An Equine Christmas Story: “We Were There”

An excerpt from R.T. Fitch’s book ~ Straight from the Horse’s Heart: A Spiritual Ride through Love, Loss and Hope

“Today is the last ‘Feel Good Sunday’ before Christmas 2014; a magical day indeed, and for me the day bears great significance as I am home and will remain here over the holidays as it has been several years since we have experienced such a luxury.  With that said, I have resumed my duties of making dinner for the boys in the barn and feel the warmth that their souls and spirits bring to our lives.  Being that I am still suffering jet lag I have not sat and contemplated their essence but still they have managed to brush a few cobwebs away from my aging brain.  And today, we share with you a story that I wrote some years ago after spending a special evening in our former barn with the same souls, with some sadly departed, that bring us joy today.  You can take this tale with a grain of salt or you may kindly grant me a little bit of literary license but none the less, our equine companions have a story to tell if only we will slow down and shut up long enough to listen.  Enjoy this day my most special and valued friends.  Keep the faith.” ~ R.T.

Pele, Bart and Harley ~ photo by Terry Fitch

Pele, Bart and Harley ~ photo by Terry Fitch

It was like any other evening feeding of the horses, yet it was not; or not quite, as something was different.  The air was crisp and cool as Christmas was only a week away in South Louisiana, but the feeling had little to do with temperature or barometric pressure.  There was an electric buzz in the air; the feeling of white noise just outside the audible range of the human ear.  There was something tangible and moving in the barn that night.

I did not pick up on it at first.  Terry, my wife, was off having an early Christmas with her family in Florida, which means that the barn chores and the feeding of all our four-legged children rests upon me when I return home from my office in the evening.  And, at this time of year, it is already dark.  It’s a matter of rushing home, putting the vehicle up for the night, greeting and playing with Kenny, the white German Shepherd who is so excited to see you that he bounces three feet high, dashing into the house to turn on lights, checking messages, changing clothes, feeding the cat; then back outside to dribble the bouncing dog; and into the barn to cook dinner for the equine boys.   Oops, I missed that while in the house I might fix an industrial strength Wrangler Iced Tea to take out to the barn with me, not a requirement, but a nice reward for all the running around.

I scurried into the tack room, flipped on all of the lights and turned up the radio as Christmas music was the order of the day.  As I carefully measured varied degrees of hoof supplement and rice bran with their normal pelletized feed, the thought crossed my mind that my parents, especially my mother, never had the opportunity to see our equine kids nor experience this very special side to our otherwise very busy lives.  I paused from humming along with the radio and reflected on what a tremendous loss that was.  I resumed mixing and humming with a small pang of sadness in my heart.

I went from stall to stall filling up the appropriate feed bins with the proper amount of food.  Each time I exited a stall and went back to the tack room I asked Kenny how he was doing; he sat so attentively out in the driveway.  This simply inquiry would start the bouncing, again.  I’ll never figure out how a 100 lb dog could bounce so high and he made me laugh.  I was just about finished with the mix of the last meal when the traditional and expected three measured knocks came to the back door.  Terry and I have learned to keep the back “horse” door closed until ready to let the horses in as it is such a pleasure to hear those three distinct and perfectly timed and executed knocks.

We know who it is and he does such a good job at it.  It’s Ethan.  He is the King of Knocking, the Guardian of the Food Gate, and the funniest of them all at feeding time. ,

I hollered back through the closed doors that I was hurrying and would be right with him.  With that, I dumped the last bucket of feed in Apache’s stall, walked to the back, and carefully cracked the sliding doors.  Who was standing with his head pressed to the middle of the doors, Ethan, as always.

“Are you ready?” I asked and a part of me picked up on a gentle nod and smile.

The doors were slid open, the breezy gate was swung out and, as they do every night, they came in the barn in perfect order to eat the dinner that I had labored over in preparation for them.

First came Ethan, then Harley followed by Apache and bringing up the rear is the biggest, the youngest and the most fearful, Bart.  He feels more comfortable when they are all tucked away in their stalls with their doors closed so that no one can stick their head out and attempt to bite him as he walks down the aisle.  He actually stops and looks into each one of their stalls and you can almost hear him say, “Ha, Ha, you can’t get me now”.  Hopefully, one day, he will grow up.

Immediately the barn was full of the sound of relaxed munching and filled with the sweet odor of horses and feed.  I looked back at Kenny who only bounced two feet instead of three feet off the pavement hoping that I might sit down and enjoy this moment.  I went into the tack room to pull out a chair and sit in the center aisle of the barn to commune with the horses. My Brazilian hammock, however, caught my eye.

“Ah ha” I cried and snatched up the hammock with one hand while I grabbed the “tea” in the other.  This could be good!

Two quick slips of “S” hooks into the installed tie rings on to opposing stalls and I had the hammock swinging across the center aisle in a heartbeat.  Kenny lay down, as I eased into the hammock, because he knew that this could be awhile.  I sat down with my back propped up and began to swing while singing along with the Christmas music from the radio.

It did not take long to realize that my singing was not appreciated.  Bart began to pound on the stall wall with his right front hoof and Apache quit eating to urinate, on the clean shavings in the stall, in protest of my singing.  I actually was not too offended by Bart’s signal to quit but for Apache to pee in his stall was pushing the envelope a little too far.  I felt rather hurt so I just shut up, set my drink down on the aisle floor and listened to the sounds of the horses mixed with the sound of Christmas.

The music stirred emotions from seasons long past:  seasons of happiness, hope, disappointment and most recently, pain.  But I am the Captain of my ship and I had no intention to sail into dark and murky waters this night.  I simply wanted to let go and feel the companionship of my friends around me.  That’s when I heard the buzz.

At first I thought that the radio was slipping off from its frequency but the music was still there, clearly playing.  The buzz was overriding the music; the “white noise” was multidimensional and not strictly coming from the tack room.  I did not make a serious attempt to think about it as the sounds and smells were like candy to my senses and the buzz was only the canvas that the painting of the moment was applied to.  I relaxed.

I closed my eyes and continued to rock back and forth.  There was a feeling of warmth in the barn, while all of those equine souls were inside eating and enjoying.  The buzz, on the other hand, continued to grow.  In the beginning it really was not something that I was paying much attention to but now I attempted to tune into where it was coming from and what it was.  I continued to rock.  I could still hear the horses and the music but now the buzz was growing in volume.  As I continued to mentally identify its source, it was becoming ever more evident that the sound, itself, was coming from within.  It was coming from inside of my head and not related to anything outside of myself.  I was aware that I was humming “Away in the Manger”, along with the radio but it was becoming evident that the white noise was music also.  In that music there were whispers, words, phrases and thoughts being conveyed.  Without knowing it I gave in to the music from within and opened up to the whispers and words.  There were many voices with varied depths and pitches although different they all blended together in song and, it was soul stirring.  I listened and listened and listened until I finally made out the words that were being sung to me.  It came as abruptly and as clearly to me as if a sonic boom had just resonated throughout the barn.  In thousands of voices, from deep within my soul, the words being sung in perfect harmony were “We were there!”

I stopped rocking and the singing stopped; there was total silence.  My eyes popped open and I was looking straight up.  Once they focused I could see two small sparrows in the barn’s rafters looking straight down at me.  They were looking directly at me with calm assuredness.  The radio was silent, only my breathing could be heard.  I sat up and looked at the stalls; all of the horses were looking directly at me, calmly, with their heads bowed.  I then gazed out across the moonlit pasture and could see the little donkey and her herd of cows staring directly into the lighted barn.  Not one of them was moving.  I quickly swung around and looked out the other door for Kenny; he was laying calmly with his head between his paws and his big brown eyes starring right at me.

I went to stand and in the silence the words came again, “We were there!”  I froze.

“We were there that night”, the collective voices continued.

“Wait, what, who?” I started to ask.

“Just listen and absorb.  Do not ask, we will tell.” the voice said.  “We were there in the stable, that night.  All of us in one shape or form.  We were there long before human shepherds and nobles came to see.  We were there to see him take his first breath.  We were there.”

“It is important, at this time, for you to know that we were the selected witnesses, the guardians and the companions of the Son of the Light.  You need to understand that we are closer to the source of goodness and purity than all mankind.  You need to know that your fight for our lives is a just and noble one.  All of you humans who guard and protect us walk in a very special light.  You have now been there too; now you know and now you must continue the fight”, the voice ended.

“Wait!  What do you mean I was there too?” I called.  I stood up and turned around because I did not know who I was talking to.  I looked at the horses, the dog, the birds, the donkey, and the cattle.  ”What do you mean?”

Reality had yet to come to me as I stared into the horses’ eyes.

Again, the voice returned, “You were there, too.  When you opened your eyes, just a few moments ago, what did you see first?” it asked.

I stammered for a second and came up with, “The birds; the birds in the barn’s rafters.”

The voice asked, “What did you see next?”

“Well, I saw the horses looking at me from their stalls, the donkey, the cows and Kenny the bouncing dog, all looking at me.”

“Yes”, the voice said, “And what were the first impressions in the life of the Gifted One when he first opened up his eyes in that stable long, long, long ago”?

“I would imagine that when he first opened his eyes, lying in a manager, he saw the rafters in the barn ceiling with the birds looking down…” I stopped talking so quickly that I almost bit my tongue.  There was a warm sensation washing over me and it was more than just the tie-in and realization of what had just occurred.

I could not speak and was about to sit back down when the voice added;

“Yes, you see now.  You have been there too.  We all have been there yet, few humans can remember.  This is our gift to you.  Carry the light and chase the darkness; we love all of you for what you do.”

Hearing those words, there was something else, I could not then nor can I now describe it.  Perhaps a sigh, perhaps it was a catch as if emotion had welled up but there was something there, not spoken, that touched me more than the words.

In a dreamlike state of numbness I began the process of releasing the horses from their stalls to their pasture; this is done in the exact reverse of the entry process.  I moved like a robot as the power of the words and the moment were still within me.  I opened up Ethan’s stall and he walked out and stood in the middle of the back door as he often does.

Harley was next.  I stood at his stall door and allowed my hand to move down his furry side as he calmly walked by me and out past Ethan.

Apache usually flattens his ears when he sees Ethan in the doorway and chases him out; but not tonight.  When I opened up his stall he calmly walked past us both without any notice.

Finally, Bart was freed to return to the beloved round bale and as he exited I asked him to stop and I gave him a hug.  He gently kissed my bald spot and headed out past Ethan.

I then turned my attention to Ethan; I stood next to him in the doorway and gazed out upon what he was viewing.  The donkey and cows had gone back to grazing in the moonlight and the neighbor’s horses were tucked away in their barn with their heads hanging out.  Our three were all drinking from the trough, together, and the sky was fantastic with the moon and stars.  It was picture postcard perfect.

As he stood next to me I put my hand on Ethan’s withers.  He turned to me and put his left nostril right against my heart which placed his left eye at the same level with mine.  I said, “Merry Christmas, my friend.”  He blinked, turned and then stepped out into the night.  As I watched that big Appaloosa butt dwindle from the light of the barn he stopped and turned.  Regardless of what anyone says, he had the biggest smile on his face that any horse could have.

I lowered my head, pulled my glasses off to wipe the tears off the lenses, closed the back door, walked past the still full glass of tea sitting on the floor under the hammock, turned off the lights, walked out of the barn and stood over Kenny who had still not budged.

“Want to go inside, boy?”, I asked.

He bounced five feet high this time and we happily dribbled each other up the driveway to the house like we were two ten year old kids headed for a game of basketball.

The moon cast shadows of us dancing on our way as the horses continued to hum in the pasture,

“We were there”.

BLM uses any excuse to fast track the roundups of wild horses and burros

The BLM uses a lame excuse to round up more wild horses near a remote highway.  BLM should re-locate the wild horses farther from the highway on this 280,000 acre HMA (see map HERE), or to another HMA.  Instead, the BLM seems to be exceeding its authority by removing the wild horses PERMANENTLY from public lands.  The BLM auctioned off older mares captured last summer from Sulphur, Utah, to someone in Oregon for $25 with free delivery to misc. sites – including some VERY questionable locations that have been known to have kill-buyers lurking. ” – Debbie

SOURCE:  The Salt Lake Tribune

BLM to round up wild horses near remote Utah highway


Bureau of Land Management wranglers will return to Utah’s West Desert in February to remove dozens of wild horses congregating along a remote highway.

Federal land managers say the horses are a danger to themselves and motorists.

Suspected collisions killed three horses found dead along State Road 21 last winter, according to Chad Hunter, a range and wild-horse specialists in BLM’s Cedar City office.

“We were able to remove 30 head last summer. There were additional horses in the area that we tried to move away. They have moved back in,” Hunter said. “We have excess numbers and they are looking for space.”

The agency is fast-tracking an environmental review of the roundup, which is connected with a multiphase project to pull hundreds of horses from Utah’s Sulphur Herd Management Area, a 280,000-acre block straddling Millard and Beaver counties.

Last week, the BLM initiated an Environmental Analysis of a proposal to reduce the herd’s numbers to between 165 and 250 horses. This year’s estimate for the herd is 718, Hunter said, and that doesn’t include this year’s foals.

Wild horses are a contentious issue in Utah’s West Desert and Nevada, where ranchers and county commissioners complain the BLM is allowing horses to overrun the range, which leaves less forage available for cattle.

Animal-welfare advocates allege that cows, which far outnumber horses, are degrading the range. The BLM needs to allow wild horses room to roam rather than continually rounding them up for long-term storage at enormous public expense, advocates say.

In the middle of this struggle is the BLM, which is under pressure from the state to remove horses. Land managers hope contraception can become a more prominent tool in the agency’s wild horse and burro program, which has relied heavily on controversial helicopter gathers.

The BLM tries to adopt out horses, but most spend the rest of their lives in corals. Some mares are returned to the range after they are given a contraceptive.

The agency soon will be accepting public comment on its proposal to pare down the Sulphur herd, which was the subject of a roundup in 2010.

“This is a 10-year plan to get the herd to the appropriate management level as we get funding, and it includes fertility control,” Hunter said.

But the removal of some 100 horses along State Road 21, a narrow strip of highway connecting Milford and Garrison, cannot wait. The February roundup will target a lonely 10-mile stretch in Millard County just west of the Desert Range Experimental Station, where the Pine and Snake valleys meet. The area is just outside the northern margin of the Sulphur HMA.

After Wyoming, Nevada is next to eradicate wild horses from checkerboard areas


Instead of removing wild horses, BLM should end all livestock GRAZING ALLOTMENTS on PUBLIC LANDS. 

And, there is NO “OVERPOPULATION” of wild horses!

BLM attacking wild horses in Nevada ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

BLM attacking wild horses in Nevada ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation


SOURCE:  Elko Daily Free Press

Federal agency announces 2015 wild horse roundups

ELKO – The Bureau of Land Management announced it will remove wild horses early next year that have roamed into checkerboard land in areas of the Elko District that aren’t designated for horse management.

A similar roundup to remove horses from checkerboard land is planned in the Winnemucca District.

In addition, the BLM has scheduled to gather about 1,000 horses in the Pine Nut Mountain, Fish Creek and Little Fish Lake herd management areas on the Carson City and Battle Mountain districts and treat about 225 to 250 mares with fertility control vaccine.

“The gathers announced today are part of BLM’s efforts to reduce overpopulation of wild horses on our public lands through the use of fertility control and selective removals,” Joan Guilfoyle, division chief of the national Wild Horse and Burrow Program, said in a statement.

About 460 excess horses will be removed.

“The welfare of wild horses is always a top priority for the BLM and we remain committed to providing humane care and treatment as we and our contractors conduct gather operations in Nevada,” Guilfoyle continued.

The late-January timeframe is intended to maximize the effectiveness of the fertility vaccine Porcine Zona Pellucidae, which can help slow herd growth rates and extend the time until another gather is needed, according to BLM.

The Winnemucca District said about 160 horses will be gathered over a three-day period from the area comprised of more than 431,000 acres of private and public land.

“In the summer of 2014, BLM Winnemucca removed 101 wild horses in this area by a bati/water trap operation,” Jim Schroeder, field manager for the district, said in a statement. “Starting in late Januaray 2015 we will be removing the remainder of the wild horses from the (herd area).”

Removing the excess wild horses will help prevent further deterioration of range and water resources, according to the BLM, as well as reduce vehicle-versus-horse accidents on roads and damage to private property.

The contractor for the gather is Cattoor Livestock of Nephi, Utah.

The horses will be transported to the Palomino Valley Center near Reno, or Burns, Oregon for preparation for adoption.

Tainted Feed Condemns Fla. Horses to Death

Source: Multiple

“Please keep these horses and their humans in your prayers this holiday season; they all could use the largest dose of love that you can possibly dole out.” ~ R.T.

“It is hopeless and there are no words.”

Ava Exelbirt brushes one of the remaining horses at Masterpiece Equestrian Center in Davie, Fla. ~ (Photo: J Pat Carter)

Ava Exelbirt brushes one of the remaining horses at Masterpiece Equestrian Center in Davie, Fla. ~ (Photo: J Pat Carter)

Eighteen poisoned horses are being treated to spa days in their Florida stables, with their young riders brushing their manes and tails, painting their hooves, feeding them hay and petting their noses.

There’s nothing else anyone can do for the doomed horses at Masterpiece Equestrian Center in Davie.

A batch of feed tainted by additives safe for other livestock but toxic to horses arrived at the center in September, and all 22 horses there ate the feed for a month before anyone realized something was wrong.

Three horses died in October, and a fourth was euthanized Monday. The rest will die, some possibly as soon as this week.

“There’s very little to do other than keep them hydrated, giving them lots of hay, giving them lots of comfort, brushing them, giving them attention and love and baths — it makes the horses happy to be attended to,” said Debra Buis of Weston, whose two horses Don Tavia and Ultimatum are among the afflicted. Buis’ two teenage daughters, one of whom wears her horse’s nickname “Tavi” on a necklace, have aspirations to be elite equestrians.

“It’s really quite hopeless, to be honest with you,” Buis said Tuesday. “It is hopeless and there are no words.”

The first horse died Oct. 15, dragging its back feet and collapsing as it tried to stand. Everyone thought it was colic, a relatively common disorder of a horse’s digestive system, Buis said.

Then a second horse suffered similar symptoms and died two days later, and a third horse quickly followed. Necropsies and testing of the horses’ feed confirmed monensin poisoning.

Monensin is an antibiotic added to feed for cattle and some poultry to help with growth, but it’s toxic to horses’ muscles, particularly their hearts, said Serena Craft of the University of Florida Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.

Since October, the horses’ owners have sought to keep their animals comfortable and prepare for the inevitable. All riding lessons have been replaced by vigils kept over weakening horses.

Some parents of young riders tried to shield their children from the tragedy slowly unfolding, telling them that the horses were getting ready to retire, Buis said. But the death Monday of Foxy, a pony used for riding lessons for many children, was a reminder that more losses are coming.

The Lakeland-based company that sold the feed to Masterpiece has recalled the product, stopped producing equine feeds and acknowledged that feed delivered to the center contained monensin and lasalocid, another anti-bacterial additive toxic to horses.

Lakeland Animal Nutrition believes the contamination was limited to the feed at Masterpiece, and no other horses elsewhere have been reported ill, general manager Jonathan Lang said in an email.

“Care of the animal and our customers’ trust are paramount to us, and we are committed to working with the Masterpiece Equestrian family to bring restoration in the midst of their tragic losses,” Lang wrote.

Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is investigating.

Revival of Przewalski’s horses continues in Kazakhstan

SOURCE:  Tengri News

Wild Outer Mongolian Takhi - photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Wild Outer Mongolian Takhi – photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Kazakhstan’s Association for Conservation of Biodiversity along with Kazakhstan National Geographic Society has been working on reviving Przewalski’s horses in the country since 2003. At the recent biodiversity meeting, the head of the Association for Conservation Biodiversity Sergey Sklyarenko discussed future plans for the revival of the wild horse species.

“The first batch of Przewalski’s horses have already been brought to Kazakhstan. Back in 2003, a small group of wild horses were brought from the Munich Zoo to the National Altyn-Yemel park. The next group was brought in 2008, but some of the horses died for different reasons. But colts were born too. At the moment, there are 10 wild horses in Altyn-Yemel Park (in Kazakhstan),” Sklyarenko said.

Earlier, the Manager of the Central Asia Program of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in UK Stephanie Ward talked about joint plans for the reivival of the endangered Przewalski’s horses in Central Asian steppes.

“Since 2005, the Kazakhstan Association for Conservation of Biological Diversity together with the Forestry and Wildlife Committee and the Frankfurt Zoological Society have been working on the restoration of the wild steppes of central Kazakhstan. This partnership provides a unique opportunity for environmental work on an unprecedented scale. Herewith we are jointly introducing proven habitat management techniques, ecosystem restoration and sustainable use of natural resources,” Ward said.

Prehistoric Takhi reintroduced into Outer Mongolia ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Prehistoric Takhi reintroduced into Outer Mongolia ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

50 hectares of land have been prepared for the revival of the wild horses in Kazakhstan.

“The next group will be created in Altyn Dala wildlife reserve in Central Kazakhstan. It is planned to bring Przewalski’s horses from the Nuremberg Zoo by Spring 2016,” Sklyarenko said.

Meanwhile, the wild horses will be prepared for transportation. In addition, transportation of the wild horses requires the species to be included in the list of protected species in Kazakhstan. “As soon as the species are on the list, German will start preparing the horses for transportation,” Sklyarenko said.

Reporting by Assemgul Khassenova. Writing by Gyuzel Kamalova

Revealed: How Big Oil Got Expedited Permitting for Fracking on Public Lands Into the Defense Bill

Special interests are getting more than a fair share of the pie of public lands and water use, while the wild horses and burros are getting the short end of the stick.  Below is a detailed article that shows what we’re up against.


by Steve Horn

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 4.12.03 PM Photo Credit: C-SPAN Screenshot

The U.S. Senate has voted 89-11 to approve the Defense Authorization Act of 2015, following the December 4 U.S.House of Representatives’ 300-119 up-vote and now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

The 1,616-page piece of pork barrel legislation contains a provision — among other controversial measures — to streamline permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on U.S. public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a unit of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Buried on page 1,156 of the bill as Section 3021 and subtitled “Bureau of Land Management Permit Processing,” the bill’s passage has won praise from both the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and comes on the heels of countries from around the world coming to a preliminary deal at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

“We applaud the Senate…and are hopeful the president signs this measure in a timely fashion,” said Dan Naatz, IPAA lobbyist and former congressional staffer, in a press release.

Alluding to the bottoming out of the global price of oil, Naatz further stated, “In these uncertain times of price volatility, it’s encouraging for America’s job creators to have regulatory certainty through a streamlined permitting process.”

Streamlined permitting means faster turn-around times for the industry’s application process to drill on public lands, bringing with it all of the air,groundwater and climate change issues that encompass the shale production process.

At the bottom of the same press release, IPAA boasted of its ability to get the legislative proposal introduced initially by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) as the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act of 2014 after holding an “educational meeting” with Udall’s staffers. Endorsed by some major U.S.environmental groups, Udall took more than $191,000 from the oil and gas industry during his successful 2014 re-election campaign.

IPAA‘s publicly admitted influence-peddling efforts are but the tip of the iceberg for how Big Oil managed to stuff expedited permitting for fracking on U.S.public lands into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015.

IPAA, API Lobbying Blitz

According to Open Secrets, IPAA, API, ExxonMobilAmerica’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), ConocoPhillips and private equity firm KKR — employer of former head of the CIA David Petraeus — all deployed lobbyists to ensure passage of the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act, now Section 3021 in the NDAA of 2015.

In quarter two and three, KKR deployed Akin Gump’s Ryan Thompson, chief-of-staff for climate change denier U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OKbetween 2002-2010, to lobby for the bill.  A self-described ”mini oil and gas company,” the New York City-headquartered KKR owns numerous oil and gas assets in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin.

Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, formerly known as MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company and owned by his holding company Berkshire Hathaway, also lobbied for the bill.  Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), owned by Berkshire Hathaway, is a major carrier of Bakken crude-by-rail.

Pilot Project Lifts Off

One of the original Senate-side co-sponsors of the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act was U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), who has also also served as a ringleader of other efforts to expedite permitting for fracking on public lands.  First elected to the Senate in 2010, before which he was the Governor of North Dakota, the oil and gas industry has given Hoeven close to $325,000 in contributions since his preliminary Senate run.

In 2013, a bill he sponsored — the BLM Streamlining Act — passed by Congress with only one dissenting vote between both chambers combined. It was signed into law by President Obama on the day after Christmas.

That Streamlining Act created a pilot project for expedited permitting of fracking on public lands in the Bakken Shale. It was lobbied for by ExxonMobil,KKR, Marathon Oil, Chesapeake Energy and IPAA, among others.

By comparison, the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act of 2014 and now its equivalent Section 3021 in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, expedites permitting of fracking on all public lands.

NDAA 2015 Fracking Public Lands

Image Credit: U.S. Government Printing Office

Hoeven had previously attempted to pass a bill to streamline fracking permitting on BLM public lands and “recognize the primacy of States,” calling it the Empower States Act of 2013.  That bill was lobbied for by both ExxonMobil and API.

White House Help: Heather Zichal

The Obama White House has also long shown interest in the expedited permitting approach for fracking, portending a likely looming sign-off on the bill.

Beyond signing the BLM Streamlining Act into law on December 26, 2013, President Obama also authorized Executive Orders in March 2012 and May 2013 calling on streamlined permitting of all energy infrastructure projects.

During her time as Obama White House top energy and climate aide, Heather Zichal — now on the Board of Directors for fracked gas exporting company Cheniere — oversaw the signing of an April 2012 Executive Order mandating creation of an interagency working group to streamline regulatory oversight for fracking in the U.S.

Heather Zichal; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Zichal also laid the groundwork for lack of transparency on injection of fracking chemicals into the ground on U.S. public lands, bringing the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) approach for chemical transparency to the BLM.  Before inserting the provision into the BLM draft rules currently being finalized, Zichal “huddled” with the industry numerous times.

Zichal met more than 20 times in 2012 with industry groups and company executives lobbying on the proposed rule,” reported EnergyWire. “Among them were the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), along with BP America Inc., Devon Energy Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp.”

Protect Our Public Lands Act

Despite obvious extreme odds stacked against them, two members of the U.S.House Progressive Caucus — with the support of Food and Water Watch and several other progressive groups — have introduced a bill to ban fracking on U.S. public lands.

Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the two-page Protect Our Public Lands Act ”prohibit[s] the lessee from conducting any activity under the lease for the purpose of hydraulic fracturing.”


U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“We owe it to our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, to ensure the protection of public lands,” said Schakowsky of her support for the legislation. “This bill — in banning fracking on those lands — helps us follow through on that important promise.”

But only one thing can really receive a promise in this case: public interest groups are in a David vs. Goliath fight. And Goliath, clearly, is well-organized and well-mobilized on the issue as 2014 comes to a close.


Wild Horses Leapt to Their Death—and Lived!

Just a reminder, as we read this personal account written in 2013, of what may be happening behind the scenes of BLM’s “bait-trapping” of wild horses, where the BLM contractors can still use a helicopter, but the BLM doesn’t let the public know when or where they are rounding up wild horses and burros, and without any public observation, there is ABSOLUTELY NO ACCOUNTABILITY for how many wild horses are actually rounded up or how they were handled. There is no transparency.  –  Debbie Coffey

“The guys from BLM were all cussing those horses and talking about the craziness of them.”

14CarolWalkerRoundup-62 (roundup photo by Carol Walker)


Wild Horses Leap to their Death – and Live!

By Johnny Rustywire

One spring a few years ago, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) set up a wild horse roundup in Eastern Utah. I was doing some title search work and found myself one morning riding out with the wranglers who would be catching and rounding up the horses for the BLM adoption program.

There has been much argument about the horses. Some people believe that these wild horses needed to be removed from the land because of overgrazing and inbreeding. Others believe that they should stay where they are and run free. “I am not sure about the debate but I guess someone should ask the horses,” I heard one person say.

We headed to a place known as Moon Water Point, way out in the middle of nowhere with undulating hills that dropped into the valleys and canyons surrounding the Green River some 50 miles north of Green River, Utah on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.

Some of the wranglers were private contractors and some were employees of the BLM. The rest were from the Ute Tribe Fish & Game Department, easy to tell from the BLM guys because they were Indians. Everyone was anticipating the round up. I had heard that a helicopter was out early that morning gathering the horses. We had been on the road for about two and a half hours over a long windy dirt road when we got to Moon Water Point.

The wranglers’ trucks and trailers were off the hill out of sight. We parked there in the brush and walked up the hill to the top of the bench. On top there was a brush line, set up in a V, to funnel the horses into a makeshift corral that had three sides dropping off the bench like a cliff dropping off steeply and the brush hid a portable fence set up to hold the horses.

The guys had been there for a few days gathering the horses and were set to catch them. The Ute cowboys were a hardy stock, rough and ready. I have heard they pride themselves as horsemen, those Utes. I did not hear anyone say it, but they seemed to know the animals and this area was Ute land.

Some of the Utes did not agree with the roundup of the horses. These were the last remaining part of the herd that represented their former life as the People of the Shining Mountains who were born on horses and roamed all over these lands from Denver to Salt Lake. I could sense their feeling but they were there to do a job.

Everyone mounted up and headed out, moving off the bench to the north and in the distance you could hear the herd of wild horses coming. You could see them off in the distance, kicking up the dust and running through the sagebrush in groups of two and three with others of four and five running alongside.

The horses usually travel and live in small groups to be able to forage the high and low areas for food. There were groups of 4- and 5-year-old stallions eager to make a place with the herd but they cannot live together and so they break off in small groups, each having his own band, but the helicopter was chasing them from behind and so they were all running together.

They were of assorted colors, magnificent animals, their legs flying and moving with a grace of years of running through sagebrush and these lands. This was their place and we were the interlopers. Their nostrils were flaring, their manes and tails blowing in the wind. There must have been 35 or 40 of them coming.

They ran up by us onto the bench at full speed, galloping past with a beauty and grace that took me back a hundred years and then we were in the chase, behind them. The horses we were on got caught up as kindred spirits, losing their domestication to go with their roots, to be wild and free.

The horses went into the V, the funnel. The stallion who led them in was black, a large horse, beautiful in his long strong strides. The group was going full tilt, and all of them went in. The guys hiding in the brush quickly closed the gate behind them and the horses were corralled. There was a quarter mile of room in there for them to settle down.

The lead horse didn’t slow down and we all watched as he continued to run to the edge of the point where the land dropped off. All of the horses were running behind him at a full gallop. He was going to fall off, straight to his death, and take some of the others with him. The enclosure was opened and the wranglers took off after him to rope and cut him from the main group.

We were watching but could not believe it when he jumped off, and one by one the whole group went over the edge. A sick feeling came over me as I saw this. It would be a sad day to see all of them lying at the bottom of the drop. There was a 35- to 40-foot drop to the bottom. I could imagine horses with broken legs and all sorts of terrible things went through my mind.

When we rode up the edge and looked below the last of the group was bounding over the cliff, leaping to a large rock standing apart a ways from the drop and it was to here they had jumped using the rock as a way to jump halfway down and then bouncing off it to drop to the valley below without breaking stride. There was no pause and they were still running; not a one injured or hurt; all had made it.

I stood there with those Ute wranglers. The guys from BLM were all cussing those horses and talking about the craziness of them. The Indians to a man stood there apart quietly watching them. All of us looking and without saying a word our hearts were running along with them as they escaped into the canyons below, running wild and free.

Johnny Rustywire is Folded Rocks Clan People on his mother’s side, and born for Tsinahbiltnii, the Mountain People Clan on his father’s side. He comes from Toadlena-Two Gray Hills, New Mexico, where the mountain is cracked and the water flows. He is a father of six and grandfather of 12. He attended Indian boarding schools and grew up on the Navajo Reservation, and has been married to the same woman for 40 years, a Ute from Fort Duchesne, Utah.



Study sheds light on how humans tamed horses


Kerry Sheridan/AFP

3af292552718c6756c2edcd46664934b01824a783f9791283c0f5a5fcb9b8cd1 Photo: FireLizard5/Flickr

Humans tamed horses some 5,500 years ago, and an international study of ancient and modern horse genes Monday sheds light on the traits people saw as valuable, including speed, vigor and learning ability.
Researchers also discovered that a long-gone and previously unknown population of wild horses contributed a large chunk of genes to contemporary horses, according to the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.
“We have identified at least 125 genes that have been modified between ancient and modern horses,” lead researcher Ludovic Orlando, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics, told AFP.
“These are candidates for domestication genes, ie. genes that humans have selected in the course of horse domestication andmanagement.”
Their functions, Orlando said, are associated with locomotion, physiology and behavior.
Ludovic Orlando. Photo: Nicola Lo Calzo
Ludovic Orlando. Photo: Nicola Lo Calzo
Of course, the Romans and Hittites who tamed horses to pull chariots and run in the cavalry thousands of years ago had no inkling of the specific genes they were manipulating. But researchers can now tell that breeding domestic horses with wild ones, a practice known as restocking from the wild, appears to account for at least 15 percent of the domestic horse genome, and possibly up to 60 percent.
They can also tell that the wild horses whose genetic signatures remain in contemporary horses were not related to the only breed of wild horses alive today, known as Przewalski’s horses, an endangered species native to Mongolia.
Analyzing ancient DNA 
Orlando’s team, which in 2013 decoded the genome of a horse that was around 700,000 years old, this time set about analyzing horse DNA from about 16,000 to 43,000 years ago, long before domestication occurred.
They used fossilized bone dug up in Russia’s Taymyr Peninsula, where frigid conditions allow for DNA to be preserved, and compared the finding to modern horse DNA.
“We provide the most extensive list of gene candidates that have been favored by humans following the domestication of horses,” said co-author Beth Shapiro, head of the University of California, Santa Cruz Paleogenomics Lab.
She called the list “fascinating” because so many genes on it are involved in the development of muscle and bones.
“This probably reveals the genes that helped utilizing horses for transportation,” she said.
Researchers also found a high level of harmful genetic mutations in modern horses, compared to their ancient ancestors, that likely accumulated as a result of inbreeding.
While the information may not help scientists find new treatments for diseases or ailments that horses face, Orlando said the study does help draw a more complete picture of the history of horses, mankind, and evolution, and could help improve the fate of the few remaining wild horses that exist today.
“Similar studies on Przewalski’s horses could help monitoring this population and inform biologists about the best genetic path towards their conservation,” he said.

Ray of hope for endangered Marwari horses


Marwari horse (indigenoushorsesofindia.blogspot)


SOURCE:  The Times of India

AHMEDABAD: The ambling gait and valour in wars had made Marwari horses the most sought-after equine breed in many parts of India. And their inward-turning ears have fascinated horse-lovers for ages. But their numbers dwindled so dramatically — fewer than 5,000 pure Marwari horses survive today — that they have been categorized as endangered.

However, the famous breed may gallop into better circumstances. For the first time, scientists have unravelled the whole genome sequence of Marwari horses, a study that is considered a huge leap in the effort to conserve them.

Scientist from India; South Korea; the University of Cambridge, the UK; and the University of New Mexico, the US, studied the DNA of a 17-year-old stud named ‘Humayun’ belonging to Virendra Kankariya of the Equestrian Club of Gujarat.

The findings reveal that the Marwari horse has a strong genetic influence of Mongolian and Arabian horses. The study also confirms that the ancestors of the modern-day breed were brought in during the early Aryan migration into India from Central Asia. The flourishing horse trade between India and Arabia — particularly Iraq — which existed up to the Mughal era contributed to the evolution of the breed.

However, after the British colonization and the decline in cavalry utility, many horses faced oblivion. They also became expensive liabilities since there was little use for them. The Eurasian breeds in the West drifted into sports and racing, which the Marwari breed could not do in India.

“This is the first Asian breed to have its whole genome sequenced,” said Priyvrat Gadhvi, the only Indian who was part of the study. “We discovered the specific gene that gave Marwari horses the inward-turning ears, a striking feature it has in common with the Kathiawari, as well the mutation in a gene that gave the breed its famed ambling gait.”

Another important finding was a mutation in a gene which makes the breed susceptible to autosomal recessive chondrodysplasia, a condition that affects the bones and cartilage formation.

“The Marwari and Kathiawari, which are closely related, are endangered horse species and such studies are required to scientifically define the breeds, their genetic origins, their genetic diversity and disease susceptibilities,” said Gadhvi. “The research will also be useful in their scientific breeding as well as in ushering them into commercial domains of sports and dressage.”

Sable Island horses may face extinction, Parks Canada report warns


Scientists’ report says island’s feral horses may be under threat from extreme weather, inbreeding

By Dean Beeby, CBC News


The Sable Island horses are feral animals that are not subject to human interference. (Rae-Anne LaPlante/Friends of Sable Island)

Excessive inbreeding, a tiny population and extreme weather linked to global warming all pose risks of extinction to the fabled horses of Sable Island ­– a fate many ecologists would welcome as the removal of an invasive species.

Those are among the findings in a scientific report ordered by Parks Canada, the newly appointed custodian of the historic sand crescent that lies about 175 kilometers off the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia.

The herd, left to fend for itself since 1960, now numbers more than 500 animals but the population could drop precipitously after just one harsh winter, with food hard to access under heavy snow or ice, says the study.

Sable Horses horses greet each other

Two horses meet on the beach of Sable Island. A new science report raises the possibility of extinction for the herd of more than 500 animals. (Sarah Medill/University of Saskatchewan)

The ponies also may suffer from low genetic diversity, making them less resilient to disease and prone to reproductive failure.

The combination of factors raises the prospect of extinction for the feral horses, a romantic element of Canada’s storied past, though scientists say more research is needed to be certain.

“Obtaining this (additional) information would be relatively easy, in the form of a series of population viability analyses, to assess the level of risk of population extinction in the near future,” says the $35,000 report, completed in September and obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

Graveyard of Atlantic

Last December, Parks Canada formally relieved the province of Nova Scotia of its stewardship over Sable Island, sometimes called the “graveyard of the Atlantic” because of the more than 350 ships wrecked off its wave-washed beaches in the last 400 years.

Sable Island horse on dune

Some of the sand dunes on Sable Island are in excess of 30 metres high, and are used by some bird species for nests that may be threatened by the island’s horses. (Rae-Anne LaPlante/Friends of Sable Island)

To assess its new responsibilities, Parks Canada hired Bill Freedman, a respected ecologist with Dalhousie University in Halifax, to write and edit a comprehensive science volume, drawing on expert contributors and leading-edge research.

The 400-page report examines a wide range of topics, from lichens and beetles to the number of tarballs washing ashore.

But the chapter of perhaps the broadest interest is on the horses, first introduced to the island in the 1760s and now “naturalized” or “wild” after more than 250 years.

The herd last faced extinction in 1960, when the federal government ordered all the animals removed from Sable Island, some of them apparently destined to become dog food. The move was justified as humanitarian, as many of the horses had died of starvation and other causes following a harsh winter.

‘Parks Canada is completely out to lunch’- Ian Jones, biologist

But a public outcry, which included plaintive letters from schoolchildren and articles in the New York Times, prompted Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to rescind the removal order and make it illegal to interfere with the herd.

Fast forward to 2014, and the extinction threat may be back ­– though not through any deliberate government policy.

Freedman says many scientists regard the horses as ecologically intrusive, and best eliminated from the treeless, 30-square-kilometre island.

“I also know that what little research has been done suggests that the horses aren’t the greatest threat to the ecological integrity of the place,” he said in an interview.

“Society definitely isn’t ready to do anything of consequence to reduce their abundance. I wouldn’t recommend that Parks Canada jump into that one now – in a couple of decades, they can reconsider it.”

In the meantime, if bad weather and inbreeding starts to reduce numbers to unsustainable levels, most ecologists would want a “do not resuscitate” order for the herd, Freedman says.

Biologist Ian Jones says he’s not convinced the herd is headed for extinction, noting the numbers are higher than ever, and says Parks Canada needs to remove them as an invasive species that is damaging the local ecology.

Most endangered place

“The most endangered ecosystems on the planet are remote offshore islands,” he said in an interview from St. John’s, where he teaches at Memorial University.

“And the reason for the endangerment is the introduction of domestic animals onto these islands. … This is just the kind of place national parks were intended to preserve.”

Jones slams Parks Canada for allowing the horses to remain, accusing the agency of using weasel words such as “wild” and “naturalized” to disguise the invasive, damaging nature of the herd.

Sable Island wild horse smiling

Historians believe the wild horses that live on Sable Island are descended from animals that were confiscated from the Acadians when the British expelled them from Nova Scotia in the late 1750s and 1760s. (Bill Freedman/Dalhousie University)

“Parks Canada is completely out to lunch in relation to the science,” he said, noting that some bird species are directly threatened by the heavy hooves and foraging of the horses.

Parks Canada did not respond to a request for interviews, but sent an email saying the Freedman document “will inform the upcoming management plan (for Sable Island), which will also be based on public consultation and other science-based input from the research community.”

Spokeswoman Theresa Bunbury said the agency is still reviewing the content of Freedman’s report, but spoke in support of the horses remaining.

“The horses have been living on the island since the mid-1700s and are considered iconic to Sable Island,” she said.

“The horses will be protected by Parks Canada as wildlife under the Canada National Parks Act and the National Parks Wildlife Regulations.”