trust building in those communities, so that they feel they are part of the process would be good for horses. And people. And be more in line with how we need to live in our present world. That comes back to Dr. Cope’s comments on stakeholder coalition.


(Note: This references compliance to the newly established regulations for humane gathering and handling, not adopter compliance.)

I applaud the Board’s efforts to create humane handling and gather regulations, however it concerns me that there is no protocol for enforcement. Regulations need teeth. I suggest monetary and/or other real consequences for disregard of humane handling regulations and that they actually be enforced. Otherwise it’s business as usual.


I think we are all in agreement that we are in crisis as far as numbers go. Banning slaughter for horses in the US has not been good for horses. Though I am not pro- slaughter, I expect we will see it reinstated in the US in the next few years. The best thing we can do for wild horses is to stabilize populations. The best thing we can do for horses, when and if it comes, is ensure that highly humane standards are strictly enforced.

Top Down is Dead

The thing that has negatively impressed me the most is the dysfunction within the bureaucracy itself. The disconnect between ground level specialists, mid level bureaucrats and upper level politicians is not serving some of BLM’s hardest working people, or the horses and citizens they serve. Mr. Tupper asked us to remember that BLM is an organization of 10,000 people and responds slowly. Horses are not slow. I’m not a bureaucrat, so I don’t know the answer to this one. I do know that for people to do good work, they need to feel supported by their organization which often isn’t happening. BLM simply following its own regulations and creating an atmosphere of consistency would go far, all the way around.

Lastly, I don’t know how at this point in time this can be of use; I would ask that the historical migratory habits of horses before the Act be considered in eventually redrawing some HMA lines. I understand this takes a change in land use and EIS and all of that. But wild (or free-roaming!) horses were not meant to be kept in small herds of 50-100, unable to move with the seasons. Many of the problems we are constantly trying to solve, and solutions we are trying to manipulate are issues of migratory land use. In a perfect world fences would be down and the ranchers who want to have their romantic lifestyle would hire a few cowboys to move their cows around instead. Maybe Alan Savory is right.

Why Should You Listen To Me?

I’m a photographer, writer, behaviorist and educator on sabbatical for a year, traveling and documenting the issues facing wild horses. I have been doing my best to listen fairly to everyone I’ve met. I attended most of the Checkerboard gathers last year, the Elko RAC meeting, spent time with Dr. Kirkpatrick, Neda DeMayo and Laura Leigh. In touch with Canon City, I watched “my” Checkerboard horses come off the truck in Marshall, NC. Photographed an adoption event in FL. Spent time with TIP trainers, PZP darters, WH&B Specialists, Range Cons, a Savory Method rancher in NV, documented the Colorado EMM and visited numerous HMAs, adopters, would be adopters, volunteers and would be volunteers, ranchers, miners and just plain citizens. I asked questions, observed and listened. The above is just some of what I heard.

While these comments may not offer anything new, they reflect the views and experience of many good people who are committed to wild horses and I am honored to bring them to this meeting. There is no Donate button on my website. I simply parse technical information for people in order to educate and dispel hysteria. My own mustangs are chosen and I hope to have the resources to bring them home some day soon. Thank you for your time. Keep up the good work.