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Size Matters: Horses, HMAs, Sanctuaries and Reserves

Size matters when it comes to wild horses, HMAs, sanctuaries and reserves.

In Sketches Here and There, Aldo Leopold described his moment of grace. After shooting a wolf from the rim rock in Arizona he recalls, “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes… there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain.”1

Recent revelations about the suffering and loss of equine life at the International Society to Protect Mustangs & Burros have me reflecting again about the hubris of human kind. While being “protected,” dozens of formerly wild horses have starved to death, suffering untold disease and neglect. It’s a big case, but not an isolated one. Numbers, costs soar in wild-horse controversy, Rapid City Journal, Oct 14, 2016




ISPMB has, at last count, 810 horses on 680 acres near Lantry, SD. The ISPMB herd was and is a failed experiment in self-regulation. Supposedly, the horses would not breed past their food allowance. It was expected that some would starve. They bred, and even now continue top breed  and when the money and food ran out it became a horror show.


Wild horse advocate and ecologist Craig Downer has put forth the idea that horses will self regulate if predators are in the environment. That presumes that the reserve (as he diplomatically avoides the word sanctuary2) is in a topographical environment large enough to allow seasonal migration and also contains and can sustain numerous mountain lions or large, experienced wolf packs.


Size Matters

Thousands of tourists flock to Yellowstone Park each year. The park’s advertising campaign last year, “Find Your Park” was so successful that a park representative this year suggested their pitch be “Find Another Park.”

What’s been learned over the past century is that even Yellowstone Park at 3,468 square miles is not large enough to provide a healthy ecosystem for the magnificent fauna that live there. This led to the establishment of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, linking Teton and the interstitial areas, increasing the size a thousand percent to 34,375 square miles. Kruger National Park in South Africa pales at only 7,532 square miles, while the stunning ecosystem of the Okavanga Delta has been transformed into the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area 17,8415 square miles.3

In the case of ISPMB, one has to wonder about the sanity of attempting a self-regulating environment for 810 mega fauna on 680 acres. From Heisenberg to Hegel, it’s not a new idea removing an object from its environment changes everything.

Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the US Forest Service, and a founder of the Yale School of Forestry was a close advisor to Teddy Roosevelt, who understood the need for large, unaltered landscapes. Pinchot was instrumental in establishing the national forests and parks we enjoy today, due to his understanding that size matters. In 1905, when Pinchot became chief, federal forests totaled 56 million acres. In 1910, only five years later he left the service with 172 million acres as federal forest land.4

When it comes to mega fauna what is known is: 1. Almost impossibly large tracts of land with varying topography are required for a healthy ecosystem. 2. That we can’t divorce a species from its ecosystem and expect it to self-regulate the way it does in that ecosystem. 3. Horses are mega fauna requiring many, many square miles and the ability to migrate.

In my opinion, this is the downfall of the HMA (Horse Management Area) system as created by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Act of 1971. Interestingly, today we just call it the Wild Horse & Burro Act. The “Free-Roaming” part seems to have gotten lost.

In an interview with author Paula Morin, Tom Marvel of the famed Marvel ranch of Nevada recalls wild horses migrating from Austin, NV all the way to Battle Mountain, with the only fences in Nevada being along the railroad. He said it took about a year for them to make the run up and back, a migration route of about a hundred miles each way.5

Today wild horses are confined to the artificial boundaries of HMAs that are between roughly 25,000 and 500,000 acres. And yes, there is some migration happening between HMAs and USFS land that are adjacent, and yes the horses do wander off the HMAs onto other holdings. Now, not only are the great migrations that allowed horses, like other ungulates, to move with the seasons not allowed, much of the land the HMAs occupy have other uses. Human development, ranching, mining and extraction are all effecting resources and water tables.

Do I have a simple answer? Of course not. However now more than ever, it’s vitally important to realize some source infinitely more intelligent than us has created a system so diverse, complex and inter-dependent and we should fall on our knees in beauty and wonder. We should be earnestly learning all we can before it disappears forever. There is almost no place on earth, and certainly no place in North America where the natural landscape has not been negatively impacted, if not irrevocably damaged by man. Now more than ever, there’s no place for ego, hubris or profit at all costs.


  1. A Sand County Almanac, Leopold, Aldo; Estella Leopold. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949
  2. Oxford definition: 1 [mass noun] Refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution, or other danger. 2 A nature reserve. 2.1 A place where injured or unwanted animals of a specified kind are cared for. 3 A holy place; a temple.)
  3. Various sources, easily verified.
  4. http://connecticuthistory.org/gifford-pinchot-bridging-two-eras-of-national-conservation/
  1. Honest Horses, Paula Morin. University of Nevada Press (February 13, 2006

Training Balance: Mustang Shiloh One Year In

Training Balance: Mustang Shiloh still requires balance training at our one year mark, with pics, video (and resources) of how far we’ve come and where we’re headed.

I’ve got two goals with this article: to raise awareness about how pain factors into behavioral issues and that our beloved mustangs may not be all we hoped. I’m aware of more than a few heart breakers returned to BLM for orthopedic and neurological issues. I wonder how many horses returned for behavior issues are simply in pain? How effective is it to punish a horse for trying to communicate that it hurts? How much are balance issues involved?

For most of us, our journey with our wild one(s) is an exploration. No two horses are the same physically, in temperment or history and honestly, we don’t know for sure what’s coming.

Training Balance: Mustang Shiloh

Not the legs of a performance horse.

I would never have considered buying a horse like Shiloh. She came with physical and emotional baggage. In Shiloh I got a teacher. Not a nice teacher, a challenging teacher. She asked me to take my expertise as a bodyworker and biomechanist, trainer, teacher and coach, and translate that to the equine body/mind. I’ve always been a trainer. Of dogs, cats (yes, cats), horses and all the critters an animal crazy kid feels compelled to train. Agility for frogs? No problem. I jumped at the chance to do their last chicken clicker training with the Baileys (B.F. Skinners assisitants) in the 90s. The thread through all these things is neuroscience. I always say, I don’t train bodies. I train brains, i.e., neural networks.

Shiloh was never a 90 day horse, she came with issues. Condition, attitude, emotional and orthopedic “challenges” as we like to say. During the first months I often became disheartened by her crappy attitude, but the gift of having seen how she moved in the wild Training Balance: Mustang Shilohgave me faith.  Where we landed in Colorado, the universe provided me with a dream team of farrier, veterinary acupuncturist and equine chiropractor, all expert horsewomen and advanced Tellington trainers (contact info below). They helped me understand her functional short leg syndrome and other joint issues. In December I bought the Masterson Method book on light touch mobilization, and the results were so astounding I took the training course in January. Once Shiloh began to trust that I was “hearing” her, the defensive nipping stopped. It was her way of saying, “Hey! It hurts there!” She had hurts all over.

Got my first ride in Feb, but after the third ride, she let me know she hurt by biting my feet in the stirrups. We backed up. More bodywork, more gym work on the ground to help her develop balance, motor control and abdominal strength. We resumed riding in April and went on our first trail ride in May. I finally bitted her in Sept so I can ask for more detailed movement. I still have not found a western saddle to fit her ginormous shoulders, that doesn’t cost several thousand dollars.

This link shows how she moved in October 2015, and now in September 2016. We’re basically peeling an onion. As one issue gets addressed, the underlying issue reveals itself. Video link here: Longing For Flexibility and Balance

Hard to see without freeze framing, I grabbed these screen shots to show the shear forces that could eventually ruin her joints. Especially from the knees on down. This is just an easy trot, asking for bend.

Training Balance: Mustang Shiloh

Check the shear force on the right front leg.


Training Balance: Mustang Shiloh

Excessive lean, shear force and hardly bending.


Training Balance: Mustang Shiloh

Right hind externally rotated and swinging out.


Training Balance: Mustang Shiloh

Finally some balance. Slower, smaller movement. Mindfulness.

Here’s a video link comparing Feb to Sept 2016 of platform work. Granted, I’m learning too, so my performance in Feb leaves something to be desired… Shiloh Platform Feb-Sept 2016


Training Balance: Mustang Shiloh

Where we’re at today

Training Balance: Mustang Shiloh

What we aspire to…

And some video of me stretching her. This she has only allowed me to do over the last month and we still have a way to go. Video link here:

Shiloh Stretched


All this sounds expensive, doesn’t it?  Many people resist spending on alternative medicine and therapeutic training for their horses. I look at this year’s expenditure $1,430, a little over $100/mo, as an investment in the future and of having a horse that will, hopefully, remain sound. It’s not my biggest expense and will probably (hopefully) not be as much next year. Add $450 for the Masterson Training, which is highly recommended for anyone with a horse. (The book is clear, concise and about $20.) I could not afford to pay someone else for the hundreds of hours of bodywork and neither would it have created the trust my horse has in me.


Masterson Method: https://www.mastersonmethod.com/

Tellington Touch: http://www.ttouch.com/

Dr. Kerry Ridgway: Low Heel/High Heel Syndrome

Smaller Steps for Greater Balance Article by Kyra Kyrklund

My practitioner angels, from Central Colorado to the Front Range:

Eryn Wolfwalker, Farrier extraordinaire, Tellington Training, nutrition, homeopathy and on and on… 303-453-9886

Dr. Janet Varhus, Holistic DVM, Acupuncture, Tellington, Cranial-Sacral. Studied extensively with Dr. Kerry Ridgway. All round gifted healer… 719-539-1086 www.animalcareponcha.com

Dr. Kris Ahlberg, DVM, Chiropractic, Acupuncture. Likewise a wealth of scientific and training knowledge. 303-816-6473


Wild Horses and Trailer Loading

Wild Horses and Trailer Loading:

Solving Wild Horse and Burro problems is a lot like teaching my mustang to trailer load.



Because early on we had a wreck where she fell, we’ve been working on trailer loading for a very long time now. I’ve gotten a lot of advice and been offered a lot of help. But I don’t want to just get my horse the hell in the trailer. I want calm, controlled stepping up, and calm, quiet, controlled backing out. On command. She’s big and I don’t want to get killed. We’ve spent hours learning to take one step at a time, wherever I indicate, on the command, “Step.” Forward and back, stepping on and off platforms, stepping over poles, forward, back and sideways. Why? Because she wanted to move 10 steps for every one I asked for. Horses are gross movers, which is how we get hurt.

We’ve had everything but those hind feet in and out of various trailers probably 1000 times. She was still afraid to put those back feet in. It was time to try something different. I put her in a pipe stall and backed up the trailer.


On day 1, after about an hour of confinement in the pipe stall, she went in, got her groceries, TRIED to turn around but was blocked by the barrels and ultimately figured it out and backed, nervous but quietly.


Day 2 and 3 ummmmm… No. I fed just enough to keep her from colicking.


Day 4, after about an hour, finally, Yes. Nice bucket of groceries, nice calm backing out, and she got to go out with her friends for the day.


Day 5, after 10 minutes, Yes! Bucket of groceries, backed out, nice and calm, two times! Gets to go out for the day.


I’m thinking, yes! We can do this! Then I realize that after 4 months, I’ve achieved only step one of the goal. I got her back feet in the trailer. Now she needs to be able to do this, on command, a hundred times. I need to be able to close the divider and the tailgate. I need to be able to move the trailer 50’ and let her out so she doesn’t feel she’s going on another 24 hour ride. I need to take her places close to home like the trailhead and the fair grounds.


I see the work stretch out in front of me. Elated for a minute I realize how much more there is to do, that it will be weeks, I feel discouraged. Plus, there’s no guarantee she’s going to go in tomorrow.


It occurs to me, this is a lot like solving wild horse problems. You think, oh, if we could just do this and this, our problem would be solved. Nope. It’s going to be a long, long road, full of steps we don’t even see yet.

How Donate Button Advocacy Works

How Donate Button Advocacy Works

How Donate Button Advocacy Works


The Donate Button: We’ve all done it. Opened an email to find a gut wrenching story of a starving child or abused animal, accompanied by a horrifying photo that literally breaks our heart and leaves us in tears, or so angry our blood pressure rises and our face burns.


You sit, sobbing, tears streaming down your face, or feeling the heat of anger rising. It’s uncomfortable. Emotions swirl through your being. What’s even more uncomfortable is that crying child or bag of bones with the sad face and pleading eyes is hundreds or thousands of miles away. There’s nothing you can do. You are powerless to change that picture. But are you?


At the bottom of the page is, in marketing terms, a “call to action.” The donate button. Donate Now! it says, to alleviate the suffering of these children, animals, refugees. Help us save these dolphins, horses, homeless children. Wow, you think, there IS a way I can help. You press the button, sign the petition, give your email and financial information and Whew! You feel better. The terrible discomfort is relieved and there is a sense of closure. I did something. I helped. Big sigh. You dry your tears and go on with your day.


This scenario goes on millions of times a day. I dare say we’ve all done it. Charities, churches, advocacy groups and scammers rely on your discomfort and their donate button to fund their budgets. Why is this so successful and just how does it work?


What we know from neuroscience and brain imaging can explain this common scenario. Emotions are processed deep in the older part of the brain called the amygdala1. Just like receptors for pain, that information bypasses the prefrontal cortex that controls “executive function.” In a life or death situation, we don’t have time to cogitate on whether the fire is hot, the gun is loaded or if that scary person is coming to hurt us or not. That input goes directly to the older, more instinctive areas of the brain creating the fight or flight mechanism, producing adrenalin. Most learning and rational thought fortunately is not that fraught with the same intensity. Reading a technical manual or balancing your checkbook may not be a happy chore, but unless you are suffering severe financial problems, is probably not a fear producing event and the needed skills are found in the prefrontal cortex. No amygdala needed, thank you.


Can you see where I’m going? The disturbing images that come with the call to action, i.e.; the donate button, hits us in our hearts. Hard. Depending on our sensitivity and where we are at that moment, we may even feel a physical ache in our heart, or falling sensation. Like a broken heart, the pain is a real, physiological event. There’s a reason for that. The amygdala and the heart are sending strong signals back and forth. And it feels terrible. Even worse, you feel powerless.


Powerlessness has been studied extensively and has proven to be one of the most damaging of all emotions. People can endure unbelievable hardship if they feel they have even a little power over their environment. Overcoming the feeling of powerlessness is a large component of cognitive behavioral therapy. Even mice stay healthier when they have some control over their choices!


So there’s a quick fix to that discomfort you’re feeling at the stories and images of tragedy, cruelty and injustice. The Donate button! The call to action! Everything in that email or Facebook post is carefully crafted, often by marketing experts, and consciously designed to go directly to your amygdala2,3 and your heart, bypassing your cortex. Not only do we fail to investigate the verity of the information, often we don’t even check to see if we have the funds in our budget to make a donation. It does not want you to think!


A couple of years ago I met the head of a famous and very successful animal advocacy organization whose heart wrenching emails arrived in my inbox on an almost daily basis, screaming about the terrible injustices being done, always begging for money for yet another legal action. I liked her. She was intelligent, extremely knowledgeable and very realistic about the issues. I called her out on the hysterical tone of the emails. She waved her hand dismissively and said, “Oh that’s what my marketing person says gets results.”


I’m not saying it’s wrong to hit that donate button and support worthy causes or agencies that are aligned with your values. It is however, your responsibility to understand how you are possibly being manipulated and research the truthfulness of the claims.


My call to action is for you to recognize the mechanisms of “donate button advocacy,” be conscious of the discomfort, postpone the urge to relieve that discomfort by signing the petition or sending the money, and investigate the veracity of the information first.


“You can make this world a better world. Yes you can, yes you can, can…” Allen Toussainte. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xV7F-JwTx_U


  1. http://bigthink.com/videos/the-amygdala-in-5-minutes
  2. Feelings of anxiety start with a catalyst – an environmental stimulus that provokes stress. This can include various smells, sights, and internal feelings that result in anxiety. The amygdala reacts to this stimuli by preparing to either stand and fight or to turn and run. This response is triggered by the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream. Consequently, blood sugar rises, becoming immediately available to the muscles for quick energy. Shaking may occur in an attempt to return blood to the rest of the body. A better understanding of the amygdala and its various functions may lead to a new way of treating clinical anxiety. Davis, M (1992). “The role of the amygdala in fear and anxiety”. Annual Review of Neuroscience. 15: 353–375. doi:1146/annurev.ne.15.030192.002033. PMID1575447.
  3. Studies in 2004 and 2006 showed that normal subjects exposed to images of frightened faces or faces of people from another race will show increased activity of the amygdala, even if that exposure is subliminal. Brain Activity Reflects Complexity Of Responses To Other-race Faces, Science Daily, 14 December, 2004


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.



Eureka County Stages Public Tour of Fish Creek HMA

Eureka County Public Tour of Fish Creek HMA: More questions than answers.

Yesterday Eureka County Staged a Public Tour of Fish Creek HMA and I was privileged to attend. After meeting at the Eureka County administration building we regrouped at Hwy. 50 and Antelope Rd. This was also the site of recent conflicts between BLM and rancher Kevin Borba. Eureka County Natural Resource Manager Jake Tibbitts, well prepared with multiple talking points, made a rather lengthy presentation of grievances. Clarifications were made, including how I happened to be involved. I explained I’d met WH&B specialist Shawna Richardson at the Elko RAC meeting last October. As I realize the need for controlling wild horse numbers, I had been following the development and implementation of the Fish Creek Fertility Control Program. There was also much animosity expressed about Laura Leigh’s involvement. There some confusion about her role as an official BLM volunteer versus her actions as a public citizen, which I will not debate here.

Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien

BLM District Manager Doug Furtado in discussion with the Eureka County tour of Fish Creek HMA. Eureka County Natural Resource Manager Jake Tibbitts (center).

There were approximately 20-25 people in attendance. In addition to Mr. Tibbitts was  Eureka County Commission Chairman JJ Goicoechea, BLM Battle Mountain District Manager Doug Furtado, Acting State Director John Ruhs, a number of local ranchers and journalists from Progressive Rancher and  Range magazine. I offered clarification about the KB brand, that it does not mean Kick Butt (this was the first I’d heard of that!) but is code for the date and HMA. More on that in a later post.


Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien


Water Rights

We caravaned to most of the major watering sites on the HMA, going deeply south to the Davis Pipeline where a small group of horses was watering. There was discussion of who actually owns the water rights. I got an education in just how confusing water rights are in Nevada. Mr. Tibbitts had the original maps from the State Water Engineer and it appears that the water rights on much of the property go back to 1905 – 1926. What is confusing is that there are several overlapping layers of “rights” and permits. In general the rights are historical and go with the land. Mr. Tibbitts suggested that the only way to absolutely solve the question is to adjudicate, a legal process presenting evidence to a judge who makes a decision. In this case the evidence appears to favor Mr. Borba who made a point of telling everyone, once again, that the Number Four Spring “hadn’t run for eight years and we got it running.” Interestingly, it states on all grazing permits, “The permittee will be required to repair and maintain all functional water wells, pipelines and troughs prior to turnout. Grazing use will not be authorized unless water wells, pipelines and troughs are functional.” I’m not sure how this makes him a hero. On the State of Nevada Division of Water Resources website I found three permits for the Number Four Spring, two for BLM and one for the previous permittee. View here: Permit. Again, the confusion about permits, versus rights.


Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Small family band at the Davis Pipeline. Fish Creek HMA, You can see the trails to the trough, and that this is rather rough country.


HMA Boundaries

Below is a map provided by Mr. Tibbitts. The horse icon in the upper left is the intersect between Hwy 50 and Antelope Rd. where horses lingered because they found water before, both in the seasonal depression and when Mr. Borba hauled water to them. The point was made repeatedly that the horses were off the HMA. (Just for yuks here’s a pic of cows in my fence out campground Cows in Camp)


Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Fish Creek HMA with major water sources


Bob Brown Well

We proceeded to Bob Brown Well, (see map) which was a major bone of contention. This was one of the water sources that went dry the week before my arrival in Battle Mountain. BLM does own the rights to this water but, it is roughly a thousand feet outside the HMA. Oopsie. Much was made of BLM not keeping to the same regulations that it demands of it’s permittees. It seems there have been numerous bureaucratic oversights by BLM in regard to the various water sources. The solution proposed by Mr. Furtado for Bob Brown Well is to pipe the water back up into the HMA but the details are fuzzy at this time.

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Bob Brown Well. Contrary to accusations that were made, the Metadata embedded in the file indicates this photo was taken Thursday, July 30, 2015, 2:45pm


On the way to view the Slough Water Haul (see map) we saw several family groups. I truly don’t think there was a person there, from the ranchers, to officials, to the sheriff, who didn’t appreciate the sight of wild horses running in distance.


Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien


Slough Water Haul

The Slough Water Haul was the second of the water sources that failed at the end of July. 3800 gallons of water is hauled on a regular basis from Diamond Valley. Again, the complicated nature of Nevada water rights asserted itself. It’s not simply buying water. (Mr. Borba relayed to me that BLM said they didn’t have money to haul water.) Actually, the issue is not money, but that the water is coming from Diamond Valley. That makes it an “inter-basin transfer.” Because the point of use (the Slough) is different from the point of diversion (Diamond Valley) it requires a permit that has not been secured. Again it was argued that BLM was not adhering to the same types of regulations that it requires of permittees. The reasons for how the Slough tank came to be dry or why water deliveries contracted by BLM were discontinued remained a mystery.


Wild Horse Numbers

Many of the ranchers responded angrily toward BLM representatives, expressing their frustration that same solutions have been offered repeatedly since the 1990’s. While ranchers have been cut and are now voluntarily keeping their grazing numbers at roughly half of what is allowed, promises that were made with each succeeding program, that horses will be kept at AML and have never been kept.

Fish Creek HMA Population

While their anger is understandable, the fact that 246 horses were removed and NOT returned to the range is a point that seems to have been lost along with the fact that removal numbers were limited to 200 at the federal level, not the local level (because of lack of holding space). Also lost is the fact that nearly fifty horses beyond that quota actually were taken off. Final numbers according to WH&B Specialist Shawna Richardson are as follows:*

  • 247 horses removed and NOT returned, including those euthanized and adopted.
  • 168 horses branded, the mares treated with PZP-22 and returned to the range.
  • 15 mares with foals are still in holding awaiting release.
  • 120 horses estimated NOT captured.
  • 351 horses estimated to currently be on the HMA, not including spring foals.

*Numbers may differ very slightly.

Here are some links with some brief background info:

History on Fish Creek HMA

Fish Creek HMA Gather Info

Horses released in spite of protest


PZP Follow Through

There was a great deal of mistrust of and misunderstanding about the current PZP program. The mistrust is understandable since PZP was administered once in 1998, was estimated to be 90% effective in preventing foal births in 1999 and failed once again due to lack of commitment and follow through. Everything the ranchers are hearing now, they have heard before. Repeatedly. It is incumbent upon BLM to keep their commitment, both to the ranchers, the horses and the American public. This means follow through, treating the remaining untreated mares and boosters to the treated mares, regardless of whether it is accomplished with water trapping or requires helicopter gathers. The breach of trust in this community is so deep it’s going to require BLM to follow through with cooperation and action. Acting State Director John Ruhs listened well and offered assurances. Time will tell.


Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien


After the tour I attended the Eureka County Natural Resources Advisory Commission. That’s for another post, probably after I field the flack from this one.

I want to offer a special thank you to Eureka County Sheriff Keith Logan for allowing me to ride along and share his insights. Could not even take my van on those roads!


*Update. Because of the severe resistance in the ranching community, the contraceptive program has been suspended, dooming a thorough and committed plan to failure. I fail to see the logic of this.



Borba-Landia: Where Truth Takes a Holiday

I’ve been spending the past week in Borba-Landia: Where Truth Takes a Holiday for scofflaw trespass rancher Kevin Borba. It started innocently enough. Last Tuesday, July 28 on Hwy 50 in Nevada, I noticed something didn’t geel quite right and wrote about that in the last post. A beat up long yearling that had been pushed out and fenced out.

Little did I know I was about to step into a middle of a range war between a trespass rancher and BLM.

It was late so I found a place to camp and continued on to Battle Mountain the next morning to meet Shawna Richardson, the Wild Horse and Burro Specialist. She had invited me to come find out about the comprehensive contraception she had implemented there. I met Shawna last October at the Great Basin Advisory Committee meeting in Elko. She has nearly twenty years experience managing the BLM wild horses and I’d come to respect not only her passion and commitment, but her transparency.

I’d tried to get here for over a month, but fate had different had plans and my delay put me right in the middle of a rancher/BLM sh*t storm. Made it to Battle Mountain Wed afternoon. One of the angry signs in the empty lot across from the Mount Lewis Field Office said, “Impeach Doug Furtado” the district manager, and other epitaphs. It was disconcerting. I showed Shawna the pics of the colt. She had concerns. The next morning, Thursday, July 30 I drove to the Fish Creek HMA with she and Laura Leigh. Leigh, who has been a thorn in the side of both ranchers and BLM, was now an official volunteer, trained by Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick to dart the contraceptive PZP.  We were to set panels near the southern water source in preparation for possible water trapping and contraception treatment later this year.

When we got there horses were at the road head and Shawna remarked that something did not feel right.


Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien  Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

We were lucky to have the  fire crew guys to do the heavy lifting. (Woo hoo!) Shawna and Laura changed out the cards in the game cameras and we looped back north to check other water sources.


Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

We spotted several bands moving toward a marginal water source. They don’t look so bad here on Thursday. Rancher Kevin Borba apparently shadowed us to the place where we set the panels and right after we left  recorded a video, carefully implying the water was his without actually saying so. I pulled the permits and BLM owns two of the three permits for that water. There is a third registered to the previous lease owner. Seems like someone forgot to do their paperwork. Part of the grazing lease agreement is the responsibility of the leasee to maintain water sources. Not only that, on any HMA in Nevada, wild horses have a right to water. Click here: Nevada Water Rights for Wild Horses You can see the Borba video here: Kevin Borba water claim video.


Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Here some of the Fish Creek horses go down to a marginal water source. We were soon to discover the reason. A float malfunction on their main water source had caused the water to drain prematurely.


Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

We immediately drove to Eureka, about 30 minutes away to procure gas for the generator that fills this tank. It’s Thursday, July 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm (date and time taken from the photo metadata) and the water is running. Problem solved, one would think. We won’t know how long the horses were without a good source of water until the game camera photos are analyzed. While we had coverage in Eureka it was discovered that there was “slam the BLM” video on Facebook, linked above, where Mr. Borba implies the southern water is his. Tensions escalated.

Things began to unravel from there. Later Mr. Borba took it upon himself to begin watering horses  at the road and continued to do so, posting inflammatory videos and stirring up an enormous backlash. Click here to view  Borba video 2 This would later snowball in the media sensation around Sarge, the extremely sick horse that became once again, a propaganda pawn. You have to wonder how a busy rancher has so much time to kill.

The storm that brewed over the weekend had hysterical people calling literally, from all over the world. I had put my ass on the line saying that there was water there and was being accused of using old photographs, even though this was the first and only time I’d been here. I felt compelled to drive the 150 miles back down to Fish Creek to make sure for myself. I was warned that Mr. Borba was filming, probably with Protect the Harvest, a right wing, pro rancher coalition and maker of propaganda videos, financed by by Dave Duquette and Lucas Oil, gazillionaire, pro-slaughter rancher and race car aficionado, who have been using Mr. Borba as their poster child. One of the last videos posted by Borba show him expressing his gratitude to Protect the Harvest for the ATV they gave him.

I was warned to be careful. Tensions were running high in Nevada. There was a dispute, similar to the Cliven Bundy issue over the Argenta Allotment. The tension in the air was palpable.

It was dark by the time I got there so I slept in the van.  I woke early and reveled momentarily in the peace of dawn in the desert dawn. When I got to Antelope Rd. this is what I saw.

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Mr. Borba’s trough was dry and I hoped that he had ceased watering as asked so the horses would return to their regular source. There were no horses visible. I hoped that they had gone back up to their good water.


Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Far in the distance I saw a group of eight horses making their way back up in the direction of water.


Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Taking their sweet time, grazing as they went. So much for the hysteria on FB with people wanting to bring them food. Plenty of graze out here right now, thank Dog.


Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Relieved, I saw that there was plenty of good water.


Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

And glad to see hoof prints, including a foal’s as well as deer and pronghorn. Something bothered me though. There should have been a lot more action at the trough. It seemed that only 4 or 5 horses had been there. I hoped that Mr. Borba had stopped watering and that the horses that I saw coming this way would show up soon. But they did not.


Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

I went to Eureka for breakfast and came back in the afternoon. Good water and still no horses. Hmmm… But wait… more videos from Mr. Borba!  Borba video 3

After illegally watering horses for five days, when they had good water waiting for them, and the viral nature of these self promotional propaganda videos there is a massive backlash against BLM for “not doing something.” Shawna Richardson, managing twenty eight Horse Management Areas, and stationed 150 miles away, was catching flack for not being the all seeing eye. Seems Mr. Borba, who is having financial issues with his ranch, saw an opportunity and grabbed it.

For more background on this here are some links:

Horseback Magazine 2/15 gives even-handed background on the Fish Creek Contraceptive program and why it’s important as well as a bit on Borba.


I will continue with more details as I have time to post. This is just the half of it.


Shunned Colt Fenced from his Buddy

Shunned Colt is Fenced from his Buddy.

Driving from Colorado through Nevada on Higway 50, “The Loneliest Highway” I spotted  what I first thought was a ranch horse grazing on the south side of the road. Then I saw a band of wild horses. I had to turn around. A story unfolded there, told here in pictures.

Co-incidentally, and specifically to this point, Dr. Kirkpatrick in his recent interview stated, “Public grazing isn’t the problem: only 1-3% of America’s beef cattle, for example, are grazed on public land. The problem is that we no longer have any free-roaming wild horses in this country: they are blocked by fencelines and man-made barriers. The horses cannot migrate to avoid natural challenges, like blizzards or drought.”  Case in point. For full article with Dr. Kirkpatrick on PZP immunocontraceptive, click here.


Separated Colt, NV-Photo by Kerry O'Brien

The colt is watching a band of wild horses on the right who locked onto me the minute I raised my binoculars. Skittish, the second time I glassed them, they dropped into a draw leaving only dust. This yearling stayed up near the road, next to the fence, watching them disappear into the distance.

At first I thought he was muddy. Closer inspection with binoculars revealed that he was very beaten up, unusual for such a youngster.


Separated Colt, NV-8918


Here he goes back to the fence where a good looking bachelor stallion grazes on the other side.


Shunned Colt Fenced from his Buddy


This guy was grazing in a depression that holds seasonal water, now grass.


Shunned Colt Fenced from his Buddy


Turns out all the horses are supposed to be on the side where the bay stud is.


Colt gets separated from band


The colt keeps looking off into the distance too where his band disappeared.


Colt gets separated from band


Back and forth. Back and forth.


Colt gets separated from band




Separated wild colt, Photo by Kerry O'Brien


The older bachelor moves south, still on the east side of the fence line.


Separated wild colt, Photo by Kerry O'Brien


The yearling moves off along the fence line, pacing the older stud.


Separated wild colt, Photo by Kerry O'Brien


Separated wild colt, Photo by Kerry O'Brien


Clearly known by the older stud, they continued like that, with the fence between them, until they dropped out of site.

Seems that the problems that wild horses and burros face are endless.

More to come…

Between Loveland and Spring Creek Basin

Between Loveland and Spring Creek Basin… Huh?

A quick redux is in order. What happened between Loveland and Spring Creek Basin? Lots!!! What follows is a mostly photographic retrospective of the recent whirlwind. After leaving Loveland Extreme Mustang Makeover spent a few days enjoying Ft. Collins while getting repairs (again) to my fridge. Lots of $$$ and it broke down again soon after. Grrrr… more to come on that.

Stopped in Boulder to treat my body to some Gyrotonic therapy at Gyrotonic Boulder, where I will be returning around Labor Day for Gyrotonic Applications for the Equestrian course, keeping my Gyro up!

After that, headed down to Manitou Springs, a delightful hippie town, and visited Garden of the Gods on Colorado’s Front Range.

Garden of the Gods - Kerry O'BrienGarden of the Gods - Kerry O'Brien


Garden of the Gods - Kerry O'BrienGarden of the Gods - Kerry O'Brien


Las Vegas, NM - Photography by Kerry O'Brien


Sweet long drive along the Front Range, through Colorado Springs and Pueblo along the southern edge of the Rockies. You know you’re in New Mexico when the skies get ridiculous. Headed to Las Vegas, NM to meet and visit with wild horse painter and song writer extraordinaire, Melody Perez and her husband Sip. We became Face Book friends and had so much in common we determined to meet. Spent some lovely time with them and at Melody’s fabulous Running Horses Studio right on the old central plaza in Las Vegas, an Spanish land grant frontier town as notorious as Deadwood or Tombstone, as well as the shooting location of the western detective series Longmire.

Melody Perez - Running Horses Studio

Can’t say enough about Melody and Sip’s open hearted generosity. Also had tons of fun playing music with them, even laying a few Dobro tracks on some of Melody’s songs about wild mustangs. Total respect for Melody’s decision to advocate for wild horses through art and song.  You can check out her prodigious paintings and hear her songs on the website: www.runninghorses.org


Las Vegas, NM - Photography by Kerry O'Brien

Nuestra Señora de los dolores, Las Vegas, NM town plaza


San Ignacio, NM - Las Vegas, Photography by Kerry O'Brien

Cemetary of very old parish of San Ignacio near Melody and Sip’s place.


San Ignacio, NM - Las Vegas, Photography by Kerry O'Brien


Coming back late at dusk on a Saturday night, mass was in session in the tiny church that had always been locked! I didn’t want to disturb them, but I did peak. Five elderly people. Liturgy and singing in español. Sweet.


San Ignacio, NM - Las Vegas, Photography by Kerry O'Brien



Mora, NM - Photography by Kerry O'Brien


Melody took me on a tour of Mora and the surrounding areas and was patient with my shooting.


Mora, NM - Photography by Kerry O'Brien



Liza and Mack - Photography by Kerry O'BrienNext on to Santa Fe and visit friends of good LA friends, artist, singer and guitar player Liza Williams and her drummer husband, Mack. More music, fun, food and taking in the sensory delights of Santa Fe. So much fun! Her abstract concrete angels are a trip!




Liza Williams Gallery, Santa Fe,NM - Photography by Kerry O'Brien




The Liza Williams Gallery shown here is full of whimsical stuff and fine art.







Coincidentally photographer Cat Gwynn, who I am honored to call my mentor, was in town and her brilliant photos from her series, Cry For Me was making quite a buzz at the invitational review. You can see her stunning work at www.catgwynn.com.
CO-NM 2015-2100


In spite of her hectic schedule, we managed to meet for breakfast, a walk and a tad of shopping. I got a good dose of inspiration and got tipped off about Upaya Zen Center.


Liza WiSanta Fe,NM - Photography by Kerry O'Brien

Just for fun…


Tibetan Buddhist Monk Mandala - Photography by Kerry O'Brien

The touring Tibetan Buddhist monks were in town, doing their sand painting mandala thing. Once completed the mandala is “dispersed.” Half the sand is given to the spectators and the other half carried to a water body  to rejoin the sea and intended to heal the earth.


Upaya Zen Center Santa Fe, NM - Photography by Kerry O'Brien

Even found time for sitting meditation at Upaya, a much-needed break. Here a peek over the garden fence.


What? There’s more? Of course. The magical skies followed me north through Abiquiu, the  home of  Georgia O’Keeffe and on toward more adventures in Colorado, including horse camp on the famous Colorado Trail and visit to TJ Holmes and the Spring Creek Herd of Disappointment Valley. Stay tuned!


Mexican Hat - Photography by Kerry O'Brien

Mexican Hats