These pictures are heartbreaking for me, and it took me a while to decide to reblog them from The Cloud Foundation blog. However, this story needs to be told - to everyone possible. So here it is, in all it's pain and glory...

Freedom’s Escape- Expanded Humane Observers’ Report

10 January 2010

By now, many of you know I have been monitoring the Calico Complex roundup as a humane observer and that I was also likewise engaged last summer in the Pryor Mountains of Montana during the roundup of Cloud’s herd where the horses were driven 11 to 15 miles down the mountain.  I do my best to document and share with all of you who would be here if you could what my eyes and my camera see.  Craig Downer and Bob Bauer have been stalwart companions in the first weeks, and we’ve been gratified to see others coming out to stand vigil for our beloved mustangs who are losing their freedom and their home in this deeply wild and sparsely beautiful mountain range in Nevada.  It is our aim to provide updated, regular reports of what we see although logistically we’ve not been able to keep you all as updated as we would like. There is a tremendous amount of driving involved – Nevada is a big place – along rugged roads in very bad Pogonip ground fog and icy cold conditions.  It is sometimes so cold even my camera objects to being outdoors and won’t work properly, and I must turn it off and on again to coax it to photograph.  Nevertheless, she has been a real trooper and continues to serve us all as well as she can.

First let me say these horses are beautiful, healthy wild horses.  They are far more uneasy around people than Cloud’s herd, who are more accustomed to the sight of humans. The wild horses of the isolated Calico Complex and become quite nervous and swell together in unanimous, anxious whooshes of agitated movement when humans approach the pens.

At this point the beautiful stallion, Freedom, and his struggle and ultimate escape is familiar to many.  While Craig and Bob were over on the side of the pens where they saw closely his attempts and ultimate flight to freedom, I was on the other side of the pens filming the “processing” of the individual horses, which is when I took the photos of Freedom standing upright, with his right front elbow stuck over the top of the fence to the jerry-rigged processing/sorting area the Cattoors set up at their portable trap sites.  I’ve previously posted a picture you’ve probably seen of Freedom’s predicament, in which he got himself into in this sorting/processing alleyway by rearing up in an attempt to go up and over the fence and gate.  After horses are driven in by the helicoper, they are individually put through this little processing area to be identified and evaluated for gender and age, and assessed for injuries and overall condition.  Most all of the horses had a very difficult time with this area.  They are afraid, claustrophobic, extremely anxious, backing up into each other and into the rear gate to the area, heads swinging down low side to side, rearing, kicking the back gate.  Some just stand there frozen. Often it’s a first experience for them of being enclosed.  They are afraid and very anxious.

Freedom, however, is in a class by himself.  I believe Freedom to be Nevada’s Cloud.  Cloud is the only horse we have ever seen turn to face the helicopter before being driven into the pen.  His intelligence, courage, strength, and sheer spunk, as well as his tender affection for his family and his legendary good looks (!) constantly set him apart. Cloud has kept his head in numerous difficult situations, both on the range and in the hands of man, which is why he became a band stallion at only 5 years old.  I believe Freedom has demonstrated that same true greatness of spirit embodied by his courage, presence of mind, and unflinching determination in the daunting face of his greatest natural predator:  man.

I took numerous, rapid-fire photos of this incident, and as a tribute to him, to Freedom, I have decided, in response to people’s interest, to post them lest we forget what it means to these magnificent free spirits to be  f r e e.

Here is my whole sequence in chronological order, complete with timestamps: a wild horse’s terribly frightening ordeal at the hands of humans, yet this is par for the course in the day of the BLM and the roundup contractors.  I am not alleging any specific abuse at the hands of man, rather, it is the general abuse inherent in this entire process of interfering with the wild horses’ right to run free in his own legally designated area.  Calico Complex, consisting of five separate but adjoining wild horse herd areas — Black Rock East, Black Rock West, Warm Springs, Calico Mountain, and Granite Range —  consists of 550,000 acres, easily enough room for 3,095 horses, almost 200 acres per horse.  They are healthy and beautiful now in the dead of winter; they do not need BLM’s form of “help”; what a travesty.  While they are drastically reducing the numbers of the wild horses, BLM has increased the number of cattle allowed to graze in the Soldier Meadows allotment.  These facts need to be known.

Freedom’s story needs to be told, and told again and again, to children and grandchildren.  To this end, Craig Downer and I feel privileged to share the photos we were so fortunate to take, so we are making available these photos to tell Freedom’s story.  We want to do all we can to ensure that his sacrifice was not in vain.  Personally, I am certain he sustained serious injuries to his chest when he hit the barbed wire fence full bore.  Craig observed a deep bloody gash just above his hoof on his front right leg as he freed himself from the wire, but close study of my photographs indicates he arrived into captivity with this fresh cut.  Nevertheless, I find some consolation in the fact that wild stallions sustain serious injuries every season during fights to win and keep mares.  Their resilience is legendary, and with our prayers, God’s grace, and Freedom’s indomitable spirit, he will recover to start a new family and be a reigning stallion in the Black Rock Range if he can stay out of sight during this and future roundups, and stay out of the crosshairs of those few albeit deadly people who seek to rid the range of his magnificent and gloriously beautiful kind.

To put it in Freedom’s perspective:  This ordeal was so serious for him, he was motivated to risk everything in order to escape the possibility of more of the same in captivity.   It only lasted one minute, but his life is now forever changed.  We must stop these roundups and the terrible stockpiling of these tremendously beautiful, peace-loving animals.

Photo A by Craig Downer 1/02/10 11:11:32 a.m.

Freedom’s band being driven into the trap area from Craig’s vantage point up on the mountain.  Note the foal in the rear, trying to keep up.  More foals than adults die from roundup injuries and subsequent complications. Additionally, many foals end up footsore and limping. We saw numerous foals limping in the Fallon holding facility on Thursday, 1/7/10 (separate reports to follow).  Like human babies’ bones, their hooves are not yet hard, and they simply cannot sustain the pounding inherent in long treks keeping abreast with frightened adult horses, especially here on the hard lava rock, at any speed over a walk.

Freedom is in the front attempting to lead his band away from the helicopter threat, to safety. Sensing danger, he has slowed to a trot despite the looming pressure of the helicopter.  Stallions are all about protection of the family.  They are either in front, leading, or at the rear, placing themselves between the perceived threat and their family, in which case the dominant or “lead” mare assumes the responsibility for leading the band.

PHOTO B:  Freedom stretched out now in a full gallop, a last-ditch effort to escape the demon helicopter on his tail.  Although the helicopter sometimes hangs back over the long drive toward a trap site, at this critical juncture the pilot applies maximum pressure to make sure the horses move past their resistance all the way into the pen.  This means the helicopter is very close and very low.  The noise and wind are terrifying.  This is a great shot by Craig capturing the release of the Judas horse, who is trained to run ahead of the wild horses straight into the pen.  The wild horses, being frightened herd animals, tend to follow a strong leader.

Photo B by Craig Downer  11:11:46 a.m.

PHOTO C:  Thirty seconds later, seen from my (Elyse’s) vantage point on the ground:  Hard pressed, Freedom is hesitating, forced to lead his band into the trap. We can see the red-alert position of his ears, high head and arched neck.  Note the wrangler hiding outside the jute-lined fence.  Once the last horse (the foal) has passed, he and others likewise hiding will duck under the fence and start waving their flagwhips as they walk and run toward the horses to push them all the way up into the pen and slam the gate shut.

Photo C – 11:12:11 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

Trapped, frightened horses.  Freedom is farthest right.   Photo D (above) – 11:20:38 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

Freedom and band huddle together.  Note that the deep gash above his right front hoof.  It is a fresh wound.
Photo E (above) – 11:24:09 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

Intelligent and alert, Freedom (farthest right) watches me photograph him while his band looks elsewhere.  I am so very sorry, ashamed of my species…  I tell him what I told Conquistador when photographing him up on Commissary Ridge while trapped in the trailer in Montana:  I am so sorry;  I will tell your story.  I will tell the world. Photo F (above) – 11:24:09 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

PHASE II of Captivity

Stuck on the Fence, Freedom. Photo G – 1/2/2010 11:28:48 a.m – Elyse Gardner

This processing area was a narrow alleyway approximately 15 feet long within which the Cattoors would individually separate the horses to assess gender and condition.  The horses were spray painted on their backs in here, also, to identify from which herd area they were taken.

As you can see below (photo H), Freedom is stuck (see right front elbow).  Sue Cattoor is holding her flag whip (see the thigh-level white plastic bag, which is affixed to a whipstick approximately 3 feet long).
Freedom’s hind legs, his only traction, are struggling, and he’s slipping on the icy walkway as he thrusts to get enough lift to extricate himself.  His mouth is slightly open in these photos; he is extremely stressed.  Being immobilized is frightening enough to a horse, let alone a wild horse, but being immobilized in such close proximity to the greatest predators on earth would be a terrible ordeal for him. We can be sure he is highly motivated to get down off this fence.

Photo H – 11:28:51 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

Below in Photo I, two seconds later, he continues stressed. The pressure of the wrangler on the opposite side of the fence with flag whip uplifted is clearly felt.  He now has some relief in that both hind legs are back solidly on the ground.

Photo I (above) – 11:28:53 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

In Photo J, below, two seconds later, he’s collecting himself.  His mouth is closed.  I am impressed with his self-containment at this point.   He is nevertheless highly motivated to extricate himself from this terrible predicament.  Note that the wrangler opposite Sue Cattoor is no longer present; he is walking around to this side of the processing alleyway.

Photo J – 11:28:59 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

This very present, collected band stallion of ten other horses driven in with him (eight mares, two six-month-old youngsters — a sizeable, very respectable band) now turns to look at his persecutor, below.  He has his left front leg over the fence bar as well, giving himself some relief from hanging on the one side and definitely wanting to go over this fence and be free.  I’ve seen horses escape confinement; their only interest is to get away.

Photo K – 11:29:01 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

In the photo below, Freedom struggles again to dismount off the fence.  Bear in mind it’s only been about 6 seconds since the wrangler walked away from the opposite side of the fence.  What I’ve termed a “rest” was really just a split second of cessation of struggle.  He was struggling ongoingly to come off this fence.

Photo L 11:29:04 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

In photo M below, spray can in ungloved right hand and holding in his left hand his right-hand white glove, along with something else you’ll see in the next photos, BLM’s Nevada wild horse and burro specialist arrives on this side of the fence striding purposefully into the area.  Freedom has removed his left front leg from the fence but remains trapped by his elbow.  Sue Cattoor’s flag whip is visible below Freedom’s left front leg.

Photo M – 11:29:07 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

In Photo N below, BLM’s WH&B specialist places on the ground a yellow and gray object resembling a DuraProd electric hotshot (an electric cattle prod).  If that is in fact what it is, I see no evidence of its having been used in this instance.

Photo N – 11:29:12 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

Photo O- Enlarged

Below in Photo 11, Freedom is highly agitated and struggles desperately to free himself as he is goaded and flagged by Sue Cattoor, her wrangler, and the pressure of the presence of the BLM employee.  His open mouth conveys the angst and depth of his struggle.  He was not struck with the flagwhips; no one yelled at him or made any noise. People moved slowly and deliberately.  From the wild horse’s perspective, it is clearly nevertheless a terrible ordeal.

Photo P – 11:29:15 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

In Photo Q, below, 3 seconds later, Freedom is falling backwards as he finally unhooks his elbow from the fence.  I’ve seen domestic horses sustain terrible injuries from fences like this, and I fervently pray he is okay. This turns out to be the least of his worries, as we have all learned.

Photo Q – 11:29:18 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

Below in Photo R, Freedom is catching himself, and he righted himself quickly.  What tremendous power and determination in this very special black stallion.  I also notice the bottom of his hoof.  What beautiful, healthy feet these horses have.  This will change as they become prior-wild horses living in holding pens with no grazing nor any opportunity for roaming over rocks in their natural habitat to naturally wear down the hoof.  If they go to long-term holding facilities in Kansas, Kentucky, and the like, they end up in flat pastures, and their hooves will grow unchecked like our domestic horses’ do, and they will then need routine hoof care.  How does a wild horse get hoof care?  They are generally brought in and driven with flags, much as we see here, into a squeeze chute that turns them on their side, and then their hooves are filed down with an electric sander-type device.  Long-term holding is not without its horrors for these horses.  They are amazingly resilient, peaceable animals who deserve to be left to run free.  I notice the presence of the yellow and gray device on the ground to the left of the BLM wild horse and burro specialist.

Photo R - 11:29:20 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

In photograph S, below, we see Freedom unhooked from his fence nightmare trotting briskly through the now-open gate into the adjoining pen where he would, in the next few minutes, gather all his strength and make several failed attempts at jumping the 6-foot fence before succeeding.

The fence predicament took just under one minute, from 11:28:48 a.m. to 11:29:25 a.m., but it was a life-changing minute for this horse.  Some of our life-defining moments are very short-lived, aren’t they.  This experience left an indelible impression on this horse:  ”I will get out of here, whatever it takes.”

Photo S- 11:29:25 a.m. – Elyse Gardner

Less than a minute after extricating himself and escaping the looming pressure of human presence so close by, Freedom is now in the adjoining pen, immediately beginning his first approach to fly the fence into the relief of his mountains.

Photo T – 11:30:18 a.m. – Craig Downer

Failing his first effort by having hit the fence and fallen backwards, Freedom now struggles to see over the fence and focuses his full acumen on assessing the power and stride necessary to clear this fence, this barrier to freedom.  I feel such pathos in this hysterically desperate, burningly focused, do-or-die mission to flee to his mountains.  He wants it, needs it, so badly he can taste it…

Photo U – 11:30:34 a.m. – Craig Downer

After unsuccessfully hitting the fence twice, Freedom recalculated, and in a final herculean effort he mustered the wherewithal to sail over the fence only to encounter this terrible barbed wire perimeter fence which he hit full bore, becoming ensnared in its strands.

Photo V – 11:31:33 a.m. – Craig Downer

Finally, a bittersweet freedom, making a run into the relieving embrace of his mountains, leaving his cherished family behind.  His mares were desperate.  There was one mare in particular, whom I’ve got on video, who made several runs at the fence but knew she couldn’t clear it and repeatedly slid to a halt at the fence, stopping short of an actual jump.  It was heart-wrenching.

Photo W – 11:31:36 a.m. – Craig Downer

Freedom looking back a last time to the family he has to leave behind.

Photo X – 11:31:48 a.m. – Craig Downer
Turning back toward the mountains.

Photo Y – 11:32:14 a.m. – Craig Downer

Freedom slipping into the welcome embrace of his mountain home.  We are with you, Noble One.  May you heal and stay always free.

Photo Z – 11:33:25 a.m. – Craig Downer
To Freedom, in tribute, for your sake and all your wild family.
And to the wild horse supporters, all of you who take a moment to write congresspeople or call the President to help the wild horses and burros stay wild and free, THANK YOU for giving at least one wild horse a voice every time you take action.
For the wild horses and their humble friends, the wild burros,
Elyse Gardner with thanks to Craig Downer
Caring is great; action is better. — Elyse Gardner, Humane Observer


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1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you posted this and I'm glad Freedom got loose I only hope he heals quickly. It seems no one in Washington seems to be paying attention to all the e-mails and calls protesting the BLM treatment. Hopefully they will wake up soon before it's too late. I don't have much hope for the mustangs at this point, but I will still keep doing what I can. I'm only one person, but maybe there are more people out there doing the same thing and our voices will eventually be heard.


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"From my earliest memories, I have loved horses with a longing beyond words." ~ Robert Vavra