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What A Seventh-Grader Taught Me About Wild Horses

February 28, 2012

Vickery Eckhoff

Photo Courtesy of Laura Leigh

There are more wild horses and burros living in long-term holding pens today than roaming free. Who thinks that’s a good idea?

Who would have even imagined that 40 years after the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, that we would even be having this conversation? And yet that’s the state of things today, thanks to the Bureau of Land Management.

Don’t spread this around, but I remember when that legislation was passed. I was a seventh-grader, an avid pony clubber,  and I was outraged by what was being done to the mustangs. I was also rabidly anti-Nixon, mostly because of the Vietnam War and also because my dad liked him and I decided that whatever my dad stood for politically, I was against.

Still, the legislation passed while Nixon was in office and even if I didn’t like him as a president,  the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act made me feel as though our government stood for some of the right things. It stood for wild horses and it stood for the will of the American people who overwhelmingly called for the mustangs to be protected. For a moment, I thought it also stood for me because, you know, I was a seventh-grader and a horse lover. And who pays seventh-graders and horse lovers any mind?

Well here we are today and Congress isn’t paying seventh-graders or even 70-year-olds any mind when it comes to a lot of issues, including the plight of America’s last wild mustangs and burros. What used to  seem like a government that worked to accomplish the people’s business now works to establish businesses as people—and there appear to be more of those who want the mustangs rounded up, slaughtered, gone than ever.

You can read about them in my new article on, Contraceptives For Wild Horses Are Just What The Government Ordered,”which examines the consequences of the BLM’s Wild Horses and Burros Program and how a lot of special interests are zeroing out the mustangs and laying claim to public lands without paying much for the privilege.

I spent about a month studying the issues, talking to a lot of people, hearing about their work and methods, watching YouTube videos and DVDs, looking at photos, reading reports they sent me and checking on various facts by browsing the BLM web site and comparing it against other data.

Trying to narrow down a story from so much available information was really hard. The data was buried all over the place and the issues never became clearer. They simply multiplied the more I dug.

Over the last month, I gave up a couple of times—but a small voice kept protesting. Don’t stop, keep going!

Please read and share the article and photo gallery, Rounding Up America’s Wild Horses. Follow me on and Twitter. Leave a comment and be part of the conversation there. My inner seventh-grader thanks you.


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  1. February 28, 2012

    Don’t give up Vickery. This is a huge issue that overlaps many others. Public land, public resource, civil rights, humane standards, and a whole lot of money.
    Focus on bits at a time…. and at the core of each is a beating heart of a wild horse.
    Call any time.

    • February 28, 2012

      Thanks, Laura, for the encouragement and offers to help. I won’t give up. My inner-seventh grader will kick my ass if I do!

      • February 29, 2012

        Amen. And that inner second grader can be even worse… : )
        Thank you for hanging in there.

  2. February 29, 2012

    If second graders ran the BLM, would we even be having this conversation? They have such a well-developed sense of fairness and right vs. wrong.

  3. February 29, 2012

    Que Awesome, Kiddo! 😉
    My inner 5 year old (when I got my own first horse) is cheering you and Miss Laura on and on and on…
    His name was Tony and they had taken him off the quarter horse race track.
    A White, Black and Auburn Pinto.
    He was a gentle as a lamb with me.
    I rode him bareback and bridleless (being so small I did not even think to use tack) every where.
    He took me on the most amazing horsey adventures.
    I miss him.
    He got into some loco weed, my Daddy said, and died when he went to stay at my Granddaddy’s ranch.
    It was not true.
    When we went to visit friends, where we use to live in the country, we saw him at the neighbors house.
    I was ecstatic, angry and distraught all at the same time.
    He remembered me.
    At least he was not dead and in a safe good home.
    I miss him so…

    • February 29, 2012

      How sad that is! I don’t know how I would have ever gotten past it. Hug.

      • February 29, 2012

        He is still very much a part of my life through fond memories.

  4. Louie Cocroft #
    March 10, 2012

    Thank you, Vickery, for everything that you are doing. Your articles are reaching far and wide. This is truly a David and Goliath battle, and as Laura states, it goes much further and way deeper than anyone even imagined. It is sinister and it is ugly, but journalism, such as yours, shines a giant spotlight into some of those dark pits of Horse Hell.
    I’ve just recently come across yet another one:

    This is what happens to them when they are whisked out of sight to the prisons, never to be seen again.
    Look at ALL of the pictures and scroll the arrow to the top to read the captions. These WILD HORSES have been through the trauma of helicopter roundups and being transported for miles, and GOD only knows what other things have been done to them along the way and then they CASTRATED….by WHO and HOW?


    Convict cowboys train horses, seek redemption at Nevada camp
    Las Vegas Review-Journal

  5. Louie Cocroft #
    March 11, 2012

    I’m certain that Grandma Gregg will not mind my posting her comment here.

    Grandma Gregg says:

    October 13, 2011 at 7:44 AM

    Thank goodness those wild horses in Utah weren’t forced to stand in those conditions another minute but their fate behind locked doors is frightening also as I discovered for some of our Twin Peaks Mustangs.

    The prison at Carson City, Nevada was given 26 of our Twin Peaks wild horses (including 6 stallions ages 4&5) so that the inmates could use them with #1 gelding experiments and #2 PZP experiments. Apparently the man (photo in article – link below) doing the actual gelding is a BLM vet – or so I am told – but why send them to the prison for the gelding process? There were more than enough geldings that could have been sent to the prison from STH if they were only going to train them to be ridden and adopted.

    As for the fertility study (article link below) – PZP and GonCon (a permanent fertility control?) have both been studied / used for years – so why do they have to continue to experiment on these Mustangs? In addition, this will only result in more foals forced into the system. And again … why behind locked doors?

    Article and photos of Mustangs being gelded at the Carson City Prison:

    Article about the Mustangs being used for fertility control study at Carson City Prison:

  6. Louie Cocroft #
    March 11, 2012

    And there is this:

    Where Have All The Geldings Gone?

    A letter to the editor published in the Washington Times by Valerie James Patton of Shingletown, California has exposed the stunning possibility that the Bureau of Land Management may be shipping our wild horses into Mexico under a “non-slaughter” listing. What happens to these geldings once they cross the border is certainly one of the big questions that deserves an investigation.

    According to Ms. Patton’s letter, over 2,000 geldings have been sent through one particular slaughter port from New Mexico to Mexico this year alone. According to the report, this year’s number of geldings is twice as high as it was for the same time last year.

    The geldings are the exclusive class of animal being shipped through this port under a “non-slaughter” listing, begging the questions-

    -Why only geldings?
    -Where are all the geldings coming from?
    -What is Mexico doing with only geldings and no other class of horse?

    They can’t possibly be for breeding purposes and once they cross the border, there is no legal limitations that prevent them being greeted by a slaughterhouse fate. Geldings are also worth more by “the pound”.

    So what is going on?

  7. Louie Cocroft #
    March 15, 2012

    Vickery, you may not have seen this excellent documentary:
    You are now among some of the VERY BEST in True Journalism:


    Knapp and the I-Team’s Ian Russell and Matt Adams are recipients of the regional Edward R. Murrow
    award for their hard hitting documentary, Stampede To Oblivion,

  8. Louie Cocroft #
    March 15, 2012

    Let’s try this link again. It works on the other sites

  9. March 17, 2012

    I worked on a ranch in Tucson Arizona and not only got to see how these horses end up once “adopted” but also what their fates were if they didn’t prove useful to the rancher. I’m an artist and animator with a great love for these animals and it’s shocking and depressing to see how callous and ignorant people are to these issues. Please contact me any time. If there is anything I can do to aid you and your fight to bring this awareness to the fore please tell me. I’m also in contact with Madeline Pickens. Hopefully she can pull something worthwhile together long term. Either way, let’s chat sometime. Keep fighting girlfriend!

    • March 20, 2012

      Thanks for the encouragement. Not giving up. I don’t want my inner seventh grader to clobber me.

  10. Louie Cocroft #
    March 21, 2012

    Here’s some more for you, Vickery.

    The Mustang Conspiracy: Sex, Drugs, Corruption, and BP. Part 1 in HD

  11. Louie Cocroft #
    April 1, 2012

    This was posted by one of the readers on R.T. Fitch’s STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S HEART

    Fight of the Wild Stallions (Part 1) – American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

  12. Louie Cocroft #
    April 1, 2012

    Fight of the Wild Stallions (Part 2) – American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

  13. Louie Cocroft #
    April 10, 2012

    Wild horse rescues another horse from drowning in Arizona
    Stallion named ‘Champ’ grabbed filly by neck and dragged her to safety.

  14. Louie Cocroft #
    April 11, 2012

    Arizona woman’s hobby may hold key to saving wild horses
    They stood, majestically holding court at Pebble Beach Campground just inside Tonto National Forest in Mesa. People gathered to catch a glimpse of living western history and these wild horses didn’t run from the attention although the only person able to get very close was Becky Standridge.
    The horses seem to know the Mesa woman, but not half as well as she knows them. Now, her hobby of capturing pictures of these animals may be the key to saving their lives.
    An Arizona woman’s passion for pictures may surprisingly be the answer to saving Wild Horses right here in the Valley.
    A Mesa woman spends her time in the Tonto National Forest… And she had no idea her hobby would have an impact.
    The forest service and others have struggled for years to decide how to deal with wild horses.
    There is a real dilemma on how to manage the herd.
    Tonight they may have a better chance at survival thanks to a local woman who had no idea her pictures were so important.
    “I’d heard about these wild horses for several years but I’d never seen them,” Standrige said, “until a friend brought me for a walk here just over a year ago.”
    For the laid-off Intel worker, it was love at first sight.
    Becky began amassing a vast album of the herd. She snapped, and snapped, and snapped collecting more than just pony pictures. The images told stories and Becky’s observations revealed histories.
    “I identify their color, their blaze, their socks. All the characteristics. Who’s who. What’s going on”, she explained. “The horses are all very special. Their family bonds are very strong. Their freedom is extremely important to them.”
    Her near-constant presence put the horses at ease allowing her an intimate view most can only imagine.
    She compared it to a soap opera saying, “”Sometimes it’s really exciting and sometimes it’s really sad.”
    One of the most tragic situations revealed That becky may be the best hope to save these wild horses. About 3 months ago a driver hit and killed a horse on the road that snakes through the Mesa Range of Tonto N.F. Curious as to which horse had died, Becky went to the ranger station thinking, surely they had identified the horse.
    “I wanted to keep it on my log who was now missing because you can’t see every horse every day”, Standridge explained.
    But when the Range Wildlife Manger asked what Becky had been up to she learned that no one had ever catalogued the horses. In fact, there had been a long debate over how to manage the herd. Becky’s hobby was like an answer falling from the sky. An answer that may save many of these horses.
    The Tonto National Forest, Mesa Range Wildlife Manager says 6 area agencies have struggled for an answer to the wild horse dilemna. The answer they want to avoid is capturing the animals and selling them at auction. Most times that means a trip to the slaughter house.
    The hope is to manage the herd another way but they need a catalogue of wild horses. With money and manpower at a minimum, that has always been impossible.Until becky came along.
    She offered up her expertiese and research.
    Now, donning a new volunteers uniform and armed with her telephoto lense, Becky continues to track and identify the herd.
    The are still decisions to be made when it comes to herd management but Becky’s horse log has opened up options wildlife biologists feared would not be possible.

  15. Louie Cocroft #
    April 14, 2012


    Click to access alternativemanagement_optionsblm10_2008_markup.pdf

    BLM Alternative Management Options Draft Plan + Markup

  16. Louie Cocroft #
    April 14, 2012


    Click to access blm_implementation_team_minutes_2008_markup.pdf

    BLM Implementation Team minutes + markup

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