In commemoration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday:
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way. ” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve posted only once about horse issues in this blog — citing an article in the New York Times that criticized horse racing’s complicity in horse slaughter. The dearth of horse postings belies my love for horses — and my lifelong relationship with them. But, I try to narrow the already-broad focus of my blog to the subjects I photograph … the wild earthlings at the far end of my telephoto.
Photographing and observing the wild horses of Vegas, I couldn’t help but consider the other side of our relationship to these animals — a bittersweet rush that filled me as their eyes looked back at mine through the lens. There is nothing I cherish more than the privilege of coexisting, as peacefully as possible, with wild animals like these mustangs. In fact, I would go so far as to say that my life would lose almost all meaning without that interaction. At the same time, each encounter I have with a wild animal, however sublime, is balanced by my understanding of what it means to survive in the wild, and in the face of human insensitivity. I think it’s the challenge of every thinking, feeling person — every rescuer — every human who chooses to engage that reality, to find a way to balance love, hope and action with the ever-present undertow of despair.
And so it is with wild horses. As you undoubtedly know, there’s some murky crossover in how we in the U.S. treat our wild horses, and how we dispense with our surplus domestic horses. In both cases, the animals are commodified in a way that results in significant suffering for many of them. It’s an issue now more clear and present since President Obama recently signed a bill that, once again, legalizes horse slaughter in the United States.
Back in October, A.G. Sulzberger wrote what I thought was an incomplete portrayal of horse slaughter issues in the U.S. (New York Times). Many of the 217 subsequent comments challenge the article’s contentions and accuracy. If you click through to read the article, browse the long comment section to understand why horse advocates strongly oppose the resumption of horse slaughter on U.S. soil.
I’d be lying if I said it’s easy to read about these issues, to watch the slaughterhouse and auction videos, and BLM roundup operations of wild horses — two different facets of our horse management methodologies. As many times as I’ve watched humans doing dastardly things, I steel myself and keep opening my eyes, just so that I never lose my heart to my head. I won’t re-post any of those videos here. But, I will direct you to a few people doing amazing work for America’s wild horses and domestic horses both. These are people who do, indeed, find the antidote to despair, in their relentless action on behalf of animals. This is by no means a comprehensive list … far from it. It’s just a place to start if you’re interested in the issue of horse welfare and in the future of our roaming mustang herds.
- American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S. 1176/H.R. 2966): The Humane Society’s information page on legislation that would close the loophole on shipping horses out of country for slaughter. There’s a form for contacting your Representatives on this issue.
- The Cloud Foundation: Dedicated to preventing the extinction of wild horses through education and public involvement. Cloud is a wild stallion in Montana whose life has been documented since his birth. He remains free but many of his family members have been captured.
- Saving America’s Mustangs: An organization founded by Madeleine Pickens who recently established a Mustang Monument and sanctuary for wild horses in Nevada.
- Animals’ Angels: A nonprofit organization that investigates and documents conditions of farm animals, including those of horses. Their website has documentation of transport violations and auctions, along with other issues associated with horse slaughter.
- HSUS/Horses: The Humane Society’s page on horse issues and pending legislation.
- Wild Horse Education: Website and blog of Laura Leigh, a wild horse advocate, photojournalist and videographer. At her site you can find video and photographic documentation of BLM roundups. My heartfelt admiration goes out to these boots-on-the-ground photographers and advocates who put everything on the line to educate the rest of us about the plight of these animals.