Saving the Mustangs

On any given day there are over 30,000 wild horses in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) long-term holding pens and another 11,000 in temporary holding pens. Gathered forcefully in often-reckless roundups and chased for miles by helicopter, they are plucked from their native rangelands to mill in full holding facilities, often in the sun with no chance of finding shade. Family units and bands are ripped apart wondering…

What did we do wrong? How did this happen?

These 40,000 captive equines now outnumber those running free—the BLM estimates the number of still-free Mustangs at just 28,000. A number is so low it virtually guarantees the extinction of irreplaceable genetic material. It should be noted that the BLM does not own the Mustangs; they are charged with managing the grasslands. The American people own the Mustangs.

Horses Are the True Heroes

Horses had roamed this part of the world since before the plates shifted, creating the continents. There are fossils and skeletons in museums that prove their new existence. Then 600 years ago, horses were reintroduced to the Western hemisphere by the Spanish. It is their descendants running proud and free trying desperately to preserve their heritage. Madeleine came to the US as a young woman drawn by the spirit of its freedom and her love of the West and horses. She remembers fondly watching old Westerns with her father as a young girl in Iraq. They loved John Wayne, the West, the heroes. The horses. She always felt the horses were the real heroes. Madeleine has long been an advocate for those who have no voice of their own. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she chartered commercial airliners from New Orleans to California to rescue abandoned and lost dogs and cats of the storm. They called this mission “Orphans of the Storm.” Later many of these were returned to their rightful masters. It was through her work saving animals and speaking out for them that she found out about the horse-slaughter industry.

She was amazed and disheartened that, as involved as she was in the racing community, it took her so long to discover the fact that such a thing existed in this country. She and her husband T. Boone Pickens became actively involved in helping put an end to horse slaughter in the US. It was about that time she became aware of the capture and removal of the A American Mustang. She was just as surprised and dismayed that she had not known of their battle to survive.

A Woman of Action

She sprang into action, first doing research. All the while she was tormented by the question, “How did we reach the point that the noble Mustang is considered a feral nuisance that must be removed?” The BLM was created with the guidance and support of ranchers who were the primary users of the vast open rangelands of the West. They were charged with managing millions upon millions of acres’ grazing rights and other management practices. As time went on, and more people with diverse views and plans to use the BLM-managed lands came along, and horses got crowded out of the actual planning. Everyone made a point of how important their views, policies, and usage of the vast lands were, but time after time as rules and considerations were structured and enacted, the Mustangs and other wild horses had no voice.

A fighting chance for survival

Madeleine knew if the Mustangs were to have a fighting chance of survival, the plan would need to be presented fast. One hundred years ago, there were two million horses on the range.

The American Mustang is one of our proudest and most great symbols of the American spirit. Even the US Congress declared this to be true in 1971 when they recognized Mustangs as “Living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” How then, have they come to be considered “feral nuisances” that need to be gathered and removed? A lot of individuals ponder that question, and many are working tirelessly to help the plight of the great Mustang. Madeleine Pickens is one of those people. She finds that question unbearable and is devoted to the search for solutions.

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