December 8th of last year - while many of us were thinking about the holidays - a large group of wild horses were crammed into a forty foot metal transport for a three day journey to Kansas.
The horses had been rounded up a few months earlier from the Twin Peaks area of California. Torn from their families, the horses were branded, sorted by age and gender, exposed to strangles (which is a horrible, sometimes fatal and always highly contagious disease) and kept in areas with no
shelter until the BLM determined who was adoptable, who would go back to the wild and who would disappear into the long-term holding facilities in the Midwest where this group were now headed.
Amongst the terrified, cold and strangles compromised animals bumping along the nation’s highways toward the Midwest, was a grey gelding whose body bore the many badges of fights over mares and territory. His name was Braveheart. In the world he came from he was a king. In the world he was traveling in, he was reduced to a number among countless numbers of wild expatriates; a transport crammed with paupers, bereft of family, land and identity.
For Braveheart, the journey was ironic. For unlike his companions in the cold transport, Braveheart had been slated for sale to a Sacramento area family who were then going to sponsor him to live out his life at our 2000 acre DreamCatcher Wild Horse Sanctuary a few miles from his original Twin Peaks home. He was to live out his life, in relative freedom as an intact stallion.
And it is this irony that made Braveheart's story of immediate significance for we are involved in a historic legal battle with the BLM over, you guessed it, the Twin Peaks roundup and resulting annihilation of important Twin Peaks DNA. The Sacramento family and DreamCatcher wanted to keep Braveheart from being castrated and sent to long-term holding.
Communication with the BLM went on for weeks with Bravehearts sale put off until January 2011 due to the strangles outbreak. In well documented communications, the purchasing party had been led to believe all was well for the sale. But when January rolled around they were horrified to discover Braveheart, without notification to them, had been castrated and shipped to Kansas.
When the Jones’s family demanded an accounting of what happened to Braveheart, the BLM abruptly denied he had even been rounded up. For the Jones’ this was a call to action. For weeks they wrote and emailed up the BLM chain of command, demanding to know where the grey horse had gone and that he be returned so the sale could be finalized.
What the Jones’s did not know, was within a few days of arriving in Kansas, during one of the worst winters in years with blizzards and 23 degree below zero weather, Braveheart’s body - compromised by the long journey - could not hold up. He was dead by December 15th.
It only took the BLM a little over five months to do what twenty some years in the wild could not do; bring a majestic part of the American west to his knees.
To the Jones family - who had no contact with wild horses before this incident – what happened to this one lone horse was just plain wrong. Now, like a growing number of Americans, they want to see BLM wild horse policies change. After all, the wild horses belong to the American public and live on public lands set aside for them by law. The BLM are only stewards of that which the public deems important enough to be protected. Its time the BLM is held accountable to that stewardship.