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2011-02-23 15:58:11
The following information regarding wild horses was written by the photographer, Melissa Farlow: Americans have long had a love affair with horses, especially the wild horse. Mustangs are a mythic symbol of freedom, heroism, romance, and limitless possibilities, as well as the vanishing West. Along with that fantasy, wild horses embody some of the intractable complexities and contradictions of modern American life. In 1900, two million wild horses roamed the still largely unfenced American West. In the hundred years since, a growing human population’s expanding urbanization has eaten up much of the range. Less than 30,000 wild horses are squeezed onto public lands in ten western states. Today, the Bureau of Land Management spends 40 million dollars annually caring for wild horses. Most visible are the gathers or roundups performed by contractors who use helicopters to drive horses into a trap to be culled. Mustangs can be adopted by the public, but much of the BLM’s funding is spent caring for the once wild horses for the rest of their lives in long-term facilities. Mustangs are social, herd animals that form bands or families when undisturbed by man. Stallions are challenged by younger studs competing for mares. Though some behavior is posturing, stallions fiercely battle for dominance in the herd and to protect their mares. Bachelor bands wait for a chance to steal a mare from the lead stallion. Although horses evolved in North America, they disappeared 12 million years ago. Horses were reintroduced on this continent at the time of European exploration. Some of today’s mustang herds descend from horses brought over by Spanish Conquistadors in the late fifteenth century. Other herds’ ancestors escaped or were let loose by settlers, ranchers, and Native Americans. The United States Cavalry used horses for mounts until 1942. They supplied ranchers across the west with thoroughbred studs to run with the ranchers’ bands of mares in order to raise horses for the army. Introducing well-bred stallions into the herds helped prevent inbreeding and improved the gene pool. Velma Johnston, “Wild Horse Annie,” is credited for pushing for 1971 legislation that first protected wild horses and burros. No longer used as transportation or beast of burden, the horse plays a different role in American’s lives. Some are still used on ranches and farms, but most domestic horses are pets. Some mustangs can be tamed and develop deep and trusting bonds with humans but few wild horses are adopted. With this changing role, there is increased pressure on the wild horse. Oil and gas exploration, cattle grazing, wild fires, drought, and urban expansion compete with herds for open land in the West.