“The Mustang”: Movie sheds light on equine therapy and wild horses

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Matthias Schoenaerts in a scene from The Mustang.
Matthias Schoenaerts in a scene from The Mustang.

I hope most people are enjoying Robert Redford’s new movie The Mustang as much as I did.

From my chair, producer Redford did a great job, and like Disney, Redford made a solid business move to fund his examination of a niche criminal rehabilitation program and the importance of equine therapy. But the movie stops there as to any real impactful solution for the tens of thousands of wild horses and burros that are being rounded up.

The BLM’s commitment to reduce the total US Population of wild horses down to about 27,000 from the current population of about 72,000 free-roaming wild horses and burros, will produce about 45,000 wild horses and some burros into BLM/US Forest Service holding. The point is that the aggregate effect of all adoptions, rescues and social programs combined that are using wild horses can only realistically address saving a fraction of about 45,000 wild horses that are coming off the range in the coming 12-16 months. Making matters worse is that most sanctuaries are at capacity and underfunded.

The dark meme of ‘breaking’ wild horses for any reason is of course a construct of mankind’s perspective stemming from the management of domesticated breeds of horses over a period of five millennia. It is reckless and inhumane to diminish the spirit of any wild animal, especially a wild horse. And according to the California 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, wild horses and burros are “native species” and are “wildlife¹”.

The movie fails to properly explain that wild horses that are made available for such programs have already suffered PTSD themselves through the harrowing experience of the brutal ‘helicopter roundup’ and separation from family and friends. Let’s keep in mind that mustangs are highly intelligent sentient beings with an IQ said to approximate a sub-adult human.

Essentially, the wild horses thrust into these programs are already suffering from physical and psychological trauma. And then to have their spirits broken down further in any manner, is in my opinion after living among wild horses for the past five years, cruel and inhumane.

If we compare the standard of care for any other wildlife, let’s say an eagle or a deer that comes into a conservation center due to an injury, once recovered it is immediately returned to the wild, unless its injury places it at longstanding grave risk, in which case it might be re-homed in a zoo, etc … but that is not in any way ideal for any wild animal, and breaking the spirit of a wild horse is in my opinion a moral crime.

And even though domesticated horse breeds look, smell and have the same anatomy of wild horses, wild horses are not the same because they have a vastly different behavioral ecology; they have evolved quite differently than domestic breeds that have had humans as part of their artificially managed evolutionary environment with paddocks, barns, protection, as well as sustenance being provided.

The will and spirit of a wild horse to live free is radically different than that of most domestic horses and that ‘will’ or ‘spirit’ is an absolute necessity for wild horses to survive in the wilds, where many domestic breeds would perish quickly. As it has been said; the “vigor of the species is preserved” in the wild (Craig Downer).

We have documented (with photos), time and time again here at Wild Horse Ranch, serious injuries, the trauma of which would have killed most any domestic horse right-off from shock. Yet the local wild horses overcome. We have sent photos and videos of some of the many injuries (most from mountain lion attacks) to our highly experienced area equine veterinarian, who upon seeing such photos told us to put the horse down, there was no way the horse can survive … of course his clinical experience is with domestic horses. And time and time again, the injured wild horses healed and some are alive years later.

Like this colt, who was attacked by a lion:

Left, Elvis on the morning of the lion attack. Middle: A month after the attack. Right: Four months after the attack.
Left, on the morning of the lion attack. Middle: A month after the attack. Right: Four months after the attack.

And this young stallion, Buck:

Left, Buck's leg injury, and fully healed four months later.
Left, Buck’s leg injury, and fully healed four months later.

Both horses are alive today without any medical intervention beyond Laura and I giving them a little hay, grain, salt and a bit of loving encouragement.

Approaching the point of no-return from path to extinction

Once the BLM and USFS complete their planned population reduction, they will then likely divide the remaining 27,000 wild horses across the US landscape into small groups as we already have seen in existing Herd Management Areas (HMAs) today that can be a small as 38 horses. It’s a plain fact that any herd less than 200 or more intact wild horses is a genetically non-viable herd, and will lead to devastating inbreeding, genetic failure and ultimately, extinction.

The foregoing is critically important in regard to forest management because our North American landscape has had its native species large-bodied herbivory decimated over the past 300 years.

It is estimated that more than 100-million large-bodied herbivores were eliminated in that period, which included about 50 million bison and 20 million wild horses that existed just 300 years back. That former combined native species herbivory consumed about 383 million tons of grass and brush annually.

The ongoing maintenance of this ground fuel loading by a balanced population of native herbivores is what keeps both the frequency and intensity of wildfires to a nominal level, which is beneficial to our forests. But when these fuels are not naturally maintained, especially in wilderness areas where artificial fuel reduction methods (such as mowing and burning) are impractical and/or illegal. The resulting excessive fuel loading leads to more frequent and intensely hot wildfires, that are so hot, they kill even the conifers that have evolved to use normal wildfire for their reproduction.

Now with further depletion of cervids — primarily black tail deer in the western states (California is down two million deer in the past five decades; which would have accounted for about 2.6-million tons of excess grass and brush annually) — the vegetative ground fuels for wildfire have become prodigious. And these fuels are renewed annually, dry quicker, stay dry longer with warmer climate and present a longer window of opportunity to any source of ignition.

We cannot control the behavior of humans, even laws seems relatively ineffective. We cannot control the amount of oxygen in the air. We can change the amount of excessive fuels in our forests by simply re-balancing the forest ecosystems with the addition of immediately available wild horses; a solution that can be implemented to save both wild horses and our forests and related ecosystems before they are gone.

At the rate we are losing forests in North America, we must effect a solution virtually immediately!

It will take decades to bring back cervid populations with all of the challenges there. Wild horses are currently readily available and need places to be rewilded into, and my “Wild Horse Fire Brigade” plan has identified wilderness areas that are well-suited as natural habitat for wild horses and burros. Equids survived the Ice Age as forest dwellers, and here in the western states landscape, wilderness forest areas with abundant water and grazing, yet ill-suited for livestock, are available, and need ground fuels abatement, lest this area burns catastrophically.

Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays Roman in The Mustang.
Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays Roman in The Mustang.

Even though I was entertained by Redford’s movie The Mustang, I found myself asking; ‘why inmates breaking wild horses’ as a core concept, when there are certainly other more compelling (dramatic) social issues that are positively affected by equine therapy?

One such social issue is the suicide rate among American soldiers (about 20 each day) and how equine therapy is impacting that tragedy, which is much larger in scope than that of our penal system, and from my chair, should be the basis for an even more compelling movie, especially when considering how suicide affects many families each year. And the now lost men and women were valiant, courageous people, as are those at risk as I write this.

National Geographic touched on this topic with their mini-documentary Horses Help Heal Veterans’ Invisible Wounds.

My wife and I had a first-hand experience with the effect a wild stallion (who freely and willingly) made in a veteran’s life (with PTSD) via an encounter that Laura and I documented here at the ranch:

The human cost of wildfires

Hydrocarbon toxins from the deadly Klamathon Wildfire gravely affected my wife Laura and she went from being a super-healthy vegetarian (since 1971) and a very active lady to being reduced to a quadriplegic in just five months. And there are thousands of other people who were made ill from just the wildfires of 2018. The amount of hydrocarbon (greenhouse gases) compounds being released from catastrophic wildfires (and novel compounds formed at new super high temperatures) is accelerating the rate of atmospheric warming.

Laura Simpson with a wild mare named 'Rosie'... the 'love' is obvious.
Laura Simpson with a wild mare named ‘Rosie’… the ‘love’ is obvious.

My wife and best friend of 46 years is a genuine hero! When the evacuation order came during the big Klamaton wildfire via California Fish & Wildlife officers, Laura decided, even in the face of the 200-foot tall flames heading directly for Wild Horse Ranch and our cabin, to stay and provide concerned oversight of the wild horses and wildlife on the landscape during the inferno. Few people would put their lives on the line for other people, let alone wildlife and forests.

If we are going to change the current trajectory of the human condition and how we deal with our natural resources, we’ll need many more people as committed as Laura Simpson.

 

[1] The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California recognized wild horses as native species, explaining that BLM “establishes Appropriate Management Levels (“AMLs”) for populations of native species – including wild horses, burros, and other wildlife – and introduced animals, such as livestock.” In Defense of Animals, et al. v. U.S. Dept. Interior, et al., No. 12-17804, *6 (9th Cir. May 12, 2014). On Sep 28, 2011 (See Craters AR at 16698. Memorandum Decision & Order) The court addresses “sensitive” species pursuant to BLM’s 2001 Special Status Species Policy. This Policy requires that “sensitive” species be afforded, at a minimum, the same protections as candidate species for listing under the ESA. It called on BLM managers to “obtain and use the best available information deemed necessary to evaluate the status of special status species in areas affected by land use plans . . . .” See Policy at § 6840.22A. Under the Policy, those land use plans “shall be sufficiently detailed to identify and resolve significant land use conflicts with special status species without deferring conflict resolution to implementation-level planning.” – Courtesy of Kathleen Hayden.

William E. Simpson

William Simpson is the author of Dark Stallions - Legend of the Centaurians, proceeds from which go towards supporting wild and domestic horse rescue and sanctuary. » Read Bill's profile

9 thoughts on ““The Mustang”: Movie sheds light on equine therapy and wild horses

  • March 27, 2019 at 11:44 am
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    Great article, and I concur! The BLM has set up the wild horses and burros for failure by not taking the true intent of the Wild Free-roaming Horses & Burro Act to heart. Instead they have done the will of the very wild horse/burros enemies and this is a direct violation of every officials sworn duty to uphold all the laws of the land fairly and equitably. Yes, the wild horses, meaning the “naturally living” horses are great restorers of balance especially vis-a-vis all the enormous numbers of ruminant herbivores that are overly promoted on the public lands and NOT allowed to adapt naturally! And, yes, the wild horses and burro should be immediately set out in the areas throughout the United States where they are desperately needed NOW to prevent more catastrophic wildfires! These ancient & wise presences ARE the solution.

    Reply
  • March 27, 2019 at 12:11 pm
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    Wonderful article!

    Reply
  • March 27, 2019 at 1:56 pm
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    I have yet to see where this movie has been released?

    Reply
  • March 27, 2019 at 6:02 pm
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    ave a problem with these movies of the Mustangs, simply because they are spreading false info. There is NO WAY there are 72000 wild horses! The BLM puts these numbers out there without ever completing an honest third party count of the wild horses. If there are 27000 we are lucky. The BLM have been “managing for extinction” for nearly 40 years. They have been using 3 population control measures concurrently; skewed sex ratios, (more stallions then mares), PZP, ( a chemical that renders the mares infertile for life, and aggressive roundups, removing 10 000 horses per year! So under these circumstances there is no way that “over population” is possible. However the millions of private livestock goes unchecked on public domain, and destroying the ranges all for a pittance of grazing fees! This is where the real problem lies!

    Reply
    • March 28, 2019 at 6:52 am
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      Re wilding starts with the Resource Management Plan amendments and is site specific (FLPMA,NEPA) (http://ftp.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/799/799.F2d.1423.82-1485.html Case Law Mountain States v. Hodel) ” In structure and purpose, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is nothing more than a land-use regulation enacted by Congress to ensure the survival of a particular species of wildlife. At the outset, it is important to note that wild horses and burros are no less “wild” animals than are the grizzly bears that roam our national parks and forests.

      Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 96 S.Ct. 2285, 49 L.Ed.2d 34 (1976), the Supreme Court recognized the important governmental interest in preserving wild horses and burros in their natural habitat, citing congressional findings that their preservation would “ ‘contribute to the the diversity of life within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people. The provisions of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act advance this important governmental interest.

      The protection of the wild horses and burros on public lands was upheld as a proper exercise of congressional power under the Property Clause in Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 96 S.Ct. 2285, 49 L.Ed.2d 34 (1976).Any intentional act which demonstrates a deliberate disregard for the well-being of wild free-roaming horses and burros and which creates the likelihood of injury, or is detrimental to normal behavior patterns of wild free-roaming horses and burros including feeding, watering, resting, and breeding. Such acts include, but are not limited to, unauthorized chasing, pursuing, herding, roping, or attempting to gather or catch wild free-roaming horses and burros.

      FN4. When the United States Supreme Court considered and upheld the constitutionality of the Act in Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 96 S.Ct. 2285, 49 L.Ed.2d 34 (1976), it decided the scope of the federal government’s authority over “wildlife” on federal lands and referred consistently throughout its opinion to “wildlife” rather than feral or domestic animals. The Court held that “the Property Clause also gives Congress the power to protect wildlife on the public lands, state law notwithstanding.” 426 U.S. at 546, 96 S.Ct. at 2295 (emphasis added). The Court’s holding purported to extend to “wildlife” even though an amicus curiae brief filed in that case specifically drew the Court’s attention to the fact that the horses legislatively deemed wild in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act were in fact feral animals that either had themselves reverted to a wild state or were the progeny of horses that had done so. Brief of Amicus Curiae, International Association of Game, Fish and Conservation Commissioners on the Merits at 4-8, Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 96 S.Ct. 2285, 49 L.Ed.2d 34 (1976). The amicus brief therefore urged the Supreme Court to limit its holding to feral animals and not to address more broadly the question of federal authority over wildlife on federal lands. Id. at 4-13. Thus the Supreme Court declined to do, thus implicitly accepting Congress’ determination to treat the horses as wild.

      (case law: Sweet Home Chapter) Land also may be acquired under section 5 of the ESA to prevent “modification of land that is not yet but may in the future become habitat for an endangered or threatened species.” (

      Funding: https://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/fawild.html. The Pitman Robertson funds may be available to BLM/DOI/USFWS/NPS too for the relocation and rewilding of federally protected wild horses as distinct native population segments

      Karen.Miner@wildlife.ca.gov In Mar of 2016, “ When and if available scientific information convinces the experts that determine the checklist of native species to North America that Equus caballus should be considered as an indigenous species, they will make the change in the next revision to the list, and then we would take that fact into consideration for inclusion on our state animal lists. “ (note that the wildlife species is E. ferus. The wild horse in the United States is generally labeled non-native by most federal and state agencies dealing with wildlife management, whose legal mandate is to protect native wildlife . The two key elements for defining an animal as a native species are where it originated and whether or not it coevolved with its habitat

      Reply
    • March 28, 2019 at 7:58 am
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      Thank you, and I agree with your points.

      The larger concern that I maintain is this:

      Media outlets, including but not limited to movies and writings, are addressing a largely uniformed audience who are exceptionally vulnerable to misinformation and/or misinterpreting information presented in a manner that allows or leads the uninformed viewer/reader into a conclusion that is incorrect. This is the worse kind of propaganda, especially for land use/planning, wildlife and wild horses and burros.

      Without saying it, the movie The Mustang, subliminally suggests to the audience that adoption programs (including penal programs) are a meaningful answer to the larger issue of ‘alleged’ wild horse and burro overpopulation, when that is far from the truth as empirically evidenced via history. The movie completely dodges the question of natural resource and wild horse mismanagement as the genesis of the entire problem. In fact, if wild horses were re-allocated to more suitable areas for their existence, there would be no problem and no need for brutal roundups and ‘breaking’ of wild equids. We have numerous domestic breeds of horses that have evolved with this paradigm of human use.

      The movie also fails to address the core issue whatsoever; the wrong-head natural resource management that has led to this massive debacle and resulting needless and reckless rounding-up of native wildlife, the American wild horse, subjecting them to PTSD, and then further dispiriting via the ‘breaking’ process.

      Finally, breaking the spirit of any wild animal, including wild horses and burros further demonstrates our epic ignorance, brutality and disrespect for other sentient beings, that are in the case of wild horses and burros, wildlife.

      From my chair, I cannot sit idle and just go-along to get along while media (and paid wild horse activists) makes veiled suggestions that such draconian methods (roundups, breaking, and/or re-confinement) are ‘solutions’ to what at its core is a very simple problem:

      Wild Horses have over the past 300-years been displaced into many areas that are not their natural ranges (based-on paleontology), and in other cases, having their historical ranges overrun with livestock in concert with the designed collapse of the trophic cascade by the elimination of all beneficial predators of native large-bodied herbivores.

      This designed depredation of native species predators also is contributing to the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). In a healthy balanced ecosystem, the predators very quickly and efficiently kill and consume any weak or diseased cervids (deer, elk, pronghorn, etc.), thus stemming the ongoing contamination on the landscape by these diseased cervids. However, in the massively large areas where livestock are commercially grazed, including Herd Areas and HMAs, these critically important predators are eliminated with great vigor in favor of profitability for livestock enterprises, thus adversely impacting and reducing predators to non-effective populations on the landscape.

      The simple and clearly obvious solution to what seems an insurmountable problem is clear; relocate wild equids to areas already devoid of cervids due to poor management and are also unsuited to any livestock production enterprises. This solves three problems in one move on the chess board; takes wild equids out of competition in areas where commercial livestock, saves nearly $100-Million in annual costs, and devolves catastrophic wildfire in and around selected wilderness-forest areas (such as we see at Wild Horse Ranch).

      This now-proven thesis must be pursed at all cost. A larger and more compelling (a points included) documentary is certainly in order to combat the intentional wrong-headed propaganda being promoted by people like Ben Masters in his latest epic piece of obtuse nonsense titled ‘HORSE RICH – DIRT POOR’:

      https://wildlife.org/horse-rich-dirt-poor/?fbclid=IwAR2REtlG09rACliOWEc2kdVgtIPJAHwgI6kz5Wj980t8tstoYZrZZlCJPx8

      It’s laughable; one of his so-called wildlife biologists is so green and inexperienced he exclaims on camera that he is seeing he first ever Sage Grouse! Kinda says it all… no experience coupled with people who are intellectually dishonest enough to just go along to be on TV and/or pandering for $$. T

      The fact that WildLife.org is sponsoring this obtuse nonsense just shows how easily people are manipulated and follow trends and money. More of the same from ‘Paid’ activists pandering for donations.

      The key moral duty of any Knight of the realm is to protect the innocent, especially those who cannot protect themselves. My wife Laura Simpson has shown me the way… and I am doing my best to make certain her valor wasn’t wasted.

      Cheers! Bill

      Reply
  • March 28, 2019 at 6:26 am
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    I have not seen this film. However, the “teaser” really sends the wrong message about the rehoming, training and makeover of mustangs today. It also creates an image of wild horses as mean and dangerous which may be created by the unethical handling and “breaking” that this “teaser” shows.
    Perhaps that was an attitude once in the “wild west” where there was no empathy but that is not how mustangs are made over today. Just look at Elisa Wallace videos on U Tube as an example of how much horse people have changed their methods of making over mustangs.

    Reply
  • March 28, 2019 at 6:53 am
    Permalink

    (http://ftp.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/799/799.F2d.1423.82-1485.html Case Law Mountain States v. Hodel) ” In structure and purpose, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is nothing more than a land-use regulation enacted by Congress to ensure the survival of a particular species of wildlife. At the outset, it is important to note that wild horses and burros are no less “wild” animals than are the grizzly bears that roam our national parks and forests.

    Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 96 S.Ct. 2285, 49 L.Ed.2d 34 (1976), the Supreme Court recognized the important governmental interest in preserving wild horses and burros in their natural habitat, citing congressional findings that their preservation would “ ‘contribute to the the diversity of life within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people. The provisions of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act advance this important governmental interest.

    The protection of the wild horses and burros on public lands was upheld as a proper exercise of congressional power under the Property Clause in Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 96 S.Ct. 2285, 49 L.Ed.2d 34 (1976).Any intentional act which demonstrates a deliberate disregard for the well-being of wild free-roaming horses and burros and which creates the likelihood of injury, or is detrimental to normal behavior patterns of wild free-roaming horses and burros including feeding, watering, resting, and breeding. Such acts include, but are not limited to, unauthorized chasing, pursuing, herding, roping, or attempting to gather or catch wild free-roaming horses and burros.

    FN4. When the United States Supreme Court considered and upheld the constitutionality of the Act in Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 96 S.Ct. 2285, 49 L.Ed.2d 34 (1976), it decided the scope of the federal government’s authority over “wildlife” on federal lands and referred consistently throughout its opinion to “wildlife” rather than feral or domestic animals. The Court held that “the Property Clause also gives Congress the power to protect wildlife on the public lands, state law notwithstanding.” 426 U.S. at 546, 96 S.Ct. at 2295 (emphasis added). The Court’s holding purported to extend to “wildlife” even though an amicus curiae brief filed in that case specifically drew the Court’s attention to the fact that the horses legislatively deemed wild in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act were in fact feral animals that either had themselves reverted to a wild state or were the progeny of horses that had done so. Brief of Amicus Curiae, International Association of Game, Fish and Conservation Commissioners on the Merits at 4-8, Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 96 S.Ct. 2285, 49 L.Ed.2d 34 (1976). The amicus brief therefore urged the Supreme Court to limit its holding to feral animals and not to address more broadly the question of federal authority over wildlife on federal lands. Id. at 4-13. Thus the Supreme Court declined to do, thus implicitly accepting Congress’ determination to treat the horses as wild.

    (case law: Sweet Home Chapter) Land also may be acquired under section 5 of the ESA to prevent “modification of land that is not yet but may in the future become habitat for an endangered or threatened species.” (

    Funding: https://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/fawild.html. The Pitman Robertson funds may be available to BLM/DOI/USFWS/NPS too for the relocation and rewilding of federally protected wild horses as distinct native population segments

    Karen.Miner@wildlife.ca.gov In Mar of 2016, “ When and if available scientific information convinces the experts that determine the checklist of native species to North America that Equus caballus should be considered as an indigenous species, they will make the change in the next revision to the list, and then we would take that fact into consideration for inclusion on our state animal lists. “ (note that the wildlife species is E. ferus. The wild horse in the United States is generally labeled non-native by most federal and state agencies dealing with wildlife management, whose legal mandate is to protect native wildlife . The two key elements for defining an animal as a native species are where it originated and whether or not it coevolved with its habitat.

    Reply

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