Since March, we have been working with the State of New Mexico and the Federal government on developing a horse park and preserve for the Santa Fe area.
With more than 35-thousand horses in captivity and many in feedlot conditions, we wanted to work on a model that could bring some of these horses to permanent homes as well as showcase them on open lands that would be habitat for them to live out their lives in freedom. We have learned that no one can do this by themselves. The States are all broke, the Feds are struggling under the weight of their own care for the animals, and the non-profit world – blessed as they are with good-hearted people – simply does not have the funds to take on a large number of horses and burros.
Our model blends together a unique partnership between State and Federal agencies as well as the non-profit world. Under the plan, the State will buy the property, the Federal government will bring the infrastructure and horses and a 501(c)(3) will be responsible for raising the operating funds through corporate partnerships and private donations. It is a win-win for everyone – especially the horses.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, an avid horseman himself, saw the beauty of the plan and has been supporting its development. The negotiations have been long and tedious, but are bearing fruit. We have been working very closely with the Nature Conservancy, New Mexico’s State Parks director, Dave Simon, and Jim Noel, the NM Cabinet Secretary for Energy and Minerals. They deserve a lot of credit for making this happen. So does Phil Walker with the BLM in Washington. He has been out to New Mexico several times and together we arranged for Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Sylvia Baca and Don Glenn of the BLM to come out to see for themselves the 12-thousand acre ranch we identified. They loved it. Governor Richardson then gave the go-ahead to acquire the property, which sits halfway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque on the historic scenic byway, the Turquoise Trail. The town of Madrid is close by; a former mining town now known as an eclectic arts community. The movie, “Wild Hogs“, was filmed there and several other western movie sets, dating back to the forties, line the road as it winds through the area. The Ortiz Mountain ranch is a stunning parcel of land that rises up to the tallest peak in the mountain chain. It is a striking visual point that can be seen for more than 50 miles.
What the plan envisions is a State park that is equine centered – the miles of roads and trails that are already in place on the property will welcome both hikers and those who trailer their horses to the park. The old hacienda style house will be converted into a state of the art visitor center that will welcome school children and visitors with exhibits on the Mustangs and their historical contributions to our nation’s development. A nearby stable will enable people to meet the horses themselves and see first-hand, the gentle methods used to successfully train the Mustangs from the wild to domestication. These horses will then be available for adoption. Right now, if someone wants to adopt a horse, they have to drive a truck and trailer several hours to one of the existing Federal facilities, pick a dusty horse out of the crowd, somehow get it into the trailer and hope it works out when they get it home. This only sets the horse and owner up for disaster. Many people, not knowing how to handle wild animals, try to strong-arm them into submission. As we know, that approach is probably the worst to take with the Mustangs. At the New Mexico park, prospective owners will have several chances to meet and get to know their horse and learn the best ways to handle them. This will result in better adoptions for both the rider and the horses.
Most important, a separate 5-thousand acre parcel of the ranch will be set aside for a number of horses to simply run free, away from the public. By setting up web cams near the water areas, much like they do in other Federal and State parks, video of the wild horses will then be sent back to the visitor center, where people can watch the Mustangs and burros in their environment.
Santa Fe’s high desert climate means the number of horses the park can sustain will not be very high – the grasses are thin. We may not be able to get more than 60 horses to run free there. But if this model works, and we hope it will, then we can take it to other States where the grasses are more abundant, where we can then begin to talk about moving hundreds of animals out of the feed lots and onto free range. Rather than doing the typical thing of pushing the horses farther and farther away to remote locations, we are going to bring them closer, so communities will meet and embrace them as beloved local treasures. The benefits of Santa Fe – the crossroads of the Old West, a strong tourism economy based on its history, and a large horse-loving population, in our eyes, outweighs the negatives. According to the Albuquerque and Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, millions of people visit the region each year. New Mexico, where horses first entered the ‘New World’ is a perfect place to begin.
We are setting up a non-profit that will not only manage the horses at this preserve, but at several others we hope to establish under this unique State/Federal/Private model. This non-profit, the ‘American Association of Mustang Preserves’, will also serve as an ‘alliance umbrella’ for other preserves that seek greater political voice and buying power. By aligning ourselves with our fellow preserves, (where everyone retains their own name and brand) we will be able to better track the needs of the horses once they leave the Federal holding facilities. Together, we can better advocate for the animals, share best practices and hopefully effect some real change in how the Mustangs and burros are handled.
Habitat, education, adoption are the three pillars of our model, along with a vigorous campaign that will incorporate some of Hollywood’s heavy hitters and major media. Chantal and I both come from television news. We have a lot of contacts within the worlds of newspapers, magazines, radio, television and Hollywood. There is a lot of support already waiting in the wings, waiting for the word that New Mexico will approve the purchase of the property. The first part of the project is underway, but we fear the election year politics in New Mexico may destroy the work we have all been doing. There have been misinformation campaigns regarding the actual numbers, smear tactics against the Governor, and general nastiness about the horses, the BLM and the State.
New solutions need to be found for the care of the Mustangs. The BLM admits this. Most of your colleagues in the horse world are painfully aware of the problems the agency has had in rounding them up and caring for them in captivity. Your activism and the work of others to forge a political solution is an important component of making real change happen. But change from within is also important.
Chantal and I have chosen to work with the BLM and the State of New Mexico to do what we can to make a real difference to the horses already being held. So far, they have treated us fairly. So, we are pushing on, hoping that this first park will be the example that other States will want to follow.
We have no stake in any of this, other than trying to help the horses. We know this is not a full solution to the problem, but it is a start. We are doing it for free and without any promise or expectation of compensation. The BLM will not be paying us, nor will New Mexico. I have flown to Washington to meet with officials at the Department of the Interior at my own expense and expect nothing in return. Well actually, I do. I expect to be there with Chantal when the first trailer of horses arrives in New Mexico and the gates open to let them out! When we watch them run free, I will then consider myself paid in full.
So, if you can tell your friends about the plan and the work we have been doing, hopefully we can gather up more support for the project. The NM Board of Finance will vote on the purchase on November 16. They need to know that people support it. If you can get the word out to a wide audience, I would be very grateful.
These are the names of the people on the NM Board of Finance who will be voting on the property:
State Treasurer James Lewis
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish
Governor Bill Richardson
Emails for the board can be sent to the board administrator: Suzanne.Romero@State.nm.usor letters here: New Mexico State Board of Finance, 181 Bataan Memorial Building, Santa Fe, NM 87501
Editor’s Note: (James Kleinert, Director and Producer of the film “Disappointment Valley – A Modern Day Western”, and Ginger Kathrens, Emmy award winner of the “Cloud” Nature series, have teamed up to support the Governor by hand delivering, on wild horse back, 1,000 letters of appreciation to the Governor in November. So please copy firstname.lastname@example.org in your emails to Ms. Romero to ensure delivery to the Governor)