Saturday, January 29, 2011

Where I Come From: A love of horses, wildlife, wilderness

I have been around horses since I was 12 years old.  My neighbors were always saving old mares from kill buyers at the auction and I got my start riding on many of them.  Well, that’s not right.  They bought my other neighbors pony, Chief and it was on him that I first really started riding.  But I rode their older mares too.  Such as Jade.  Sometimes, I think of her as my first horse, even though she wasn’t.  She was euthanized after she went down, could not get up, and lay in the lean-to all night.  By morning when they found her, she’d cast herself and despite our best efforts, we never could get her to her feet again.   

Soon, I had my own horse.  A freebie Arab who took a lot of work to be able to ride without him bolting.  We’d have to shove him against a fence or mount him in the stall the first few months before I could get on him without being trampled.  Then, I won a horse in an essay contest.  I had him for a while -- sold him, but not before he broke my arm when I was breaking him to saddle.  He was the first horse I broke and well, lessons learned for future training.  My next horse was a magnificent black mare, Journey.  I loved her and hated her at the same time.  She taught me so much about patience and reservation.  She died from cancer, and broke my heart.  I grieved for a year.  I now own a stubborn gray gelding QH who I have tried to sell many times, but have never been able to…someday, once I am graduated, I hope to do some barrel racing on him.  I’ve trained him for it, but because of motherhood and school, have been unable to season him.  That’s my horse story, in brief.

Now.  I have always had a passion for wilderness, wildlife, outdoors – the farther from town I am, the happier I am.  I praise cattle ranchers because they preserve these last remaining swaths of undeveloped land.  Did and does overgrazing exist?  Yes, not all ranchers are conservationists.  Do I want to help restore and reverse that?  Yes.  But, back up a bit.  I started college thinking I would go into Pre-Vet, but I’m not a chemistry person or hard science person, so I switched to Geography…I loved geography.  Places, people, wildlife, ecosystems.  It was all wrapped up together. We are a part of the landscape, an ecosystem, a global world.  Since there are not rangeland classes or equine classes at my school, I delved into that research on my own; applying all papers I could to the topic in classes.  But, what kind of job can you get with geography?  I ended up doing water quality monitoring for a small environmental firm.  It was not where I wanted to be.

After that for a year, and having my daughter (an experience and story all on its own!) I decided to return to school for my MS in Resource Management.  It might not be MS Rangeland Ecology and Management, which I could get at OSU, but I think this degree will give me a step up over graduates from that program.  Since my program is a blending of cultural and natural resource management (there are few if any like it in the United States), it deals with people, place, policies, anthropology, geography, biology….It will give me a very well rounded grounding to build on what I have already built.  I feel that my research and the data it will provide will be beneficial to land and wildlife managers, may they be BLM or USFWS.  I do feel that horses have a place, despite their recent history.  But that place must be made to fit with other the wildlife they coexist with…and with us as human beings, because we are a part of this ecosystem too.

I am sorry for those who do not see my good intentions.  And I am sorry if I appear to be condescending to some people, because it is not my intention.  When I hear about complaints concerning the round ups and how the BLM manages things, I can’t help but feel for the other parts of the ecosystem that are forgotten when wild horses come into the mix.  Horses can do good things for many species -- if they are kept at an acceptable population. 

How else can we manage these horses?  I personally do not feel that fertility control is the answer…sometimes I think that the ranchers were doing the best job up until they got too gung ho after the Taylor Grazing Act of ’34, when they started removing horses en masse….they kept healthy herd populations and even provided studs to the area to try and improve genetics.

If not through round ups, how can horses be managed to protect and conserve wildlife habitat?  Cattle grazing is not going to go away, as compelling as some arguments are for its removal from public ranges.  We can get their numbers lowered, I’m sure…But even then, the way cows are managed is much different than the way horses are managed.  How else can their populations be kept in control?  They aren’t deer, or elk, or cattle.  They aren’t hunted or herded, or removed after a few months of grazing.  I see that many people want the round ups to stop.  But what control will take its place?


  1. Very thoughtful! I remember you bringing CJ home - I'd never seen a more terrified creature! Until I saw you try to get Jiggs into the trailer for the first time...

    Something I never thought of - I think there's a chance that I was riding horses before you. Isn't that funny? You definitely had more passion for it, though!

  2. Cattle...feral horses...everyone seems to have a strong opinion.

    What I would like to see most are genetically viable herds of wild horses with serious thought put into their management. I'm not convinced that the BLM is working toward improving their management.

    With regard to the cattle, without public grazing lands, no one but the richest people in America will be able to eat beef. I raise alfalfa for cattle. If the cattle producers had to feed their herds 365 days a year, costs at the retail level would increase probably 5 times (I'm just guessing, but it would definitely be substantial). Ranchers are not wealthy. They struggle financially as do all people who are in the agriculture industry. Public grazing must continue, but there must be limits there too. I've ridden through areas that cattle grazing (no wild horse populations) has destroyed the land.

    Enforcing guidelines is problematic.

  3. It sure is a controversial subject. Sometimes I wonder if I am going to have to watch my back when I'm down doing field work this summer. I had actually written this as a post to RT Fitch's blog because I was so tired of everyone there who refuses to listen to another opinion. They hate it so much they degrade and demean anyone who doesn't think like they do. I thought if they knew who I was and what I wanted, they might feel different. Big surprise, Fitch isn't going to let my post publish. People have told me about him time and time again. I guess I just had to see and witness it for myself. He and his followers are ruthless, single-minded, and doing more damage than not. Their tactics won't save the horses, or the places where they live.

  4. There are so many advocates out there that I had to Google RT Fitch. I've heard of his website, but that's about it. After taking a look at it this AM, I can see why he wouldn't post your piece. Like you said, he's one of the single-minded types that isn't willing to work with other involved in the issue. I agree that those types are doing more damage than good in the long run.