“Run free, majestic beast!” a part of me thought.
“Is it even supposed to be here?” was my other thought.
This whole wild horse thing is a very muddled and sticky issue. I feel very conflicted about it, as many people do, since there are a variety of factors at play. On the one hand, in true American fashion, I see the beauty and history of horses and agree that they are a part of our past worth protecting. They played a large role in many aspects of our country’s development and, as a result, are part of its mythology — not to mention that all animals should be protected from cruelty. Who doesn’t have a soft spot for Silver, Black Stallion, Seabiscuit, Mr. Ed and the like? OK, maybe we let our emotions get a little too swayed by movies and TV, but a loyal animal of any kind earns our love and admiration.
The opening of the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burros Act of 1971 reads: “Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”
Even our elected officials get all choked up at the thought of horses, and we all know that the folks in Washington only make informed, unbiased decisions when they pass laws.
But then I go back to the second question I asked myself when I saw that horse near Pyramid Lake. That question was not just about that individual animal, it was about the species as a whole in the American wilderness. We learn in school that Europeans brought horses to America, but there is debate about that between folks who want to protect the wild horses and those who want their populations controlled or eradicated. Lawyers and animal experts on each side argue their subsidized side of the argument. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the horses are not natural to this area. This is from the agency’s web page on wild horses.
“Myth #11: Wild horses are native to the United States.
“Fact: This claim is false. The disappearance of the horse from the Western Hemisphere for 10,000 years supports the position that today’s American wild horses should not be considered “native.” American wild horses are descended from domestic horses, some of which were brought over by European explorers in the late 15th and 16th centuries, plus others that were released or escaped captivity in modern times. Over this 500-year period, these horses (and burros) have adapted successfully to the Western range. Regardless of the debate over whether these animals are native or non-native, the BLM manages horses and burros on public lands according to the provisions of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which describes the animals as ‘wild’ rather than feral.”
On the other side, there is argument that horses were here millions of years ago so they do have the “right” to be here. A case is being heard in federal court about it.
“The American Mustang is a native wildlife species; few people realize that the western United States is actually the evolutionary birthplace of the horse,” said Rachel Fazio, attorney for a horse advocacy group, in a Feb. 24 article on the In Defense of Animals website. “This suit seeks to ensure that, in accordance with the laws of Congress, this majestic species is protected as wild and free-roaming, safe from illegal interference by the Bureau of Land Management and immune to the pressures of the livestock industry and other commercial interests that wish to exploit our public lands.”
Animal activists are a pretty intense bunch. If I were as excitable as they are, I might be one myself since my heart melts at a little four-legged affection. But I can be pragmatic, too, which is why I can’t work on animal issues. I could never work at a shelter for dogs and cats just like I could never work with wild horses because I’d either bring them all home or I’d be miserable each day knowing they had no place to go.
The reality is that humans have created some appalling situations when it comes to animal overpopulation. Whether horses were here eons ago or not, the fact is we have to deal with them here now, both their ability to survive on their own and the effect of their presence on land owners. No animal should be made to physically suffer, but if they have to be put to sleep or slaughtered because humans before us created a situation that we can’t control now, so be it. It’s not fun and it’s not pretty and I’m glad I don’t have to do it, but maybe it will teach us to change our ways so the problem eventually disappears. I won’t count on it, but maybe.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my girlfriend and I rented the movie “War Horse.”
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.