Equine Rescue

The Managed Extinction of Cloud’s Herd

by R.T. Fitch,                                                                                 photography courtesy of  Terry Fitch

The hot, dry afternoon was deadly still as the small band of observers sat in the dust atop a bluff overlooking the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) intake/holding facility in the foothills of the Pryor Mountains.  They were a small collection of pro-horse advocates with a few tourists sprinkled in and all watched by BLM law enforcement authorities, evidently to ensure their safety from one another.  The word had spread that the gathering helicopter was returning with another band of wild horses and the equine advocates whispered amongst themselves wondering if it might be Cloud’s band, the wild horse of PBS fame whose life has been documented by Emmy award winning cinematographer, Ginger Kathren.  To add further tension to this question was the fact that Ginger, herself, knelled amongst this group with her eye pressed to the view finder of her video camera.  All attempts to save the Pryor Mountain horses from this unnecessary and inhumane round up, or “gather” had failed and all that was left for the friends of the horses was to watch, document and insure that the BLM did not treat the once wild mustangs with any more cruelty than what was already being handed to them.

Cloud, captured by the BLM

Cloud, captured by the BLM

The small group was quiet as they became oblivious to the searing sun and tuned all of their senses into listening for the approaching helicopter.  They could not see a distant approach as the way down the mountain was obscured by desert foothills, but with the past arrivals of herded family bands they could hear the drone of the herding helicopter steadily grow in intensity until it popped into view over the hills several miles to the north, but this time something was different.

They had heard the whirl of the blades and assumed their required positions behind the jute curtain installed by the BLM.  The waist high, sieve like barrier was supposed to camouflage the observers from the approaching horses but between the limited line of sight and the separating distance it was unlikely that such a measure was required.  As they crouched on the ground, with cameras in hand, they began to notice that the sound of the helicopter would build, fade, build again then fade off into the distance.  This was different than what they were accustomed to and several individuals made comments to the effect.

Then, after an extended period of waiting , they saw the helicopter rise above a distant foothill, all cameras and binoculars focused on the point, but before anyone could snap a picture or begin recording the chopper dove back down out of sight only to appear several hundred yards to the north and then turned and took another dive.  Several questioning looks were exchanged amongst the observers, there was a feeling that something different was occurring here.

Suddenly the breeze picked up when someone uttered an amplified whisper, “There they are” and across the rolling desert floor motion could be detected broaching the distant hill.  For the unaided eye it was difficult to see with clarity but it appeared as if brown and tan snake was beginning to gracefully slide down the hill cleverly avoiding the obstructing Juniper while making its way to the valley below.  Another whisper broke the silence “It’s him, it’s Cloud and his family” and with those words the spirit of those in attendance turned into a whirlwind of emotion from which no one could escape.

Some present were, perhaps, relieved that his family had finally been found and the inevitable was about to occur.  They had tried to save them through all the legal channels that were available and they had received no response and virtually zero support from those who are charged to serve the public’s best interest, they were crestfallen.  The BLM was going to do what was unnecessary and uncalled for so they may as well be done with it and witness the tearing apart of these beautiful creature’s lives.  It was an out of control train already set into motion and all they could do was watch and raise an objection should any other travesty greater than this round up occur.  There were tears in many eyes.

But there were a few who harbored the fantasy that Cloud would escape, right there before their eyes, and run his herd back up into the safety of their lush, high pasture land.  They hoped that he would have a chance but the other side of their heart knew he had little hope of winning against the whirling blades of the evil chopper.  Someone whispered with great intensity, “Run Cloud, run your family home” and more eyes began to leak.

Cloud’s herd disappeared into a valley quickly pursued by the helicopter, for a moment nothing could be seen, then, in the same place where they had entered the valley Cloud burst back up the hill guiding his loved ones back to where they had come.  Collectively the observers drew a breath and someone said aloud, “Make them work for it Cloud, don’t come easy”, and he did not.

The enemy of the Amercian Wild Horse

Back and forth across the rolling valley Cloud attempted to dodge and duck the mean aircraft with his family right behind.  First one way and then another they crisscrossed across the desert with the helicopter attempting to outwit and out think the savvy stallion.  It was a sight to behold, one that the observers had not seen in the days prior, Cloud did not want to be driven to the destruction of his herd.

Slowly the band of once free horses were inching closer to the gauntlet, a series of fencing that was funnel shaped to gather the herd and force them into a gate at the end where holding cells and pens awaited.  Closer they came as an agent readied a concealed “Judas” horse that would be released when the band passed by and was trained to run for the gate, to lead the wild horses to their destiny and doom, a betrayer, a Judas who would give up his brother horses to the humans waiting behind the gate.  They all waited.

While the helicopter bobbed up and down the nearby valley, Cloud himself came into view, running hard with his beloved mare beside him.  They thought that they had found an escape route, they were under the impression that they were leading their family to safety and as the chopper pressed harder they increased their pace.

Cameras clicked, videos recorders whirled and tears fell while the observers watched the symbol of their American west be driven with no respect into the gauntlet from which there was no escape.

The Judas horse was released, it bolted beside the band and charged past Cloud and instead of following the horse’s lead Cloud slowed down, peered forward and then came to a dead stop well away from the end of the gauntlet and waiting gate.  The chopper  pressed harder and forced the remaining members of Cloud’s family into the gauntlet only to stop and gather around their leader who obviously was aware that something was deadly wrong.  All of the observers gasped and stared as this had never happened before; no herd had just stopped and refused to near the gate.

Cloud turns to face the helicopter and to protect his family

Cloud turns to face the helicopter and to protect his family

And while a deep silence lay over the witnesses, Cloud, the leader, the master of the mountains turned from the gate and took a stance starring back directly at his aggressor, the helicopter.  His intent was obvious, his message was clear, his point was well taken and a few quite sobs were heard within Cloud’s family of human followers.  He made his stand, then turned and walked towards the gate.  He had done all he could do, the observers had tried all that they could and collectively the humans and horses knew that they had lost all control, their future and fate was no longer in their hands, Cloud’s family was to be ripped apart and all that remained for them was a few final moments of togetherness, a gentle touch, while they huddled in fear against the gate that lead to their group’s destruction.  Their cries intermingled with those from their human friends high above who felt their loss and shared their helplessness, they cried together and bowed their heads.

The betrayed innocent, Cloud

The betrayed innocent, Cloud

We are told that Cloud will once again run free, that the blue mark on his rump dictates that he is one of the lucky ones that can go back to living his life in the beauty of the Pryor Mountains.  But he will do so with several of his loved ones ripped from his band; he will, now, love mares that have been chemically sterilized so that they will bear him no foals and he will be forced to do all of this while surrounded by a herd that will not be able to genetically sustain itself.

This is the gift of managed extinction that we give to our native, American horses, this is the legacy that we leave to our children and this is the image that we Americans project to the rest of the world.

It is not a pretty picture

For up to the minute updates on this issue please visit Cloud’s Blog

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30 replies »

  1. This is so sad, extremely well written as though I was there myself.You are right this is not a pretty picture, it is a picture of destruction and violence. Will man ever stop destroying everything that is beautiful. How will our horses and planet ever survive with the continual interference of agencies such as this. The fact that they train a horse the “Judas” horse to do this goes beyond the realms of nature. A horse in it’s purity would never betray it’s own. Only by the hand of man.


  2. I’ve been crying for 15 minutes. The first time I barely got through it without breaking down. Does the horse create the legend or does the legend create the horse? What did Ginger see many years ago when she stumbled across that little whisp of a Cloud? He doesn’t even know how much he inspires us to be free ourselves. I’m not going to let him down. He couldn’t outrun the helicopter but it’s up to us to see that he never has to again.


  3. This is rediculous that this was allowed to happen. The only reason this takes place is for money and greed. I don’t care where it is at in this country, nature will take it own course of action to live on or die out. What right does man have to dictate when or why this will happen. The BLM’s name says it all “Land Managment” which cares nothing about the creatures that live on the “land”. This is truly sad and makes me sick.


  4. As we all know, Cloud is no ordinary Mustengo. He is divinely created for this time in history by a Great Spirit.

    Great Father in Heaven, please hear our cries for Your work to be done. The human man has gone against Your will once again and seeks to destroy Your creation.


  5. I don’t know what to do with my feelings of anger and grief over these events.

    Pray for these precious ones. Yes, Father, hear our cries.

    Everyone, DON’T re-elect the people responsible!! They turned deaf ears to all of our requests due to greed and their own brand of terrorism.


  6. I didn’t make it halfway threw this before I started squalling for says now tears hav fallen an I’v ehoped an prayed that the horses would be safe.

    Growing up I was always told that THIS IS THE LAND OF THE FREE..
    Yea now that I am grown I have seen just what “Freedom” is now. It’s not freedom at all. Ever slowly every day that little bit of freedom that our ancestors fought so hard for is ripped away by a government that does NOT want to listen.

    Why wont they listen? Because the government fears its own people. We know what we want, an they think that they must hold our hands an protect us from things that we know about.
    No Screw that.

    Our goverment is a joke and once again they have proved it.

    Don’t give up though keep fighting for these horses. STAND UP for what YOU belive in an don’t budge despite it. Do NOT let your voice be scilenced.
    Call your local radio stations, Tv Stations etc. Stay on them an do not let up. The fate of our wild horses depends on the actions we wish to take.


  7. The BLM thugs need to let the horse go free. Cloud and ALL of the others they have rounded up against the wishes of the American people.

    Keep calling your representatives in Washington. Keep calling. Don’t give up. The horses need us.


  8. We owe a great debt to a yellow mustang, in so many ways. I think Cloud may symbolize a little something different in each heart and soul he touches. For me, he is a symbol of what we are losing, little by little each and every day. A little bit more of what was once wild and free. It is a great sadness, but in his defiance there is also hope, and that is what I will cling to, defiance and hope.
    What a magnificent intelligent creature. Godspeed to you, Cloud, may you always run free and drink the wind of the high ranges!


    • Beautiful sentiments…and I share them! You made me cry! We’ll never know what we’ve lost til it’s gone, and I’m hope I’m gone way before we reach the point of no return. If humans were suddenly whisked from the Earth one day, the Earth would not miss us!


  9. I am in 100% opposition of the BLM rounding up our American horses illegally. This federal land, as well as the wild horses, are owned by all Americans. These herds have lived their lives in freedom and are now being round up by helicopters under the false premises of the BLM needing to “manage the herds”. This is absolutely not for the benefit of the horses but for the benefit of cattle ranchers who have fenced off the herd’s water supply for their own use and due to interest by Skyline Uranium Corporation for uranium mining in the area. Ask Pres. Obama to please stop the BLM and order them to release the wild herds back to the mountains where they belong and order the private cattle ranchers to REMOVE all fencing from the herds water sources and anywhere on our public land. This includes all wire and barbed wire fencing which will kill and maim any and all wild animals.
    Today I became aware of another fact, one that is so shocking and horrid that it is impossible to even think about. The BLM supposedly has 30,000 horses in holding pens scattered throughout the US, doing nothing more than waiting to die. The fact is that due to the economy there are fewer and fewer homes for domesticated horses. Our local ASPCA takes in an average of 8 horses per month by owners who cannot afford to care for them anymore. What are we going to do with 30,000 plus that should of never been captured in the first place? The only option is going to be sending them to slaughter in Canada or Mexico, where they are stabbed repeatedly and butchered while bleeding to death. This is not a humane way to treat our animals.
    This is disgusting and I will continue to fight against this deception to the horses and the American public. STOP THE BLM!!


  10. R.T.,

    Thank you for such a beautifully written peice. At least now, though I can hardly write this through tears, at last report the roundup has stopped.

    And hopefullly before Sept. 25 we can still get the elders back to their families. WE MUST ALL STILL KEEP FIGHTING!

    WORK hard eveyone to get S 1579, The Restore Our American Mustangs Act, through the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, to the Senate floor and passed to Obama – don’t let up the pressure for one minute – keep contacting all your senate reps and committee members, Obama, Biden, and Salazar.

    Thank you again to everyone in Wyoming on the front line!


  11. Thank you for the account. I am outraged at this roundup. I am outraged with ANY roundup of wild horses. Your moving account of Cloud’s behavior during the roundup closely resembles that of Sunny, the sire and band leader of a family of semi-feral horses slated for slaughter in Maine. Here is my firsthand account of their roundup by the slaughter dealer, a story eerily similar to Cloud’s behavior:
    The following I observed when the Family (of Six herd of 6) was being rounded up onto the trailer: Four had been loaded already, only 2 remained: Dad Sunny, and Max, a young gelding. Max had a lead rope dangling from his halter. At one point as the two horses were standing in front of the trailer, unsure how to proceed, Sunny actually grabbed Max’ lead rope and tugges on it repeatedly. Everyone laughed, but I could see that Sunny was dead serious with this gesture. It was, for Sunny, a tipping point. A few minutes later, Sunny slowly and resignedly stepped onto the trailer by himself, to be with his wife Prancer and the other 3 offspring. The moment was fascinating and revealing. I am convinced that dad Sunny was indicating to son Max that he needed to get onto that trailer. Max didn’t listen, though, he was terrified and took a while longer. Finally he followed his father on. Yet it was the pivotal signal by Dad I found revealing. Sunny urged Max to get on so that he himself could load. He did not want to leave Max behind. He also understood when the battle was lost.

    In studying the behavior of horses like Cloud and Sunny – though we NEVER wish to have such circumstances again – we see how tremendous these magnificent animals are in spirit and in overall comprehension. Cloud and Sunny show us how very intelligent horses are. How aware they are of what is happening. Their understanding is complete. They each did everything they could to outsmart human entrapment.

    All the more horrific that they would be rounded up brutally and the families separated forever. How tragic.

    Shame on the BLM. Shame on humanity, for thinking that we should “manage” wild animals at all, for our own short-sighted and greedy use of this planet.

    I am ashamed of my own species, this week, knowing what has happened to our beloved wild horses.

    I have worked all my life for a better respect for the horses. I have two wishes before I leave this planet: to end horse slaughter. To end wild horse roundup.

    Like Cloud and Sunny, I am doing all that I can.

    One last note: Sunny’s family is safe. We rescued all of them within hours of their awful roundup. And Max, that young frightened boy, was adopted by Priscilla Presley. He lives at Graceland and he runs every morning, frolicking on the front lawn of Elvis’es mansion. He is much loved. The rest of the herd are under my care and management. They will remain protected forever.
    There is hope, things can be changed. http://www.sixhorsessaved.org

    Thank you.


  12. yes put my name on anything that save the mustang-an do something about the blm,they may know how to mangage land but they have,t got a clue how to mange horses of any kind got someone in there that dose have the horses interest at heart,
    if they want no more babies while have they heard the such a thing as bith control an as far as haveing,the show on tameing a mustang to get it a home while as far as I am concerned after you put a saddle on it too me it is no langer a mustang just another horse an bet I am not the only one that feels that way.
    get someone to turely protect the wild horse,
    we need to band together to stop those fools.
    get the rest of his band free,
    freedom for all-remeber not just a few ,


  13. I think the BLM has not clue how to handle horses.
    The BLM should have a change and not act like king of the management.
    They have no clue how to handle anything,
    Look what they did to the Buffalo and not one stops that either


  14. What the greedy selfish government does to these horses, it will also do to us. Freedom is never free. Fight for Cloud and for ourselves, as well, for we are on the list, too.







  16. I really dont understand. These horses are not doing any damage to anyone. why isn’t there a mass roundup of wild deer, or wild pigs, or wild dogs, or wild cats…..why is it horses? I am greatful that Cloud bears the blue mark, at the same time, I can’t believe this keeps happening. I remember watching the PBS program. I know I have never met this horse, but I feel like I know him, just from the program. I realy wish things like this did not happen…and I wish there was something we could do about it.


    • Great questions but what is of even greater concern are the numbers of private cattle that are allowed to graze on our public land for pennies on the dollar? The cattle outnumber the horses by hundreds to one and wreck havoc on the environment. The BLM is in full support of “Welfare Ranching”.

      Sent from R.T.’s iPhone


  17. We need to stop this. Not just talk about it, do something about it. There MUST be something we can do. If people can do this to horses, other people can stop it. Lets put our heads and hearts together and do something. These are OUR horses, people, as much ours as anyone’s. Is there a lawyer out there who is willing to take on the BLM? I am madder than HELL here. I know a lot of you are, too. Let’s channel it into some positive action for these horses.



    I have been writing letters to Congress since 1969, to support the mustangs. The truth is – if you have followed the history of the mustangs vs. the BLM as have I – that the BLM has been cirumventing the 1971 law almost as soon as it was passed. I’m 54.

    The answer to the problem is to take the horses away from BLM management before it it too late.

    The PR answer to this outrage is national outrage …en masse.

    My vision: The Ride on Washington.

    Can you imagine horsewomen and men from all over coming to DC and riding up to the Capitol? That would make every news headline in the country. Even if the ride were only 10 or so riders. However, if it were a true Cavalry – en masse – what a statement. It would take a year to organize such an event, so let us start now.

    It worked for the Million Man March.

    It worked for the March on Washington.

    It could work for the mustangs.

    One would need a lead group to organize the riders. US Pony Clubs/HOrsemasters would be a very good choice, if they would get on board. I’d stay away from any sort of organization that is pro-slaughter.

    The ride would consist of some riders will depicting soldiers in battle in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War I. One horse will be riderless, led instead, to depict the image of the riderless horse used at State funerals for Presidents, etc. If possible, Mounted Police would be part of this Ride. Some will depict Pony Express riders; firetruck horses, therapy horses, Kentucky Derby winners, Film stars such as Fury, Flicka, the Black Stallion, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, and more. Mustangs would be depicted by a Hildalgo look-alike, Cloud and the valiant Freedom, who managed to break free from BLM capture. Go, Freedom!

    These are desperate times for horses. No reason not to pull out all the stops.

    I worked on the Walk For Hunger: It’s the world largest one-day walkathon, goes through Boston, a 20 mile march, usually 45,000 people. Logistics are simply something to be ironed out. Logistically a little challenging, but if horses are considered vehicles in DC, as they are in many states, this could happen.

    Perhaps Ford motor company would get behind this. They have in the past supported the mustangs in small measure, due to the great success of the Ford Mustang.

    I cannot think what else would bring the country to attention better than an in-your-face demonstration.



    • I am very much inclined to follow this train of thought. I think the day of writing our politicians is over…not that I am going to stop…but in this day and age of increased communication we are going to have to get the public behind us and to do that we need the media, big time. If we can continue to nibble at them while we plan something like this vision, I believe that a few heads will be turned.

      Thanks for the input.



  19. The ride is an exciting idea… lots of logistics and clean up involved… but may well be worth it. My input is that I’m aware of other “riders,” who speak online frequently on their little known forums, talking about their exploits of shooting the wild horses. These are the ranchers who feel they own the public lands because they lease them for cattle. They talk of giving booze to certain officials to keep them appeased when they are caught capturing the horses illegally. They also support “horse roping’ where young horses are roped, tripped and dragged. It’s ironic how they then go into discussions of how their horsemanship is superior to other styles. So what I’m saying is that if such a ride is organized, I believe these buckaroo types will show up en masse, too. They are very agitated about the wild horses, aka “shitters” to them and want them gone. Their excuse is that they are feral horses and not true wild horses. I read their is a round up going on now, despite the news that it’s been postponed. Like so many things, it’s hard to get the facts.


  20. RT, Sharon,
    I am serious. We could do this. We must do this for the horses. Ride On Washington. October 2010. Let’s do this, I am tired of writing letters and seeing mustangs captured and killed anyway. We need people from every state. We need some of them to ride all the way to DC. I would, from Maine. We need wagon trains, the whole spectrum of what horses have done for his country. We owe so much to our horses. Let this be our version of the Boston Tea Party. Take Back the American Range.


  21. I am appalled at what BLM did to Cloud and his band,destroy the BLM,dispearce the whole association of such cruel heartless men and women who belong to such a disgusting group.I don’t know how they can live with themselves knowing what they’ve done to Gods Beautiful creations.An to sentence Cloud to never have any off spring to carry on roaming free like he has,with Mares that will never bare a foal for him,Shame on man.The horses and all the animals Gods creation were put on this earth to multiply in their own likeness, as God meant for them.That is why God made preditors and prey so the animals and fowl,mamal,fish will survive and flurish.It totally disgusts me that man could possibly do such a thing as they’ve done to the wild horses and the Judas horse should have betrayed those idiotic men that they call themselves human beings.I’m sure our Lord is disgusted with them,for such an inhumane things they do to his creations,Cloud and his band deserved to be free and free of man period forever!!!Stop The BLM NOW & FOREVER,!!!


  22. The ride to Washington D.C. is not a bad idea. We would need to find out what “parade” permits that are needed, Laws regarding horses in Washington, D.C. and liability insurance just in case a horse misbehaves.


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