“Mustang Man” tells of fight to save America’s wild horses


Wildlife ecologist and champion of wild horses Craig C. Downer is fronting a new documentary showing the positive contributions that wild horses and burros make to ecosystems.

Over the years Downer has been fighting to protect wild horses and burros from elimination on the lands that are legally theirs, according to the unanimously passed Wild FreeRoaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WFHBA).

The 24-minute film, The Mustang Man, Downer tells how biologists classify horses and burros as “Keystone Species” that restore and maintain native biodiversity, benefiting many interrelated plants and animals.

The Tom Porter-directed documentary is described as a timely wake-up call that communicates the greater truth concerning America’s wild horses and burros.

“This need is an urgent one, as these highly evolved returned North American natives must be allowed the natural freedom and space they need to restore balance and harmony both in the West and many similar regions of our precious planet,” Downer says.

A wild horse in the Kiger Mustang HMA in Oregon. © Craig C. Downer

In the film, Downer, the author of The Wild Horse Conspiracy and Wild Horses: Living Symbols of Freedom, takes viewers into the field to discover the ecological importance of horses and burros and to show that North America is their evolutionary cradle.

“Many people unfairly blame horses for water and forage scarcity, when in truth they take only a minor fraction of the forage and water resources on the public lands compared to that taken by privately owned cattle and sheep as well as the gargantuan mining and energy industries, among other nature exploiters,” Downer says.

“Also it is important to recognize that these national heritage species are only being allocated a small fraction of forage, water and appropriate habitat even within their legal areas on BLM and US Forest Service lands. These are areas where they should be the principal resource recipients according to the true intent of the WFHBA.”

In the film, Downer explains the many benefits that wild horses and burros bring to the land.

Their nutrient-rich droppings spread intact seeds in widespread areas where they roam. Both are food for many diverse animals, including many birds and mammals. In drier regions, horses and burros detect water underground and dig wells that help many species of animals and plants to survive, as shown in the film. Also shown is horses blazing trails in heavy brush, which help weaker animals to access forage and water. In winter, they break ice with their powerful legs and hooves, allowing smaller or less capable animals to access forage and water – often making the difference between life or death. Ruminant populations, including deer, often increase in health and abundance when horses are present.

“Horses and burros rebuild soils by contributing more organically intact droppings. These act as longlasting fertilizers, contributing more humus to the earth. Their single-stomach fermentative digestive
system differs from the multi-stomach, ruminant digestive systems of cattle, sheep, deer and other
herbivores that are favored by our society,” Downer says.

A band of Kiger mustangs on the range. The Kiger mustang is a strain of mustang horse located in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Oregon.
A band of Kiger mustangs on the range. The Kiger mustang is a strain of mustang horse located in the southeastern part of the US state of Oregon. © Craig C. Downer

Horses greatly mitigate and often even prevent catastrophic wildfires by consuming significant amounts of vegetation that become fire-enabling tinder during the dry season, Downer says. They also consume much greater amounts of this drier, coarser vegetation that their specialized digestive systems are better able to handle compared with those of cattle and other herbivores.

“They will rebuild soils, restore aquifers and disperse and help diverse plant species germinate and
bloom. And we mustn’t forget the critically needed service they will provide by mitigating and even
preventing catastrophic, life-destroying wildfires that now loom so ominously upon the future’s horizon
due to Global Warming.

“Surely we mustn’t forget all that they have done for our species over the centuries and our debt of gratitude to them as special beings existing in their own right. They lend a special uplifting energy and beauty – and what could be more important than this?”

Downer has also been undertaking field evaluations of several new areas in California and Oregon and meeting with US Forest Service and BLM officials, to promote Reserve Design for wild horses.


A pioneer-descended Nevadan, as a boy Craig Downer fell in love with the natural world, oft while riding his best friend Poco. This passion led him to pursue a career in wildlife ecology and to earn an A.B. in Biology with specialization in Ecology from the University of California-Berkeley, an M.S. from the University of Nevada-Reno, and to attain Ph.D. candidature at Durham University in Britain. His studies and observations of wild horses led him to work with Wild Horse Annie in insisting that the true intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act be implemented throughout America. He served as a Peace Corps wildlife ecologist in Colombia and is the first biologist to have successfully captured, radio-collared and tracked the endangered Mountain, or Andean, Tapir as part of his doctorate studies, His organization, the Andean Tapir Fund, continues to successfully defend and protect this dwindling species, along with its diminishing cloud forest and paramo habitats. He is a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and his organization works to save all members of the Horse, Tapir and Rhino families (Order Perissodactyla) in their natural habitats. Visit Craig’s website.

Director and videographer Tom Porter is a former UCLA marine science professor and has collaborated with Craig Downer to produce the film Maverick Mustangs of the Salt River that greatly helped to save this precious Spanish mustang herd from total removal by the Tonto National Forest. Porter produces the TV series Animal Consciousness, People Helping Animals and People Helping the Planet, which has featured programs on the Coachella Valley Horse Rescue sanctuary, whales, dolphins, chimpanzees, desert tortoises, California condors, bird rescues, and wetland preservation. In earlier years, he worked for Marineland of the Pacific. 

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14 thoughts on ““Mustang Man” tells of fight to save America’s wild horses

  • December 9, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Thanks so much for publishing our timely message about the importance of and justification for naturally living horses and burros. They must not be crippled or eliminated for they have a crucial role to play in saving life on Earth today and are worthy in their own right. Cheers for the holidays and challenging new year and decade 2020 (Wow! 2020 already?) Craig

  • December 10, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    I feel so helpless with the plight of the mustang. Do you think this horrible scenario will ever end?? And why does BLM ignore us??

    • December 11, 2019 at 11:33 am

      Thanks Elizabeth. Indeed, it is a test of faith, but we must persevere and continue to act consistently with our higher knowledge of what is the better way of life and relation with horsekind and the world we share with them as home and place of evolution and perfection — and this concerns us all! Let me know of opportunities to come and speak and show my PowerPoints, one on America’s Wild Horses and Burros and the other on the Perissodactyla of the world that is entitled “World’s Wild Perissodactyls: Restoring the Restorers of Ecological Balance.” We should consider the presentation as a challenge and get better, more intelligent and with a better plan so that we can solve the crisis and realize a better way of life/ relation with all the great Rest of Life (that in so many ways makes possible our human life here on Earth).

    • January 8, 2020 at 6:52 pm

      Thank you HorseTalk!!!
      I appreciate everyone helping getting our important message of Saving Wild Horses & Burros from extinction, betrayed by our own Bureau of Land Management & fighting the untruths. It is an uphill battle to protect these magnificent creatures. Please keep the faith & courage to continue to help save these free spirited natural wonders!
      Tom Porter, director of the Mustang Man, Craig C. Downer, Fighting to Exonerate Wild Horses & Burros.

  • December 10, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    When we have learned the true depict of the Natural World, we have earned our place in it and will no longer impose mortality’s ignorance on God’s harmonious Universe. Thank you Craig for all you are doing to share God’s “view” of His precious creation.

  • December 13, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you my dear friend Craig Downer for this great and realistic presentation. You have presented our beautiful wild horses and burros that need to be returned to the wild as soon as possible. Eco sanctuaries are a great solution to taking them out of long term holding which is killing so many wild horse families displaced because of the BLM terrible round ups. We must pass legislation to protect and defend all of the beautiful wild horses and burros so they can protect our nations forests and put them in free range areas. We can do this and Eco sanctuaries will be protection areas for them. We need to get them out of long term holding and back on the range. To all of you out there get involved and help us educate others of this important reserve design. CRAIG knows best. Let us support this movement to help get our wild ones to safety and bring our wild horse and burro families back home where they belong. Join our team thank you. The wild horses and burros thank you. We are their voices. I believe we can get them into safe reserve designs. Lets do it together our friends. God bless our teams out there doing so much to help our wild horses and burros.
    I think about our wild horses every day and night. I purchased my sweet wild horse 2 years ago, Sequoia she is beautiful. She reminds me every day because she was born in captivity. Well I want all of our wild horses free to roam and I have made my promise to her and thousands of others. No more wild horse round ups, No more captivity for these incredible families that have endured so much pain, anguish and death. Please help us stop this brutality and give our wild horses and burros the respect and love they deserve. Judith E. Hamilton. Thank you CRAIG Keep on Keeping on. We can do this everyone. Saving our wild horses and burros one at time. They will survive because we care for them. I pray this will be our legacy for them to be wild and free from the chains and fences that bind them now. Help us everyone.

    • December 23, 2019 at 11:37 am

      Dear Judith: Such a great testimony to this great cause of the free and naturally living horses and burros and the wonderful restoring role they can and must play in our world today. They are ancient presences of long-standing on the Earth, possessing ancient wisdom on how to live harmoniously and how to make this a beautiful peaceful and harmonious world through respect, reverence, and as you so eloquently say Love. Let’s go forth with inspired vision for a better world, one in which people have learned to share the land and freedom with such paragons as horses and burros. It’s their world too and life can be so beautiful! Happy Holy Days and Bright New Year 2020 and Decade to come! Craig

  • December 13, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    I especially liked your comment that if humans think that only humans matter there is the tragedy. So many humans do think that and it bewilders me as to why humans would think that way. Humans are destroying mother earth and its creatures. I am almost ashamed to be a human when I see what humans destroy. The majestic horse needs to roam free and live free. One of the things on my bucket list is to feast my eyes on a truly wild herd of horses. A wild herd that has not interaction with humans ever. It is a dream of mine to soak in the glory of a wild herd. Praying that when I can get to it that a wild herd still exist. God bless you for speaking the truth.

    • December 23, 2019 at 11:40 am

      Dear Deborah: Really touches me that we are so on the same page when it comes to understanding this point. It is a major one. Until humans stop thinking that only their species matters, the current mayhem and violent disharmonious destruction will only continue. The transformation that is needed must take place at the individual level. Have a wonderful holiday and bright new year and decade and let me know when you want to come out see the wild horses and burros! Craig

  • December 21, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    You’re welcome good friends and this means so much to me to read of your genuine support. Have a blessed holiday and bright new year and decade — and let’s keep coordinating and working together, getting better all the time, to achieve what we must for the future of life on Earth!

  • December 28, 2019 at 3:17 am

    Dear Craig,
    Adopted one truly amazing mustang mare,
    Feeling so helpless, Would love to have lots of acreage to put a wild mustang refuge in .

  • February 12, 2020 at 4:42 am

    Thank you for all that you do. I have adopted several burros and a Mustang. They have been my
    treasures. If I were younger I would have more. At eighty-five all I can do now is donate.

  • November 29, 2020 at 6:30 am

    This is an excellent, information-filled video! Thank you Craig Downer! Everything you say rings truthful, filled with solution from a devastating problem of the control of wild horses and burros from BLM Government. This is not just the humane treatment of all life (horses) but the welfare and protection of our planet. It’s the greed of a few putting so many in jeopardy, including our planet. It has been an overwhelming problem always in my mind, as I have owned and very much appreciate mustangs, whether in the wild or adopted. However, your film has inspired me to see what I can do (outside of just helping a few horses here and there.. )
    For this I and more, I thank you Craig Downer!
    Julia King


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